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CSOs Learn How OSAC Can Help

On Tuesday, the CSO Roundtable program looked into how the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) can help companies that increasingly send executives and employees abroad. These organizations need to keep an eye on threats they may face outside the United States but might not always have the resources to do so.

The Federal Advisory Committee Act established OSAC in 1985 to "promote security cooperation between American private sector interests worldwide and the U.S. Department of State," according to its website. Since then, OSAC has established itself as a liaison to provide timely information exchanges between the private sector and the State Department on "concerning developments in the overseas security environment."

This exchange of information includes data on terrorist attacks, natural disasters, epidemics, cyberattacks, and more that could affect U.S. corporate personnel traveling abroad. The information is transmitted to OSAC's 13,000 members, including 4,000 organizational members, that come together to create 150 country councils, eight sector-specific working groups, and four regional councils.

Membership to OSAC is free, but only companies that are based in the United States�meaning they pay U.S. taxes�can join, explained OSAC Executive Director Stephen Brunette in a CSO Roundtable Session Tuesday afternoon.

Additionally, Brunette added that companies have to operate within U.S. federal law to join OSAC. He raised this point in his presentation as OSAC recently had to deny a company's request to join because it sells marijuana products in Colorado, which is considered illegal under federal law.

Brunette also explained that the information OSAC shares is typically unclassified as it wants to encourage members to share information with others about existing threats around the globe. OSAC wants to "promote discussion within all groups," Brunette added, saying that without the exchange of information, "you lose a lot."And this exchange of information has been especially crucial over the past 18 months as each major region has several security threats OSAC is keeping a close eye on.

In the East Asia Pacific, Brunette said OSAC is closely watching what's happening in Thailand to see how it continues to transition following a military coup in May 2014. It's also keeping tabs on the situation in Hong Kong after last year's Umbrella Revolution protests.

Another major concern in the region is China. "What we're seeing from our relationships is that the regulatory environment [in China] is becoming much more nationalistic and much more difficult and aggressive towards United States corporations in China," Brunette explained.

One region with a recent upturn in activity is Europe, which is now addressed almost daily in OSAC's meetings and threat assessments. Most concerning are the recent actions by ISIL, which is calling for attacks in Western Europe, resulting in some lone-wolf terrorist incidents.

OSAC is also closely monitoring the ongoing refugee crisis that's challenging borders in Central and Western Europe, as well as Russian aggression towards Eastern Europe. All of this activity is making it a "challenging time there to get everything pulled together and to track exactly what's happening," Brunette said.

In the Middle East and North Africa, Brunette said the region hasn't lost its title of the "hot bed of activity" as OSAC monitors the Syrian civil war and Russia's recent involvement. It's also watching ISIL and its expansion throughout Africa and South Asia, along with continued instability in Libya.

OSAC hasn't "seen any resolution" to instability in Libya, despite attempts to resolve it through political dialogue, Brunette said. He added that he doesn't anticipate any change in the situation for the time being.

Moving to South Central Asia, OSAC is monitoring violent protests in Nepal and rising Hindu extremism and targeting of minorities in India. For instance, India recently changed its laws, banning beef from slaughtered bulls and bullocks. Critics have called this move an attempt to undermine secularism within India.

Also on OSAC's radar in the region is the situation in Bangladesh were Islamic extremists are threatening secular writers in the West. Brunette explained that this threat is no longer limited to just writers as just yesterday an Italian national was assassinated in Dhaka's diplomatic zone by three men on motorcycles with small hand guns. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, and Brunette said it's now "time for us to be concerned."

And finally, in the Western Hemisphere, OSAC is tracking high crime from Mexico in the narcotics arena. Salvador's crime rate has also "gone off the charts" in a surge driven by gang activity, Brunette added.

OSAC is also monitoring Venezuela, which Brunette said continues to reach new lows as its economy is in tatters, the population can no longer obtain basic necessities, and riots and fights are regularly breaking out in the streets. "The crime is just unstoppable at this point in time," he added.