Behind the Book: KJ Howe’s THE FREEDOM BROKER

Have you ever heard the term response consultant? If you aren’t familiar with this term, you’re not alone. There are about twenty-five to thirty people in the world who do this job—although the number of responders is growing because kidnapping has become an international crisis, especially in certain hot zones. Response consultants work for private companies in the kidnapping and ransom field, and they provide support and guidance to hostages and their families. These experts risk their own lives to help others, and my character Thea Paris is one of these elite consultants. Her personal story is featured in the first book of the series, THE FREEDOM BROKER.

For the last three years, I have researched kidnap and ransom intensively, interviewing response consultants, former hostages, reintegration experts, psychiatrists who specialize in the captive’s mindset, K&R insurance executives, and the Special Forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues. It has been a fascinating journey, both inspiring and sometimes heartbreaking. I have had the privilege to meet several response consultants and found these individuals to be patient, tactical, and talented at thinking on their feet. They usually speak at least one other language, as this is a huge asset when dealing with crises abroad. Their backgrounds vary, but most have experience in the security field, often former agents at alphabet soup organizations like MI6 and the FBI. For example, Thea Paris worked with the Defense Intelligence Agency—the DIA—before taking on the role of a response consultant. When she is assigned a case via her company, Quantum International Security, she grabs a to-go bag and travels undercover to the foreign locale, ready to immerse herself in the case.

It’s not an easy life with the constant travel and danger, the long hours and the intense stress of life or death situations. It takes a special person to want to pursue this career. In Thea’s case, she became a freedom broker because of a traumatic childhood experience. When she was eight years old, her twelve-year-old brother was abducted while she watched frozen in fear. Her brother came back nine months later, but he was never the same. Determined to help other hostages, Thea developed the skills necessary to become an elite negotiator. Kidnapping consumed her interest, as being held in captivity seemed a purgatory of sorts. Hostages are alive, but not really living a full life, dependent on their captors for anything and everything, their freedom snatched from them. And being kidnapped is no picnic. Hostages often have to deal with mock executions, beatings, poor hygiene, terrible food, endless boredom, and many other hardships.

During my research, I had the privilege of getting to know Peter Moore, the longest held hostage in Iraq—almost 1000 days—and his story touched me deeply. Peter was taken with four British special forces soldiers, and sadly, Peter is the only one who made it home alive. While in captivity, he spent a great deal of time blindfolded. To keep himself occupied, Peter caught mosquitos between his cuffed hands, keeping count of them as a way of making it through the day. When the blindfold was removed, he spent endless hours staring at the cracks on the wall, designing an entire train system in his mind, which he was able to reproduce on paper after he came home.

Being held captive is difficult under any circumstances, as biologically, we are programmed to fight or flight—or freeze—when under extreme duress. But when you’re kidnapped, you can’t do any of those things without putting yourself in jeopardy. Try and escape, and you might be shot as a way of warning off other hostages to attempt the same. Instead, you need to summon your survival skills and endure the boredom of captivity, the adversities, and the stress of waking up every day wondering if this day might be your last. You can’t focus on the negativity. Your best bet is to maintain structure and routine in your life, exercising regularly (if possible) and keeping your mind active—and, most importantly, maintaining the hope of returning home. Keeping your mind active can be achieved many different ways. For instance, Peter designed an entire rail system in his mind out of the cracks on the wall in his cell, which he was able to reproduce on paper when he came home. Others find strength and the ability to endure in their faith. Peter’s story is one of resilience and the strength of the human spirit—and I’m grateful he made it back safely. Peter now devotes himself to helping other former hostages, speaking to groups all over the world.

Of course the best way to survive a kidnapping is to avoid it in the first place. The place to start is to be an educated traveler. Learn as much as you can about your destination and any inherent risks before you depart. The internet, government advisories, and private companies all offer useful information in assessing and preventing risk for the cautious traveler. Once you are on site, having a varied routine can help avoid targeted kidnappings. Travelling carefully only with hotel approved drivers can also reduce risk, as local taxi drivers may not be well regulated and may be untrustworthy. Having a fixed communications team with the people you leave at home is also a good idea. It is also prudent not to show that you are wealthy, as to avoid an opportunistic kidnapping. If you are travelling to a dangerous zone frequently, or for a long stay, it might be prudent to purchase kidnap and ransom insurance, in addition to medical and evacuation insurance.

You might wonder why kidnapping is on the rise. There are a few reasons. Sadly, terrorists are using it as a fundraising mechanism. Groups like ISIS are able to generate huge sums of money via kidnapping, especially since the funds from oil have dried up in many locales. Also, displaced military and police in foreign countries are out of jobs and have no way to put food on the table—but they do have security skills, so they have turned to kidnapping as a way of making a living. The lack of prosecution in these hotspots allows them to kidnap at will, with no realistic threat of punishment looming.

Although THE FREEDOM BROKER is a fictional novel, I hope that after reading it you’ll feel better educated about kidnapping and the heroes who help hostages. I’m constantly building on my research, learning more every day about this critical issue. As I continue the freedom broker series, my goal is to bring awareness about all the hostages out there who still need to come home. I’m also doing travel safety talks, as prevention is our first line of defense. The more educated you are, the safer you will be. An avid traveler myself, I want people to be able to experience the wonders of the globe and safely return home from trips abroad. Thanks for taking the time to read. Travel safe, and know elite professionals like Thea Paris are there to help if you ever need it.

 

KJ Howe