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OSAC Gives Threat Update

Terrorist attacks and tensions with Uber. Nuclear threats and natural disasters. Cartel crime and chilly national relations. There's a lot going on in the world, and U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Executive Director Tom Scanlon briefed CSO Center members on region-by-region threats, and what executives should take into consideration when they do business abroad.

OSAC was formed in 1985 by the U.S. Department of State as a way to meet business's needs to protect overseas assets. Calling it "the granddaddy of them all," Scanlon noted that the organization now sends advisors to 285 locations around the world.

Scanlon marveled at how the global threat landscape has changed during
the 30 years he's spent working for the State Department.

"Think about how 25 years ago with the first World Trade Center bombing, how much went into carrying it out, and even the 9/11 attack," he said. "Fast forward to today, attacks are a lot simpler, timelines are shorter, and it's a bigger challenge for law enforcement to stop these."

Latin America. Scanlon pointed to Venezuela's July vote for a constituent assembly, which replaced the opposition-filled national assembly and gave Maduro's regime another lever of power.

While there is a travel warning in place for Venezuela, State has not issued an order of departure for American diplomats in the country. OSAC is reviewing conditions every 30 days, he said, paying special attention to access to medical care, airports, and schools.

The State Department has to constantly update travel warnings for Mexico because the security environment changes so quickly. Scanlon said the areas that are seeing the largest increase in murders are surprising—tourist destinations such as Cancun, Cozumel, Cabo, and Baja California Sur.

Colombia is on the up-and-up, but still sees street crime such as pickpocketing and muggings. FARC guerillas signed a peace treaty with the Colombian government this summer to become a recognized political party, but Scanlon said he wondered what would happen to the demobilized fighters.

Europe. This year has been another difficult year for European countries, Scanlon said. "Extremists are focusing on tourist locations, transportation hubs, high profile areas—everywhere you go to in your everyday life," Scanlon explained. "This shows the ability of the new ISIS mechanism of carrying out attacks through sympathizers with simple tools. As police have increased security, they can turn their focus on medium-sized cities equally as vulnerable."

Asia. Russia's tit-for-tat with American diplomats has kept OSAC on its toes. Beginning when former U.S. President Barack Obama closed two Russian embassies in the United States and continuing when Russia pushed out more than 700 U.S. government employees and local staff, the State Department has had to balance the need for security and the ability to process visas.

U.S. travel to North Korea is now illegal as both governments ratchet up tensions. "If someone miscalculates and makes the wrong move, it's going to be a very difficult situation to negotiate," Scanlon said. OSAC recently held a meeting with the organizing committee of the Winter Olympics in South Korea as the event rapidly approaches to address security concerns, he noted.

Middle East. Earlier this week in northern Iraq, the Kurdistan regional government held a referendum on independence for Kurds in the area. Scanlon explained that the move would bring insecurity that might prompt ISIS to carry out attacks to further destabilize the region. Meanwhile, as ISIS continues to lose ground, Scanlon said he is concerned about what will happen to jihadists as they return home—will they form cells in their home countries, or resettle in Iraq?

Africa. South Africa is seeing tensions between traditional taxi drivers and Uber and other ridesharing drivers that make it more difficult to travel throughout the area. Traditional drivers have gone as far as pulling Uber drivers and passengers out of their vehicles and beating them, Scanlon noted.