A (WIP) personal and personnel security ‘thought experiment’ based on a hypothetical engagement in Kiev Ukraine. For the avoidance of doubt, I have visited Kiev (very safely) in the past, and this was written just prior to the lockdowns across Europe. That is particularly interesting given the degree to which health risks and travel disruptions must now feature (perhaps even dominate) in post-lockdown risk assessments.
This essay presents a worked example of a risk assessment and briefing pertinent to the management of personal and personnel security of staff from an international consulting firm conducting a 2-week engagement with the Ukrainian Government in Kiev. The consulting firm assists governments with matters of economic policy. In this hypothetical instance, the firm is supplying UK nationals who will stay in Kiev for the short duration of the engagement. The methodological approach taken is to present an overview of the political situation in Ukraine, including the stability and key threat sources to foreign nationals including terrorism, serious and organised crime and low-level crime. Once threats have been identified and positioned inside a contextual landscape, they are then evaluated quantitatively using 3 key attributes. These attributes are: 1. the intention of terrorist or criminal actors, 2. the capability of terrorists or criminal actors and 3. the opportunity terrorists or criminal actors have, to manifest threats against targets. Each attribute is scored on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest), and the aggregate risk of each threat being a simple multiplication of intention x capability x opportunity. The most severe threat to personal and personnel security would therefore score 125 points on this scale, and the lowest possible risks would score 1. Having identified and substantiated the key risks to personnel, an example briefing is then presented demonstrating key points of risk mitigation that staff should adopt in their personal and professional movements and conduct throughout their stay in Ukraine.
As a former state within the USSR, Ukraine has a long and increasingly complex relationship with Russia (Motyl, 2014). Simplistically there is an east/west divide in Ukraine with a sizable Russia leaning populous, particularly in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk (Ukraine’s Divisions, 2014). A disputed referendum held in 2014 led to the annexation of Crimea (Pifer, 2019). As of March 2020, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the United Kingdom (UK) advises against all travel to these regions (FCO, 2020), due to the risk of ongoing armed conflict between Russian militias (Malyarenko and Galbreath, 2016) and Ukrainian security forces. Sympathies of citizens in regions outside of eastern Ukraine should not be assumed and although Kiev is ‘western learning’ in outlook, it would be naïve to assume this to be an unanimously held view. Russian influences and interests must be considered and there may be risks to foreign nationals working with the Ukrainian government, as they may be targeted as information sources or as opportunities to embarrass the Ukrainian and UK governments.
The politics of Ukraine is complex with a wide array of political parties and political ideologies. Populism is notable as demonstrated in the Ukrainian Presidential election of 2019 in which television actor Volodymyr Zelensky swept to victory. There has been a history of corruption within Ukrainian politics (Country Policy and Information Note – Ukraine: Organised crime and corruption, 2019), and businesses and citizens across Ukraine have campaigned for political reform (Butler, 2019). The political and economic influence of oligarchs has been debated and there is a risk that anticompetitive practices may persist in some sectors (Denisova-Schmidt and Huber, 2014). The influence of large business and lobbyists should be considered along with their motives and transparency of relationships. Attempts may be made to gain influence with (or foresight of) policy changes, particularly in economic sectors. Corruption has links with money laundering and organised criminality in Ukraine (Stack, 2015), which is a significant threat to economic and social stability.
Political demonstrations in Kiev and other cities have been extremely large and have at times been violent. Given both cultural and language barriers, UK nationals would be prudent in avoiding any large public demonstrations as they may fail to comprehend the nuances of protest and counter-protest and directives issued by the Ukrainian security forces. As a sovereign democracy, the rule of law and the support for the government and state forces is strong. There are of course variations in allegiances to the state, with notable differences in the eastern regions (Ivanov et al., 2017).
Ukrainian nationalism and far-right extremism are factors to consider. Far-right attitudes towards the LGBT community and some religious and cultural minorities are extremely intolerant (Colborne, 2019). Risks to individuals can be lessened by avoiding any gatherings or demonstrations involving elements of the Ukrainian far-right (Ishchenko, 2016). There are suggestions that Russia exaggerates the influence of the far-right in Ukraine for political purposes. Russian sources should be assessed critically, as there may be underlying motives in Russian narratives (Boyd-Barrett, 2017).
There is a significant organised crime challenge in Ukraine with well-established crime syndicates. Ukrainian and Russian mafia have (at least some) links in the police and legislature. Grey space and governance challenges exacerbated by conflict in eastern Ukraine could be exploited. Elements of the Ukrainian mafia may take significant interest in economic policy, particularly where it touches on fraud, money laundering, vice and black markets. Personnel visiting Ukraine and working within economic sectors, particularly within government should be cognisant of the risks posed by organised criminals wishing to acquire information and intelligence about Ukrainian government policy debates.
