Research Your Trip Like
A Former Intelligence Officer

Listen to episode #20 of NAVIGATE to learn why you need more than a Google search before going on your next trip.

Research your trip like a formed intelligence office transcript:



Alex Laidlaw

0:00:04 – 0:00:46

Hi, and welcome to NAVIGATE, the travel podcast by World Travel Protection. I’m your host, Alex Laidlaw, Technical Product Director.

Well, we should return to business or travel that is more important than ever to be well informed of potential risks ensuring we all have a safe trip. But it takes more than a Google search or studying some travel guides to have the right information that leads us to making more informed decisions.

Today, I’m pleased to be joined by Manu Scansani  from Riskline, a world class travel risk intelligence company to share what information is available to travellers today. Hi, Manu, would you be able to give us a bit of context around the number of alerts that risk one is generating per day? And what this looked like over the last 12 months?

Manu Scansani

0:00:46 – 0:01:35

Yeah, I mean, I think like, before the pandemic we used to write, you know, an approximation of like, 60 alerts per day, this will greatly depend on like, how busy the day is, there are days that in the life of an analyst are extremely busy with things happening all over the world, and others that, fortunately for the world are maybe more quiet. But I think these numbers like become more close to 90, I mean, in this last couple of years, and I think like in 2021, we’ve wrote nearly 33,000 alerts. And and the number has been steadily increasing over the last five years. So this is like reflecting like, as growing as a team of analysts, and also like, the analyst getting really good in like tracking what needs to be tracked.

Alex Laidlaw

0:01:36 – 0:01:40

That’s including updating, alert as well. Would it be?

Manu Scansani

0:01:40 – 0:02:00

Yeah, exactly. Like, I mean, these include the updates, like the alerts could be like a one off alert about something. But of course, there are many alerts that are about maybe a situation that evolves and requires besides an initial alert, many other updates that we kind of track whatever is happening.

Alex Laidlaw

0:02:00 – 0:02:13

How do you determine which alerts that you post and in which ones you I suppose, you hold back as they may not be as relevant? How do you make that determination?

Manu Scansani

0:02:13 – 0:02:52

Yeah, I mean, fundamentally, there is one element that we are looking at whether that incident is going to disrupt the travel in a significant way, like, for example, delays of 30 minutes of flights, here and there in an airport is probably something normal, but like, widespread the delays to every flight of many hours is not something normal. Or anything that could harm potentially or through an actual risk a traveller. So whenever one of these two is happening, or is possible, we will deem the alert necessary of writing.

Alex Laidlaw

0:02:52 – 0:03:06

Great. How do you prepare travellers, for for traveling with the alerts? Do you provide information of situations that you know about in the future maybe that aren’t necessarily impacting right now?

Manu Scansani

0:03:07 – 0:04:54

There are fundamentally two types of alerts that we are building. I would say the most common type is what we call reactive alerts. So, they will probably represent a large portion of majority of the alerts essentially, when something is happening, you can imagine a terrorist attack or or an earthquake or suddenly the announcement of a transportation strike, we will try to write an alert of course, something that is a breaking news type of event like a terrorist attack would be a much higher priority than say a transportation strike. That is the type of reactive alert – something is happening, we write an alert, we cover it, okay, we got you covered, we cover something that is happening.

However, there is a significant amount of alerts that are predictive in nature. So while it is important for travellers to receive a reactive approach with information, it’s also crucial that as as a travel risk intelligence partner, we provide information that is predictive, predictive means we will know through our media monitoring activities, about events that will happen that will take place at a future date, whether it is a general election that could maybe bring some unrest in a country or maybe more than one country or it is a demonstration or it is maybe transportation strike or something like that. We will write the alert before that event takes place. So the traveller who received the alert will have time to prepare to take that into account whenever he or she is preparing for the travel.

Alex Laidlaw

0:04:54 – 0:05:16

Yeah, great. And just going back to the alerts, I know that alerts to come with a severity rating, and usually a categorization. So maybe you could touch on those, how do you determine the severity of an event when it’s been posted out? And how do you categorize it? Or what categories are you covering in these alerts that you are generating?

