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Top Private Sector Security Concerns in 2009

Media Note
Washington, DC
December 29, 2009


Bureau of Diplomatic Security

Private Sector Says Terrorism, Rising Crime, Kidnapping and H1N1 Among Threats

In nearly every part of the world, terrorism remained one of the top security concerns of 2009 for U.S. businesses, nongovernmental organizations and academic institutions operating overseas, according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC).

“This year, we saw terrorist attacks against U.S. and Western interests in Northwest and East Africa, India, and Greece as well as cyber attacks in Eastern Europe and plots of major attacks in Afghanistan,” said Daniel Weber, a Special Agent with the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and Executive Director of OSAC. “While not all terrorist incidents tracked by OSAC in 2009 involved U.S. victims, these attacks - which sometimes targeted other Western entities - have raised concerns for U.S. firms and organizations operating in areas experiencing attacks. Clearly, the variety of security incidents in 2009 demonstrates that U.S. private-sector organizations hope for the best but must prepare for worst, ” Weber said.

OSAC was established in 1985 as a Federal Advisory Committee with a U.S. Government Charter to promote security cooperation between the U.S. Department of State and American business and private sector interests worldwide. This year-end security review is issued annually to highlight global security concerns relevant to the private sector. It is based on reports from OSAC constituents, news media and other unclassified sources, and informational products developed by OSAC’s regional specialists and delivered to its private-sector members throughout the year, explained Weber.

“By working with our OSAC partners, sharing our analysis, and pushing out our information, we aim to help the U.S. private sector better prepare for, respond to, and recover from the security challenges that may arise in the coming year,” said Weber.

Top Private-Sector Security Issues Worldwide for 2009

AFRICA: Rising Crime

Violent criminal acts and financial crimes in Africa increased in 2009. Violent crime rose in countries already plagued by it, including South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Chad, Cameroon, Mozambique and Angola. For example, according to the South African Police Service, home invasions in South Africa increased by 27 percent in 2009 compared to 2008 and business robberies were up 41 percent compared to 2007. Kidnappings and other violent attacks rose in southeastern Nigeria, particularly in Abia and Imo states, where numerous kidnapping incidents of U.S. private sector employees were carried out by organized criminals. Violent crime is also occurring in areas where it had previously been rare. For example, in Ghana, U.S. organizations reported incidents of armed robbery in the Airport Residential Area neighborhood against expatriates and locals. Additionally, incidents of financial crime in Africa, including advance fee fraud and other scams, also grew in 2009. ATM systems in Tanzania have been so severely compromised that the U.S. embassy has warned against the use of any ATMs in the country. In response to these ongoing criminal threats, the U.S. private sector has made appropriate safety and security precautions for staff a priority.

AFRICA: Terrorism
There has been an increase in terrorist activity in Mauritania, Mali and Niger within the last year. Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) declared its intention to attack Western targets throughout the Sahel (including Mali, Mauritania, and Niger), and claimed responsibility for a number of incidents, including the murder of a U.S. citizen in Mauritania in June and the attempted suicide-bombing of the French Embassy in Mauritania on August 8. There are also ongoing terrorism threats emanating from East Africa, regarding the intent and capabilities of al-Shabaab and other militant groups to conduct operations within Somalia as well as across the country’s porous borders. In September, suicide bombers conducted attacks against an African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) Headquarters and a building housing a U.S. private security company in Mogadishu. As a result, nine people were killed and 40 others, including a U.S. citizen, were wounded in the attack. Many U.S. organizations have banned or restricted travel to these areas due to the continued threat of terrorist activity.

AMERICAS: H1N1 Influenza Virus

The outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus affected U.S. private sector operations throughout Latin America, specifically in Mexico and Argentina. From May 1 to May 6, the Government of Mexico shutdown all non-essential businesses in an effort to prevent further spread of the virus. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 5,360 people died from H1N1 in the Americas since April. Argentina faced one of the highest H1N1 death tolls in Latin America. In response to this public health threat, the U.S. private sector implemented business continuity programs which included such practices as telecommuting, postponement of non-essential travel, extra cleaning of facilities, and stockpiling of Tamiflu, surgical masks and hand sanitizer.

AMERICAS: Increase in Violent Crime

In 2009, the U.S. private sector expressed increasing concern about the day-to-day safety of their employees and operations due to the significant rise in violent crime throughout Latin America. Drug cartel violence, especially near the U.S.-Mexican Border, increased during the year. The U.S. private sector continued to fall victim to violent extortion schemes, as organized criminals sought additional sources of income. Furthermore, Peru experienced a 22-percent increase in physical assaults in the first six months of 2009 as compared to the same time period in 2008; in addition, the country has seen an increase in violent crimes against foreign tourists. Violent crime continued to rise in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador. According to a 2009 United Nations Development Program report, Central America experienced the highest number of non-political homicides in the world, reporting 79,000 murdered in the past six years. As a result, American organizations continue to brief and train their employees overseas on how to avoid being a victim.

ASIA: Terrorism

A continued threat of terrorist activity remains in Indonesia, despite near-universal rejection of violent extremism by Indonesians and a significant increase in Indonesia’s counter-terrorism capabilities since the 2002 Bali bombings. However, as evidenced by the bombings of the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels in Jakarta in July 2009, the capabilities of terrorist groups persist and a small portion of the population remains susceptible to radical indoctrination and recruitment. Within three months of the July attacks Indonesian authorities had arrested or killed all 23 individuals suspected of involvement, including Noordin Top, Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist. Members of the U.S. private sector operating in Indonesia continue to track Indonesia’s developing counter-terrorism progress as well as potential terrorist threats.