The threat of transnational terrorism is pervasive, and Ukraine is no exception. Although the threat appears low, it is conceivable that mass casualty attacks could be mounted in cities including Kiev. These may target western economic interests, religious and cultural targets, government and security force targets and others. Threat actors include transnational Jihadist organisations (Beslin and Ignjatijevic, 2017) such as Al Qaeda or Islamic State (IS) as well as home grown far-right extremists. There may additionally be threats over-spilling from tensions in eastern Ukraine, which could be projected through proxies or even via criminal actors in major cities. Access to weapons and explosives from the conflict in eastern Ukraine could fuel both terrorism and violent organised crime. The threat of targeted kidnapping by both terrorists and criminals appears low but cannot be wholly discounted.
Lower level criminality from street gangs and other miscreants presents risks. This includes risks of theft, mugging, sexual violence and assault. Protection of corporate equipment and government information is vital for both protection of the individual and business interests. Precautions should be taken at airports, in the use of taxis, Wi-Fi networks, in hotels, restaurant and bars. The risks of street robbery or assault are like other major European cities, and ostentatious behaviour or displays of wealth would be equally imprudent.
The key threats to personnel are next assessed quantitatively in the context of the political landscape described. The threats are assessed thematically, looking at terrorism and organised crime. There is a multiplicity of additional threats which would be considered in a holistic analysis, including general criminality. For the sake of brevity, and in this illustrative example, two threats only are scored. In the briefing that follows these form the core framework and mitigating actions for personnel protection.
Transnational Terrorism Threat
For the purposes of brevity, the terrorism threat is considered from the perspective of global Jihadism and transnational terrorism from IS and its broad affiliate network. In this sense, there is certainly Intent to strike against UK interests and citizens across the globe. UK citizens would be regarded as legitimate targets by these organisations, although it is unlikely that individuals would be specifically targeted, unless they had a very prominent public profile. Under the scoring rubric, Intent would therefore be 3. In terms of Capability, loan actor ramming or stabbing attacks have been preferred over complex multi-actor or multi-vector attacks in other countries. Low capabilities are required to prosecute simple high casualty attacks. It is conceivable that these would target hotels or other areas in which westerners are known to congregate, for maximal effect. Capability is scored as 2, although this could be raised if evidence emerged of terrorists acquiring weapons, explosives, training or other sponsorship from actors in eastern Ukraine. In terms of Opportunity, as the terrorist treat is not specifically directed at consulting staff, they are very unlikely to be known to a terrorist organisation. The profile of work being done for the Ukrainian government may raise awareness and publicity should therefore not be courted. Opportunity is therefore scored as 1. The overall risk calculation is 3 x 2 x 1 = 6. Mitigations for personnel against a transnational terrorism threat will therefore follow standard UK government counterterrorism advice and any related FCO advisory notices.
Organised Crime Threat
Given the nature of the work being undertaken and the client, there is a risk of coming to the attention of organised crime groups including the Ukrainian mafia, which is likely to have contacts at certain levels of public administration. There are social engineering attack risks through which staff may be groomed or spearfished. The intent of the threat actor may be to gain insight or influence over economic policy development to ensure continuation of lucrative criminal enterprises. Anti-money laundering, vice crack downs, tax evasion detection, corporate governance and a raft of other measures might pique the interest of organised criminals. Staff may be subject to threats, blackmail attempts or bribery. Being well-placed as a trusted advisor to the government could single out individuals as high value, named targets. As such Intent is scored as 5 in this theoretical example to illustrate the potential value that organised criminals may place on ‘persons of influence’. Organised crime groups and their associates are highly sophisticated and have capabilities to mount targeting and entrapment operations. The duration of the engagement arguably protects staff against a long running social engineering threat. The Capability of organised criminals, particularly Ukrainian and Russian mafia is scored as 4. In terms of Opportunity, the relatively short duration of the engagement is a significant limiter. Individuals may come to the attention of organised criminals through corrupt officials or informants. Opportunity is scored as 3, as although patterns of activity may be quickly discernible, the time limit places a significant challenge on the threat actor. The overall risk calculation is 5 x 4 x 3 = 60.
In the next section, a hypothetical briefing is given describing to consulting staff the terrorism and organised crime threats they may encounter during the Ukrainian engagement. Where relevant, staff are provided references to further authoritative reading and guidance. Additional measures would likely also be codified in the terms of the engagement between the consulting firm and the client, including a security aspects letter and key guidance in the handling of confidential information.