Manu Scansani

0:05:16 – 0:09:51

Yeah, so I mean, when we are writing the alerts, the critical aspect other than writing the alert itself, or verifying the sources, like I mentioned, is like doing the risk assessment, every alert has its own risk assessment. To do so, we are following a security risk analysis methodology, which is applied to travel risks, obviously.

So the first aspect is to, you know, basically pick a risk in a scale from one to five. So understanding whether it is a low risk, or it is an extreme risk, or any of the other levels in between, there are five risk levels. To do so, we are using, obviously, a matrix that is based on an intersection between, you know, the likelihood that a specific event might happen, and the impact that that event would have, if indeed was happening. And so this will lead to the selection of the risk level. At the same time, we have the selection of a category. An alert can belong to one category only. And as well, it can have one risk level only.

There are seven categories that reflect I would say, type of risks that traveller could face. And, for example, we have alerts that are related to political developments. So you could imagine things like, you know, the run up to an election or the immediate aftermath of an election, particularly in a country that it’s not so stable politically, or maybe a coup or something that could relate to a significant change in the political system of a country that does not necessarily happen peacefully.

Another category is conflict and terrorism. So we will be covering basically something that could be related to wider international or civil conflict, or, of course, being an incident of, of terrorism, another category’s related to demonstration. So really anything where like, a traveller in, in a city area, maybe race to get caught in, in, in a large volume of people who are demonstrating regardless of what the cause might be, as well, this category is also maybe covering what the potential response by police forces or the armies with regards to the type of arrest that you’re facing.

There are alerts about crime. So anything that is crime related, however, I will probably need to clarify here that when we are writing alerts about crime, we are really thinking about crime that has a relevance for foreign travellers. So, every country worldwide has, you know, volumes of crimes that can change depending on a number of factors, but like, what we are really paying attention to is like those crimes that the foreign traveller will want to know. So, if you take the example of Thailand, for example, we would want to know for example, any type of crime even smaller ones, but they have a potentially irrelevant impact on foreign travellers to the country.

Another category are natural and environmental type of alerts. So it could be anything from like a tropical storm to an earthquake to a tsunami to a volcanic eruption. So anything that is like having a natural hazards type of component.

The sixth category is like health risk and as you would expect it this is like the largest type of alerts we have been writing in 2020 and 2021 because you know, the pandemic, the COVID pandemic obviously.

The last category is like what we call travel safety and disruptions and it is more like a macro category to mostly cover two type of situations. The first being like everything related to disruptions to travel maybe because of transportation strike or any infrastructural problem that will affect negatively the transportation and the other would be like breaking news type of events. For example, a terrorist attack on the first layer that is being written before it is established that it is a terrorist attack we would probably write it as a travel safety and disruptions type of alert.

Alex Laidlaw

0:09:51 – 0:10:37

Thanks. Manu from travel risk intelligence company Riskline. So having this information is one piece of the puzzle. Joining me now to cover how this information can be analysed, turned into actionable intelligence that enable safe travel is Paul Trotter.

Paul is a former intelligence officer, with over 15 years experience in complex operating environments. Using his background in intelligence collection and assessment. Paul is now based in Brisbane. And he supports the world travel protection, global effort for direction collection, and assessment of intelligence used to inform our operations team and support our clients.

So thanks, Paul, just in regards to intelligence, you know, there’s obviously a high level information that comes through, we get an understanding of an event that’s happening, but how does that become intelligence that is utilized?

Paul Trotter

0:10:38 – 0:11:58


So intelligence is essentially still information, but it’s information that’s been refined by an individual who’s specifically trained and understands the processes. So detailed analysis and assessment of any information is essential in understanding how that actually impacts on the individual, the activity they’re going to be undertaking, or the environment they’re going to be operating in.

