Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Intelligence companies help overseas business travelers

By Jim Krane
The Associated Press

        NEW YORK — For Americans who travel abroad, the world looks like a more menacing place.

 State Department:

  Business Travel Coalition:

  Travel security services:

        Since Sept. 11, a swarm of travel intelligence services and executive tracking programs have emerged, capitalizing on the fear of things foreign. Most aim to inform business junketeers about the potential for disease, delays and danger.

        Business, they say, has been vigorous.

        “We're adding double the number of clients per month than we were before Sept. 11,” said Tim Daniel, chief operating officer of International SOS Assistance Inc. “There's a real desire to find out what the heck is going on.”

        International SOS, based in Philadelphia and London, had mainly been known as the company that evacuates executives from war zones.

        Now, it e-mails clients daily “situation updates” and offers a locator service to track business travelers as they trot the globe. The company counts PricewaterhouseCoopers, Nortel Networks Corp. and Citigroup among its clients.

iJet Travel Intelligence claims to monitor 5,000 information sources and prides itself on preempting travel warnings issued by the U.S. State Department.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        Another travel security company is Control Risks Group, a company better known for sending ex-soldiers to extract kidnapped executives. It now sells travel warnings — and updates them when you synchronize your Palm hand-held organizer.

        A new company called iJET Travel Intelligence — formed by former American, British, South African and Russian intelligence officers — touts a computer network based on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's.

        Like the CIA, the Annapolis, Md.-based company monitors thousands of information sources for hints of future mayhem, said Rick Lurie, iJET's vice president for intelligence operations.

        But iJET's intelligence isn't kept secret. For as little as $25, iJET will zap it to your cell phone or BlackBerry.

        The company prides itself on preempting the U.S. State Department's advisories.

        Last summer, the company warned travelers to South Africa to expect violent demonstrations during a United Nations conference on race. Demonstrations occurred, but were mostly peaceful.

        “We told people weeks in advance,” said Mr. Lurie, who used to work at the shadowy U.S. National Security Agency. “The State Department reported its warning the day of the conference.”

        The field is packed with similar vendors.

        Travel manager Rosenbluth International offers a traveler locator service similar to that of International SOS.

        Companies can buy intelligence from vendors such as Kroll Inc., Pinkerton Global Intelligence Services, IntelCenter.com, Stratfor.com and IntelGo.com.

        The surge in security products parallels the leap in warnings released by the State Department, the FBI, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.

        When five people — including two Americans — died in a grenade attack on a church in Pakistan, the State Department issued a “worldwide caution.” The March 17 bulletin warned against further attacks on U.S. travelers, asking Americans to avoid places where other Americans congregate.

        Has the world really grown more dangerous?

        “That's probably fair to say,” said State Department spokesman Edward Dickens. “In certain places, under certain circumstances, Americans are a particular target. But it was dangerous in places and at times before Sept. 11.”

        But Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, which advocates travel-friendly public policy, said the U.S. government and security companies have a “vested interest” in warning Americans of risks abroad, even if that means erring on the side of caution.

        The world “isn't more dangerous if you look at it from a statistical standpoint,” Mr. Mitchell said.

        For security companies, warning Americans is more than a vested interest. It's a livelihood.

        Some may take their job too far. For instance, iJET's Lurie described Spain, a country whose streets are arguably safer than those in the United States, as a “terrorist hotbed.”

        “We've issued a dozen alerts about Spain,” Lurie said.

        Spain does suffer occasional bombings by Basque insurgents. But few consider the country unsafe. The State Department says the 1 million yearly American visitors haven't been targeted, but should still watch out — mainly for pickpockets.

        In most countries, the situation is similar. Corporate espionage, street crime and traffic wrecks are bigger worries, said Thomas Nulty, president of Navigant International, a corporate travel management company.


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