Thursday, January 06, 2005

Held Hostage in Albania

As a result of the new communication link that this Blog provides, I recently reconnected with Frank Koye, a 1982 graduate of Annapolis. In a response to one of my Blog postings, Frank described himself in the following way:

I am an Annapolis man who has contributed to society as an Eagle Scout providing leadership in Scout camps in Spain, Italy, Germany and the USA, driving submarines for global thermal nuclear war, supervising nuclear power plants for the Navy, designing and manufacturing missiles + rockets, taught grad school and successfully started businesses in banking, manufacturing and real estate in the Balkans, conducted intelligence operations, done anti-terrorism with the SEALs, and father of 4 children. Currently working as a contractor for a federal agency in DC and serving on the board for NDIA Special Ops & Low Intensity Conflict Division. My wife is an international human rights lawyer whom I met while serving as military liaison to Albania. After being wed in a brief civil ceremony I managed to get myself taken hostage, something a few other friends have managed as well.

Needless to say, I was intrigued by the fleeting reference to Frank having been held hostage in Albania. I wrote back and asked him for details. With Frank's permission, I share with you his story.

I had actually received the Pentagon briefing on terrorism after I had had my encounter – and the most striking point of the briefing was their attempt to prepare you for your feelings when you are released, and others remain behind in the hands of the kidnappers…something I experienced. My thoughts at the moment were I didn’t have time for such an interruption, wondering what was going on (as people were making threats in a low tone in a foreign language), watching the reaction of those around me – crying shaking uncontrollably, and feeling disassociated from it all. I was actually in the midst of reviewing a multimillion dollar real estate purchase.

I became a hostage along with a French citizen, and two Albanian citizens in one of the best hotels in town, sitting in an office attached to the hotel. I sat with my back to the door during the negotiation, as the women who served as council for our venture capital group were seated first, and I had the last seat entering, which ended me up with my back towards the entrance to the office.

The disorientation because foreign language, being overseas in a different scenario and setting where it is difficult to know what to expect, and it was a new experience with shock and surprise. Naturally, I was annoyed, felt like leaving, but was advised against it. I patiently waited through negotiations, while activating a tiny tape recorder – so that in the event I ended up with a bullet through the head there might be some evidence to know what had transpired that day. You see I wasn’t frightened in any manner, no time for that. It wasn’t until I was released and looking over my shoulder that reality began to set in.

The situation unfolded quickly and then hours passed, and eventually later that day I was released, at the negotiation of one of the hostages, who was discussing ransom payments. The conditions of release were that all means of transportation for leaving the country had stopped operating, and the kidnappers could find me again easily. The women were released, and we spoke afterwards about what to do. We felt strange, almost guilty about being released, and anxious about the fate of our colleague.

We telephoned the appropriate embassies, but nothing was to be done. The police were not involved at the request of our colleague, who successfully arranged for payment privately. To our good fortune, we were not kept hostage all day, but we were leaving with a feeling of doom and threat – looking over our shoulders. I returned to my villa which I was sharing with a Portuguese special weapons assault team police officer, and promptly borrowed his semi-automatic firearm.

The careless regard of others about YOUR security afterwards was eye-opening, as people leave locked doors open while cleaning or leaving doors ajar. The awareness that embassy protection is to protect diplomats assigned to the embassy, and you are solo is certainly a light that went on.

Resolution – our French colleague arranged resolution through private payment later that day, and the ordeal was linked to his business affairs unrelated to our dealings. So I found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, it was a valuable lesson as later that year I would find myself under surveillance during a period of assassination and attack threats by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, while supporting the Embassy, NATO and US Forces in country. The lesson of my earlier experience gave me the ability to have heightened awareness in such situations. Later that year when I realized my home and my movements were under the attention of “foreigners” in country and in the neighborhood, my wife and I quietly made our way to Athens and eventually
found our way to safety finding safe haven in Germany with a friend, a West Point grad who had recently retired from a career in Special Operations.

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