So when we receive a piece of information, we’ll take that and we look at it in concert with everything else that’s happening at the time, historical information, examples of what’s previously occurred. And then we’ll we’ll actually develop a proactive assessment that based off the likelihood of occurrence, how likely that thing is to occur, what impact that’s likely to have.

And from that, we can then provide things like recommendations and advice on how to avoid or reduce risks and threats within the environment, whether they’re specifically related to the initial report, or whether it’s things like second and third order events, which are essentially things that perhaps wouldn’t be the most obvious influencing factor. But they’re definitely something that’s, you know, tangentially linked, and at times can actually be a more significant risk than the initial event.

Alex Laidlaw

0:11:59 – 0:12:26

Great. So if we look at a recent example, of an alert that came through recently in Haiti, and it came through indicated that there was going to be fuel shortages, and there were going to be protests that came from that.

What would you do with what would be your process, I suppose, from receiving that information, so that high level alert, and what would you then be the process you would take to turn that into meaningful intelligence?

Paul Trotter

0:0:12:26 – 0:14:50

Sure, Haiti’s actually a really good example, particularly this specific incident, just because it does demonstrate perfectly the second and third order effects. So essentially, what happened was, there was a reduction in fuel supply in Haiti, created by the US sanctions on Venezuela. So already, we’re looking at a second order effect there.

But what we were seeing a lot of in Haiti at the time was protests and petty criminality surrounding the fuel issues. And that was mostly localized around areas that were responsible for fuel supply, on a sort of a larger scale rather than smaller petrol stations. But in certain areas of the capital, we were also seeing an increase in criminality towards things like fuel, transport and fuel supply between the port and various petrol stations, or gas stations. So immediately, there’s already sort of those second and third order effects.

So what we actually did with that was take the information that we initially received that there’s likely to be protests because of the fuel shortage, and start to look at where those protests were occurring, tracking multiple reports across the geographic area. And then looking at things like those criminal events targeting those trucks. And we sort of drilled down that criminal gangs were getting more and more bold within the area.

Historically, when we’ve seen criminal gangs start to organize and get more bold like that, we’ve also seen an increase in attacks that target not just things like fuel supply, or whatever the specific target is at the time, but more towards things like expats, which is naturally a big problem, as far as we’re concerned. So we started to look at things like an increase in the probability of kidnap for ransom attacks.

As a result of that, we actually pre predicted an increase in kidnap events, including those targeting things like missionaries and the like. And if you remember, there was actually 16 missionaries kidnapped in Haiti. And that occurred about a week two weeks after we actually did this initial assessment.

Alex Laidlaw

0:14:50 – 0:15:07

Okay, so it’s not just the the initial alert, of just there being no fuel and obviously protesting it does go a lot deeper than becomes like security treats are on top of that now as well, which may not necessarily be highlighted in, in an initial alert.

Paul Trotter

0:15:07 – 0:15:54

Exactly right. And that’s essentially the key to intelligence is always asking the so what, how does this affect me? Why does it affect me? You know, what impact is it going to have on my business or my safety or my ability to operate? And if sort of the information isn’t providing that question, that’s when professional intelligence personnel are really able to support a business. And it isn’t just specifically safety and security things, either. It’s things like business continuity and crisis planning, you know, reputation management, all sorts of sort of areas that perhaps aren’t traditionally, areas that you sort of associated with intelligence support, but definitely areas that can benefit from it.

Alex Laidlaw

0:15:54 – 0:16:07

Great. And for organisations and travellers, if they’re reviewing intelligence, what do you suggest are the three, or let’s say the top three things that they should be looking for in an intelligence report.

Paul Trotter

0:16:07 – 0:17:46

So the first thing is that it should definitely be bespoke and tailored to the specific need. Having a generic intelligence report doesn’t provide value to the individual or the organisation, because it doesn’t factor in their specific needs. Again, sort of the real issue there is that threat picture changes, or the impacts change based off different factors like gender, or sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, all those kinds of things, if they increase or decrease your threat profile, based on the specific environment, and the culture and everything else that you’re going into. So being bespoke, is sort of the very key one.

