Peter Moore: kidnap victim ten years after release on lessons learnt for survival and security
IT Consultant Peter Moore was kidnapped in Iraq and held captive for 2.5 years. In the ten years since his release in 2009, he has reflected on how he survived, what led to him being kidnapped and pragmatic suggestions for others in a similar situation.
Choosing Baghdad as a place of work
The rollercoaster landing at Baghdad Airport in April 2007 was a big clue into how life there was going to be for Peter Moore.
Missiles were going off in the distance and a group of Iraqi prisoners were kneeling, with their hands tied behind their backs, just by the runway. At the time, he thought, “Maybe this is riskier than I thought.”
But his choice of location was more considered than it seems. Peter already had experience of working in challenging spots around the world, including long spells in Guyana and China. This posting, which he thought would be brief and beneficial to his career, was part of a permanent role.
However, his youth and naivety did play a part. He didn’t tell his parents his next job was in Baghdad – they only found out when he was kidnapped – and his friends told him he must be mad.
The security set-up
Any concerns Peter did have about travelling to a war zone were partially assuaged by the security arrangements put in place. He was told he would be assigned a four-man security team, who were ex-military and highly trained. Any travel would be in a low-profile armoured vehicle.
There had only been one incident in all the years the company had been there. Plus, his company provided him with full Kidnap and Ransom insurance.
As an IT programmer, he did not consider himself a valuable person to kidnap; he thought, “I am not a target, I am worthless, a nobody, no value.” Unfortunately, it turned out, this was not the case.
Peter’s day began in an unsettling way on the 29th May 2007: on the journey to his office, there was an unusually large number of police vehicles on the main road to the Red Zone where he worked. But he kept quiet, as dictated by the security protocols during journeys, something he was later to regret.
He arrived at the Ministry of Finance and began training a small group about an IT tool. An hour later, without warning, men dressed as police officers from the Ministry of the Interior barged into the room. One of them put a gun to his head and said, “Come on.”
On the way out, he realised his security team had also been taken: the first two who had been positioned outside his door and the other two from the car parked outside. They were downstairs surrounded by police officers. Peter asked, “What should I do?” and the team leader told him, “Do whatever they say.”
At this point, Peter still believed his security team would effect an escape, that their military training would enable them to overcome their kidnappers: “I never anticipated the security team getting abducted.” Unfortunately, this Hollywood-inspired version of events is not what transpired.
Peter was put in the back of a police vehicle, together with the security team leader. He had about $400 in his pocket and thought, “I’ve dealt with corrupt police before, $400 gets you out of anything, anywhere.” He pulled out the money and said “Dollar.” It was passed to the kidnapper in the front seat who threw it out of the window. Peter thought, “That’s not right! What the hell is going on? He’s supposed to pull over and kick me out.”
The kidnappers took off his ID tags, then his shirt, trousers and boots and threw these out of the window too. Peter now understood, “This is an abduction.” The vehicle moved quickly with lights and sirens going. They were transferred to other vehicles and other buildings – with lots of moves in the first day. Then he was moved to the first house of his captivity, chained, handcuffed and his glasses removed.
Living in captivity
Indeed, for much of his captivity, Peter was chained to the wall, blindfolded and endured torture and arduous conditions. For the first six months, he was kept with members of his security team. “Everyone was under the impression we’d get out alive – I remember thinking in six months, dead or alive, this will be over.”
They were asked to do a number of videos, most of which seemed to go nowhere. But one particular one was shown on CNN and they were allowed to see it. The report said it was really unusual for foreigners to be taken; they would have been either killed or exchanged. The report also said that the UK and US had to release the prisoner named in two weeks or they were going to kill Peter and his fellow captees. “I thought, we are going to die. We are not going to get out.”
As it turned out, the exchange took much longer than six months to negotiate. Peter was held for 2 years, 7 months, 1 day – 946 days in total.
Peter’s release was announced by the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, on the 29th December 2009. Peter was taken to the British embassy and from there flown back to the UK.
During the year following his release, Peter was debriefed by both British and American military. His security team were unfortunately killed and there is still an open murder investigation into their deaths.
Peter was assigned a naval psychologist. Although he was experiencing 10 to 20 flashbacks a minute, he wasn’t diagnosed with PTSD since it was not debilitating and he gradually improved. He still has occasional flashbacks, especially when alone, but on the whole has been able to put the experience behind him.
Peter has seen many experts who have helped him deal with his ordeal. For him, the key thing is “understanding the theories and models that have been developed. To me, being kidnapped and held hostage was this random mess. When you analyse it, there is a process with distinct phases. Had I known this at the time, it would have been obvious that when they captured us, they were not planning on killing. So, we needed to just sweat it out.”
Ten years on
Peter now uses his experience to help train military personnel in a programme known as Conduct After Capture. In fact, this makes a really positive impact on him – “It is the most helpful thing I’ve done”– not least because everyone is interested and needs to know this information. Plus, it has enabled him to work with experts who can explain the theories behind kidnap.
Peter is also using his experience to create a Virtual Reality training app – a hostage survival simulation. “You put the headset on and you can experience a kidnap – at each stage a menu is shown giving you options for what you can do next.” This could be useful training for anyone preparing to go into a hostile environment.
Outlook on life now
The experience completely changed Peter’s outlook on life. “I’ve worked out the minimum paid work I need to do to survive and only do that. I travel a lot. I’ve taken a motor cycle trip around North America and have planned trips on a Royal Enfield around India and South America.”
