The evolving terrorism threat impact for U.S. companies: A Case Study – Turkey

tourist sites of Istanbul

In an ever changing and evolving threat from terrorism, we all look for viable solutions that are economically feasible, meet the duty of care requirement and do not complicate business.  Often times we forget the implications the Global War on Terror has for our business operations overseas.  I recently completed a survey that was focused on whether business should pull out of Istanbul or remain.  The question couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.  While I was planning my impending travel to the city where East meets the West, I found myself looking closely at the travel risk as well as whether it was feasible to curtail travel by our business units.  Istanbul on the surface is a “somewhat” safe city.  The biggest issue I have found is the ongoing conflict the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) has waged against the Turkish Security Forces.  Add that to the ongoing refugee influx as well as the presence of Islamic extremism, to include ISIL, you have a recipe that often times involves violence and terror.  These elements are looking to cause a significant blow to the Turkish economy, and by all accounts, according to reports, have negatively impacted nearly $450 billion USD to the local economy.  Does that mean US business should pull out?  Certainly not “yet.”  Once we begin to withdraw business from the region, we are saying in so many words “you have won.”  In my opinion, we can establish a stronger security posture in and around our businesses as well as provide recommendations for the business traveler.  There are simple things all business travelers can do in order to decrease their exposure to attacks and criminal activity.  For example, some key things I encourage travelers to do:

1. Don’t linger in the “non-sterile” area of the airport either on drop off for departure or for arrival
2. Limit your use of taxi service and hire a “known” driving service.  The exchange rate is very favorable, thus making this expense negligible
3. Make sure your driver speaks English and knows alternate routes to the airport and your hotel
4. Prior to departure, use mapping software such as Google Maps to plan your route from every starting and stopping point to include your route from the airport to the hotel
5. Make sure your cell phone has international coverage and make a call when you land to verify
6. Limit your time on popular touristy sites!  This is a big one.  As tempting as it might be, stay away from the popular areas where people visit
7. Never engage in conversation with someone you don’t know and don’t provide them with details of your stay
8. Have an alternate “cover story” for where you are from (best to not to say “America”) and be able to back it up.  Often time people pick cover stories that they cannot back up.  If you say “France” you better be able to speak French, for example.
9. We are all proud American’s but please don’t wear your Red, White and Blue on the street.  Try to blend in.
10. Always be aware of where you are, where you are going and how long it takes to get there.

Istanbul is a great city, but remember it is also a city struggling with a huge refugee population and a highly desirable destination for those trying to flee Iran, Iraq and Syria.  Not to mention those attempting to leave Syria after battle for their cause to get to the West and continue the battle.  Should business pull out? Absolutely not.  We should just be wiser in how we conduct ourselves there.

Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district

Jeff Harp
Jeff Harp

I have extensive experience as a counter-terrorism operator with over 20 years of working with the federal government, including a stint living/working overseas. Today I am the Manager of Global Threat Management at Autodesk. I work with business departments within the organization to ensure a safe, secure and productive operation for all business initiatives (offices, travel, events). I can be contacted at jeffrey.harp@autodesk.com with any questions, concerns, etc.