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Lesson 2-3 Visibility

Be alert to your surroundings, know and respect local customs and laws. Don’t call undue attention to yourself. Be unpredictable by varying the days and times of your activities and by varying routes you usually travel.



Anyone who is highly visible is a potential, high-risk victim. Victims can be targeted for being an American, a very important person (VIP), someone associated with VIPs or a target of opportunity.

Identified as an American

You can protect yourself from becoming a target if you avoid saying, doing, wearing, using, displaying or driving anything that readily identifies you as an American. Even if the local populace does not see Americans on a daily basis, global commerce and communications provides them access to magazines, movies, television shows, and web sites that portray American lifestyles. The following paragraphs identify common indicators that easily identify Americans overseas.


Wear civilian clothes when traveling back and forth to work; change into your uniform after you arrive at work; and change into civilian clothes before you leave work.

License Plates

Americans serving overseas may be issued different colored license plates or a different number or letter indicator on their license plates. If possible, use local license plates on any automobile driven. Avoid using vanity license plates.


Blend in with what the local populace or local tourist element wears. Flashy or trendy clothing can attract unwanted attention.

Clothes should not clearly identify you as an American; for example, cowboy boots, American logo T-shirts, clothes bearing American sports teams, and expensive athletic shoes.


Although American dialect is hard to avoid, even if you speak the native language, avoid using American slang.

Customs and Habits

Even if you physically blend in with the local populace, your customs and habits can identify you as an American. If possible, you should adopt local or tourist customs and habits.

Personal Behavior

Some Americans have the tendency to be loud and obnoxious in the presence of the local populace. Another common mistake that Americans can make is to unnecessarily boast about American culture, wealth, technology, and military power, etc. in the presence of foreign nationals. Strive to blend in as much as possible, and not draw attention to yourself. KEEP A LOW PROFILE, especially in a public environment or with the local media.

Tattoos and Jewelry

Wear a shirt that covers tattoos with military or civilian slogans or logos when you go out. Leave military jewelry—such as service rings, medallions, and watches—at home.

Controversial Materials

Avoid carrying potentially controversial materials such as gun magazines, military publications, religious books, pornography or magazines that can offend the local populace.

Nationality Indicators

American flags, decals, patches or logos easily identify you as an American. Avoid displaying them on your vehicles, clothes, in front of your home or place of employment.

U.S. Government Bus Stops

Do not wait for long periods of time at U.S. Government bus stops. When the bus approaches, walk toward the bus, stop short of the bus stop, and board the bus after the other passengers have boarded. Be especially observant for suspicious looking personnel or objects such as unattended luggage or boxes.


Exchange a few U.S. dollars into the local currency before arriving overseas. Use local currency and avoid carrying large amounts of money.

Identified as Someone of Importance

Many people, including terrorists, equate certain lifestyles with prominence. They believe that a prominent lifestyle is indicative of a person’s importance to his government or company. Americans, in particular, are often treated by host governments as VIPs out of respect. Whenever possible, avoid being treated as a VIP.

Avoid using your title or position when introducing yourself or signing your name. Strive to maintain a low profile and blend in with the local populace. The issues identified in the following subparagraphs give the impression of importance and therefore should be avoided.

Expensive Cars. People may think anyone who drives an expensive car is important. Avoid driving expensive vehicles. Drive the type of vehicle that is common to the area in which you are located.

Staff Cars. People may think that anyone driving around in a staff car from the American embassy must be important. Therefore, limit use of nonarmored staff cars.

Bodyguards. If you do not need bodyguards, do not use them. If you must have bodyguards, keep them to a minimum and ensure that they blend in with the other personnel around you—they should not be obvious. Ensure bodyguards pass a background check and are well trained.

Chauffeurs. Many people may believe that anyone who has a driver is a VIP. Therefore, perform your own driving if possible. If you do have a driver, the rear right seat is typically reserved for a VIP. Therefore, sit up front with the driver and occasionally rotate your seat position within the vehicle. You should also:

  • Ensure your driver has the required training so that he will not panic or freeze in a high pressure situation.
  • Develop an all-clear or distress signal (e.g., a hat or cigarette pack on the dash) between you and your chauffeur. A signal allows the driver to warn you of a problem prior to your approaching the vehicle.
  • Have the driver open the door for you.
  • Avoid giving your itinerary to your driver. All a driver needs to know is when and where to be. For example, you have the driver show up at 7 a.m., but you do not leave until until an hour later. If possible, tell your driver your destination only after the car has started.

Briefcases. In some countries, people think anyone carrying a briefcase is considered important. If possible, avoid carrying a briefcase unless it is the norm for the area. If the local populace uses backpacks, then you should also use a backpack.