Peter’s background of working overseas held him in good stead: “I was used to living with no air conditioning, having blackouts with no electricity or running water. I was used to being in a room and people speaking foreign languages around me.” Additionally, his IT background and logical approach to solving problems helped him survive his ordeal. He reasoned through his response and developed a number of tactics:
Building a rapport with your kidnappers
He decided the only way to get what he needed, like getting out of his chains, blindfold and handcuffs was to build a rapport with the kidnappers. “I couldn’t stay like this for an unknown amount of time.”
He says, “Just because you ask them about their lifestyle, why they are involved with this situation, it doesn’t mean you agree with them, you are just gaining an understanding.”
At one point in his captivity, there was only one TV in the building, so Peter was in the same room as his guards. They all spoke some English words and Peter had some Arabic words and plenty of time for long conversations: “What might take 30 seconds to describe normally, like how are houses built here or how do you get a driving licence, would take hours. Guards get bored as well.”
He was moved around to different houses with different guards. It turns out communications between the groups wasn’t too good and he could exploit this.
For example, when senior people came in, he’d say, “The Americans are not keeping your people like this.” They’d agree and make some concessions. Then, when he moved elsewhere with new guards, he’d ask, “Why you putting the blindfold on – they didn’t at the last place.”
Ultimately it worked: in his final year, he was not in chains, or handcuffs or blindfolds.
Telling the truth
Peter’s fellow captees did not tell the truth about themselves, possibly part of their previous military training. They lied about previous jobs and their family situations. As time went on, it became more and more difficult to maintain the level of detail and accuracy required.
Following the example of his security team, Peter lied about having a wife to encourage his kidnappers to have more concern for him than they would a single man. He knew it would be difficult to imagine someone from scratch, so he envisioned a friend from Guyana and created a whole story about their life together. “Two years down the line, it gave me a bit of a focus – I would tell different bits about our fictitious life together to different Iraqis.”
But beyond that, he told the truth about everything. His approach is “Tell the truth –absolute truth – you have nothing to lose.”
Keeping your mind active
Peter knew it was important to keep his mind active. He tried to solve many problems by thinking them through. He’d plan an escape, or a rescue, think about how he would behave (lie down and put your hands out – your rescuers won’t know who you are). He also practiced interviews, negotiated buying a motor bike, made shapes by looking at the fabric on the curtains.
Do not keep a calendar
At first, he did draw out a calendar and ticked off dates. But ultimately, “It was not helpful – the most depressing thing going, when you go month after month, year after year. You don’t want that – it is traumatic.”
Don’t get attached to things
At one point, Peter started collecting bits of fluff and building them into a ball. After six months or so, he had a huge ball! He was impressed. Then one day, the guards became suspicious and thought he’d hidden something in it. So, they broke it up and threw it away, causing him great upset.
He also used to have conversations with his pillow and got very traumatised when he lost that. So, he decided not to get attached to anything in the future. “Every couple of months I asked them to get me new clothes and pillow, so I didn’t get attached to them.”
Lessons learnt for security
Peter has also had time to reflect on the lessons that can be learnt about his security set up in Baghdad:
A significant problem was that the approach to security had become routine and complacency had set in.
Security is everyone’s concern
When Peter had his concerns on his journey to work, his thoughts were “if my security team think it is ok, then it’s fine”. There were unhelpful distinctions between the roles of Principal, Client and the Security Team, with the underlying message: Don’t listen to the Principal, the Client is paying and the Security Team are in charge of security. It is important to empower everyone to have a role in security. The key thing is, if you have a concern – say it!
Trust your instincts
When Peter saw the excessive number of police vehicles in the road on his way to work he thought, “there’s something wrong here”. He’s since learned the military saying that sums it up really well, “the presence of the abnormal, absence of the normal,” and says, “if it’s wrong – it’s wrong”. He and his security team could have turned around and discussed whether to go on or not.
Practise and check using radio and other security equipment
When the security team in the car outside saw the police storming the building, they tried to radio Peter upstairs in the training room.
Unfortunately, Peter’s radio was in his bag, switched off and on the wrong channel anyway. They had tried the security team outside the training room – but their radio battery was dead too. Clearly, it is imperative to make sure your equipment is working, charged, accessible and you know how to use it.
Technology set up
There was a panic button system in place – with a button in the car linking to the Green Zone five miles away. This triggered a call to the security team but by then the kidnap was in progress. There are now more technological solutions available to protect against kidnap. It is critical that these are set up in the most effective way.
Survival training and general security training would have helped a lot. “Clients and Principals go on training – but do the training teams?” Is there an assumption that a military background is all the training that is needed?
Politically sensitive work – treading on toes
Peter will never know why he was selected for kidnap. But he believes some of the work he carried out in the weeks beforehand might provide an insight. He had installed some tracking software on the payroll system in the Ministry of Finance. This would enable them to spot any duplicates and highlight those corruptly claiming more than one salary. In doing this, he may have inadvertently incensed corrupt officials, which in turn made him a target.
It is important to understand the impact of our role, the implications of this and consider any possible negative outcomes.
Being prepared for kidnap
Looking back, Peter thinks if he had been wearing body armour and a functioning radio, he may have resisted the abduction. “I could have just sat on the floor. It would have been very difficult to shoot me there and then.” But this is easy to say with hindsight. At that point, he truly believed his security team would save him and that it was impossible for them to be abducted too.
His question for you: “Do you really believe it’s possible for you or your security team to be kidnapped?”
If not, perhaps you should think again and make sure you have put the right preparations in place.
City Security magazine