The next one is focusing on the actual assessment and seeing if it answers a question that’s specific to you. If that report, or that briefing, or the advice that you get doesn’t have a specific so what, and that is, you know, a predictive assessment on how the environment or the activity the event is going to impact on you, then it’s not answering the specific question, and it is just very broad information at that point.

The final thing is that they should always be able to question and challenge the report or the brief or that you know, the individual that’s produced it, and that individual should be able to defend what they’ve provided at all times, and provide continuous clear examples of how that’s going to affect and why they should be able to essentially to borrow from my high school maths teacher show they’re working.

Alex Laidlaw

0:17:46 – 0:18:06

Great. Yes. Well, thanks, Paul. That’s that’s a great insight and things and items for organisations and individuals to look out for.

There’s a lot of events happening at the moment, you’re receiving intelligence. What do you think are some of the things that are going to become quite prominent over the next few weeks months in the global landscape?

Paul Trotter

0:18:07 – 0:20:47

Short term, I don’t think we’re going to see any major changes. But over sort of the moderate to long term, as we start to go back to travel, we’re going to see an increase in things like localized crime, particularly targeting business travellers and tourists travellers. But it’s going to be in more atypical areas than what we’ve seen historically, or sort of pre 2019.

So whereas previously, you might have expected to maybe be pickpocketed, or extorted in a tourist area, that’s sort of going to broaden out a lot. And it’s going to be in more countries than what we’ve historically seen as well. And that’s purely down to the economic impacts that the pandemic has had globally on, not only businesses being forced to shut down, but also the individuals, as well as things like increased costs due to supply chains.

The other big one is politically motivated violence and extremism. The rise of things like the influence of conspiracy theories was was very predictable at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, these kinds of things are driven by a loss of control or a sense that individuals have lost control. And what they will generally start to do it’s a natural human reaction is look for someone else to blame. And as we’ve seen, that’s given a huge rise in conspiracy theories and things like QAnon on COVID mandate resistance COVID vaccine resistance, belief that, you know, Bill Gates is trying to put microchips in people’s heads to control them. All those kinds of things are a natural byproduct of a loss of control. And they don’t necessarily get turned off just because the COVID 19 pandemic has sort of drawn to a relative close in a lot of people’s minds.

And it’s at the same time that’s that’s really started coming to a head with political tribalism that’s, that’s spreading. And there’s a big riff now, as we’ve all seen between progressive and conservative politics, and the whole issue is being politicized. And individuals are being driven to sort of anything from protesting where they normally wouldn’t, right through to things like actual violent response, which we’ve just recently seen in Buffalo, New York, where, you know, an individual’s belief in a conspiracy theory has led to the deaths of 10 or so people.

Alex Laidlaw

0:20:47 – 0:21:20

Yeah, that’s a good reminder. And we’re starting to see those secondary and tertiary effects of the pandemic taking place. And no doubt probably see them evolve for a while yet to come.

So thanks, Paul. And thanks for joining us for this episode of navigate the travel risk podcast by World Travel Protection. To stay current on our latest episodes, be sure to like and subscribe to our podcasts. You can also visit our podcast page which is linked in the show notes to review the previous episodes, and access transcripts. That’s it for now. Safe travels, goodbye.

The risks you’ll face when travelling vary based on your personal profile risk, the destination, and what activities you’ll do on the trip. The environmental risks can also change from day to day. To help share what information is available to travellers to stay informed of any potential travel disruptors, we’re joined by Manu Scansani from Riskline, a world-class travel risk intelligence company. He shares seven different types of risk that travellers need to be aware of.

Then to help us turn information into actionable intelligence, we’re joined by former intelligence officer, Paul Trotter. With over 15 years of experience assessing information in high risk locations, Paul shares the three things travellers and organisations should be looking for in an intelligence report. And at the end of the show, Paul shares with us what risks he’s keeping an eye out for over the coming months and years.

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