Terrorist organizations in Pakistan continue to use that nation as a base for sanctuary, recruitment, funding and training of their operatives. Pakistan-based groups, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, the Afghan Taliban and al-Qa’ida, continue to plot major attacks against western interests in Afghanistan, India and abroad, after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Hotels, including U.S. chains, have been popular targets for some of these organizations.

ASIA: Kidnapping

Humanitarian organizations operating overseas have experienced a rise in kidnapping rates, especially in Afghanistan and the Philippines. As those organizations implemented strict travel procedures in Afghanistan, the number of Westerners kidnapped dropped significantly. However, local staff of U.S. organizations that have replaced Westerners on rural projects have increasingly become victims of kidnapping and direct targeting. In the Philippines, aid organizations operating in the southern islands of Mindanao have proven to be easy, lucrative targets for terror groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). This year, ASG abducted Filipino, Italian and Swiss aid workers as well as an Irish priest conducting missionary work in Mindanao. While no Americans were abducted, OSAC considers Americans to be at the same or greater level of risk due to their perceived ransom value.

EUROPE: Indigenous Terrorism

Concern over the threat of domestic terrorism in Europe increased in 2009. In Greece, domestic terrorist groups like the Revolutionary Struggle, which claimed responsibility for the 2007 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Athens, increased their attacks and are using progressively more destructive methods. Those methods included a failed large-scale car bomb in February against a U.S. business and a bombing at the Athens Stock Exchange in September. Due to its proximity to the stock exchange, another U.S. business’s operation was severely damaged by the September attack. The Revolutionary Struggle has promised more attacks against such “economic targets.” Through much of 2009, insurgent groups increased attacks against police and government officials in the North Caucuses region of Russia, often resorting to suicide bombs and IEDs. Press reports speculate these groups are responsible for the November 27 attack on a Nevsky Express train between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

EUROPE: Information Security

Organized cyber crime has become increasingly recognized by the U.S. private sector as a significant threat against their information security. Criminal networks, particularly those based in Eastern Europe, have expanded their operations in cyberspace, with several damaging attacks seen in 2009. Of particular concern was the Russian Business Network (RBN), a criminal enterprise known for selling services to release malware and steal identities. The breaching of the Heartland Payment Systems database of customer’s names and credit card numbers that came to light in 2009 had many similarities to tactics used by the RBN. Criminal groups operating in smaller Eastern European nations, such as Estonia, Moldova and Romania, are also major players in the organized cyber-crime world. Organized cyber crime groups often have programmers, false fronts as legitimate service providers, and hackers that are talented in creating malware. The threat to information security has drawn significant attention from industry professionals around the world and the U.S. government, due to these groups’ targeting of small and mid-sized U.S. businesses that might be vulnerable to cyber attacks or exploitation.

MIDDLE EAST: Private Sector Impediments in Iraq

The primary security concern for the U.S. private sector operating in Iraq continues to be the insurgency that has ebbed and flowed since the beginning of the U.S.-led military surge in 2007. Al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) and other indigenous insurgent groups appear unable to conduct a sustained terrorist campaign. Although the U.S. private sector has gradually learned to adapt to Iraq’s dynamic security environment, U.S. organizations face other potential impediments to the free flow of commerce in Iraq, including: pervasive public and private-sector corruption, a circuitous central government bureaucracy, poorly conceived and hastily implemented government regulations, and violent crime. Following the implementation of the Iraq-U.S. Security Agreement in January 2009, OSAC constituents who retain private security vendors reported an increase in contentious encounters with Iraq’s security forces that occasionally resulted in verbal and physical altercations between private security teams and their Iraqi counterparts.

MIDDLE EAST: Rejuvenation of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula

Following a series of tactical and strategic setbacks at the hands of the Saudi security forces, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has reconstituted itself in Yemen. In 2009, AQAP demonstrated its increasing tactical maturation by conducting several high-profile attacks on foreign targets, including the failed assassination attempt on Saudi Arabia’s Assistant Minister of Interior for Security Affairs and two separate suicide attacks on South Korean nationals. The U.S. Department of State’s Saudi Arabia Travel Warning continues to warn U.S. citizens about the ongoing security threat due to the continued presence of terrorist groups, including AQAP, who may target Western interests, housing compounds, hotels, shopping areas and other facilities where Westerners congregate.

About OSAC

The Overseas Security Advisory Council was established in 1985 as a Federal Advisory Committee with a U.S. Government Charter to promote security cooperation between the U.S. Department of State and American business and private sector interests worldwide.

With a constituency of more than 6,700 U.S. companies and other private-sector organizations with overseas interests, OSAC operates a Web site (, which offers its members the latest in safety- and security-related information, public announcements, warden messages, travel advisories, significant anniversary dates, terrorist group profiles, country crime and safety reports, special topic reports, foreign press reports, and much more.

The OSAC staff includes international security research specialists dedicated solely to serving the U.S. private sector. Additionally, OSAC has a network of more than 120 country councils around the world that brings together U.S. embassies and consulates with the local U.S. community to share security information.

OSAC is co-chaired by the Director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) and a selected representative of the private sector. The OSAC Executive Director is a Diplomatic Security Special Agent.

About The Bureau of Diplomatic Security

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is the U.S. Department of State’s law enforcement and security arm. The special agents, engineers, and security professionals of the Bureau are responsible for the security of 285 U.S. diplomatic facilities around the world.

In the United States, Diplomatic Security personnel investigate passport and visa fraud, conduct personnel security investigations, and protect the Secretary of State and high-ranking foreign dignitaries and officials visiting the United States. More information about the U.S. Department of State and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security may be obtained at

Sarah Rosetti

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