We are delighted to have been successful in our tender to the Ukrainian government and excited to commence our engagement in the coming weeks. Staff travelling to Kiev should be reassured that our security personnel have conducted a risk assessment and have put together this simple briefing document to help you understand and mitigate the risks of both terrorism and organised crime in country. The risk to you as an individual is of course small, but security is a shared responsibility and there are measures that you can take to protect yourself, your colleagues and our collective corporate reputation through simple steps.
Situation – a terrorist attack on the workplace
The risk of transnational terrorism in Ukraine is low, particularly in Kiev. The UK Government advises against all travel to eastern Ukraine and we strongly recommend staying within the city limits of Kiev throughout the two-week engagement. We will be working in government offices in Kiev. These have high levels of security protection and surveillance and stringent access controls. Government offices are potential targets as they represent symbols of the state, although recent Islamist terrorism attacks in Europe have targeted high foot traffic commercial areas. Please be vigilant in and around the workplace. Do not linger in insecure areas or at entrances / exits. Be aware of your surroundings and do not hold doors open for anyone who does not have the requisite security passes. Remove all security passes on leaving buildings and ensure there are not visible outside to members of the public. As part of orientation you will receive a briefing on the layout of the building and area in which you are working. This is vital for fire evacuation. Please ensure you are familiar with clearance routes from the building, and the procedures used in the event of a bomb alert. Please familiarise yourself in advance with the UK Government’s Run Hide Tell advice (HMG, 2015) which should be followed by default.
How to respond
If there is a bomb alert, you will either be evacuated by a safe route, if cleared, otherwise follow building procedure which will involve moving to reinforced areas such as stair wells, away from windows and the risk of flying glass. Should there be any suggestion of an attacker within the building, as a priority try and remove yourself from the scene and get as far away from the potential attack as possible through a safe route (Run). If this is not possible, secret yourself in a secure location behind a locked and/or barricaded door (Hide). Informing security, police or emergency services should only be done when safe to do so (Tell). Keeping silent until a threat passes is important to prevent risks of discovery. Stay clear of doors and windows. Ensure you comply with directives from armed police during the clearance of the building. As there may be a language barrier, err on the side of caution, keeping hands visible and making only slow and non-threatening movements. Once the incident has ended, check that your colleagues are all accounted for and safe.
Situation – Social Engineering Attack by Organised Criminals
Organised crime and systemic corruption are key challenges in Ukraine (Nasuti, 2016). Our work with the Ukrainian government may come to the attention of organised criminals. The threat of physical violence is very low; however, attempts may be made to gain information or influence with our staff through bribery, intimidation, blackmail, coercion or other methods. To protect the interests of our client and our own professional reputations it is important that work is not discussed in insecure locations and that cyber-security hygiene is followed in accordance with company policy. Please ensure you are familiar with corporate information security policies and the procedures for secure handling of information and protective markings used by our client. Information Assurance will provide a separate briefing as part of project on-boarding. Avoiding contact with criminals is important for all our safety and we strongly advise against any visits to areas associated with the Kiev vice trade or ‘adult entertainment’ establishments. Be aware of inquisitive colleagues at work and only provide information to them on a ‘need to know basis’ in line with our terms of engagement. Copies of any of our deliverables and recommendations should only be provided to named client representatives.
How to respond
If you feel you have been subject of a social engineering attack, being asked for example about the nature of your work, for copies of documents, opinions about recommendations or any other materials, first politely decline. There are documented agreements and engagement governance procedures that are in place to protect against these threats. The likelihood is that a staff member may simply be inquisitive, but err on the side of caution and use the principle of ‘need to know’ without being unduly secretive or uncooperative. Discretely inform the engagement lead of the request.
There are a great many similarities in the risks (both personal and corporate) that staff may encounter working across the EU and in countries such as Ukraine. There are some key security and stability challenges, particularly in the east of Ukraine and a notable problem with systemic corruption at various levels of government and the legislature. Kiev is a thriving city with many European characteristics, however Russian influences and allegiances among some of the populous should be understood. Organised crime is problematic in Ukraine and the Ukrainian and Russian mafia are well established and sophisticated actors. The terrorism threat, particularly outside eastern Ukraine is on par with EU capitals, however weapons and explosives might be more easily attainable. Far right extremism in Ukraine is present, however its influence may be exaggerated by Russian sources for political purposes. Social attitudes may be more conservative, and tolerance of minority groups may be somewhat less enlightened that liberal European centres. The risk of travel to and working in Kiev is low, however any engagement with government must be conducted discretely to prevent reputational damage to either party, or to potentially invite unwanted attention from self-interested and potentially nefarious actors.
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