License Plates and Decals. If using diplomatic license plates, license plates with low numbers, or decals is unavoidable, employ proactive individual protective measures to reduce both vulnerability and visibility.

Passports and Official Papers. Diplomatic (black) and official (red) passports indicate someone of importance. Use a tourist (blue or green) passport whenever possible. If you use a tourist passport, consider placing your official passport, and related documents in your checked luggage. If you must carry official documents on your person, select a hiding place onboard your aircraft, bus, boat or train to hide them in case of a highjacking. Try to memorize your passport number and other essential information to avoid flashing this information in front of other passengers. While passing through customs, keep your passport out of sight by placing it in your airline ticket pouch. Do not carry classified or official papers unless it is mission essential.

Parking. VIPs warrant their own parking spots usually very close to their offices, thus drawing attention to themselves and their importance. Therefore, avoid using a designated parking space; instead, park in an unmarked parking space and rotate where you park your vehicle.

Domestic Employees. In many foreign countries domestic employees—such as maids, cooks, private guards, gardeners, and drivers—are very affordable. However, domestic help can provide terrorists with critical access to you and your family. If you are considering employing domestic help, ask for letters of reference and obtain a background check through the Embassy, if possible.

  • Avoid live-in domestic help. If they must have access to keys, never let them remove keys from the house.
  • Domestic employees should not allow anyone (including persons in police uniforms) to enter the house without permission from the family.
  • Avoid providing transportation to and from work for any domestic employees. Pay for a taxi or bus fare.
  • If a domestic employee calls in sick, do not accept the temporary services of a relative (“cousin” or “sister”).
  • Have domestic employees report potential terrorist surveillance of your residence and watch for anyone loitering in the area or repeatedly driving or walking by.
  • Pay domestic help well and give cash rewards for following your security rules.
  • Take special care to never discuss sensitive topics or detailed travel plans in their presence. Terrorists have successfully drawn this information from domestic employees in the past.

Identified as a Target of Opportunity

These are the headlines that millions of Americans were viewing in June 1985 when four Marine U.S. Embassy guards became targets of opportunity for the Faribundo Marti Para la Libercion Nacional (FMLN) terrorist organization. These Marines were sitting outside a very popular cafe in San Salvador when they were gunned down for being symbols of the United States. When overseas, remember that you are a visual symbol of an American presence, values, prestige, and power. The longer you remain overseas, the more comfortable you may become. The more comfortable you become, the less you may think of yourself as a potential target. While overseas, never allow yourself to become complacent. Safeguard information concerning yourself, your home, job, and family. The more intelligence a terrorist can collect on you, the greater his chance of success. Terrorists gather their information from a variety of sources, which can include the following:

  • Various internet sources, including government and corporate web pages.
  • Aircraft loading manifests identify sending units, receiving units, departing facilities, and landing facilities.
  • Bills of lading provide names of people moving into and out of an area.
  • Immigration records provide names of people, dates of birth, and nationalities.
  • Unit rosters provide names, addresses and phone numbers of individuals, spouses, and dependents. Unit rosters should be controlled and not posted in plain view.
  • Manning boards provide an individual’s name, duty position, squad, platoon, etc.; some even have photographs. If possible, offices should avoid using manning boards. If these are a necessity, they should be covered when not in use and kept in a locked office during nonduty hours. Do not post them in front of the unit.
  • Billeting offices often maintain a listing of all housing assignments. Security managers must ensure that billeting offices establish procedures to prevent unauthorized disclosure of personal information.
  • Telephone directories provide an individual’s name, address, and phone number. If you must list your phone number in the telephone directory, request that only your name and number be included, not your address, rank or duty position.
  • Some units or schools publish a “Who’s Who” book. If possible, avoid having your name listed in this type of publication.
  • Duty rosters for the staff duty, drivers, military details, etc., should not be posted in plain view. When they become obsolete, they should be destroyed (not just thrown away).
  • Discarded mail or official correspondence can be used to identify an individual, the sender, and the place from which the correspondence was sent. Destroy any mail or official correspondence no longer needed and remove address labels from magazines.
  • The carbon from a credit card provides an individual’s name and account number. Use the currency of the country you are visiting or working in. If you must use a credit card, also request the carbon copy.
  • Checks can provide an individual’s name, address, phone number, and social security number. Have only minimal information printed on the front of your checks.
  • Nameplates make it easy to find an individual in an office environment; avoid their use, if possible.
  • Receipts from hotels, laundries, etc., identify an individual by name and often by room number. Consider using a nickname or an assumed name.

Luggage should be generic and civilian in nature. Avoid displaying company logos, decals, or any American identifiers on your luggage.

Remove all destination and baggage claim tags from luggage as well as stickers, decals, and other markings that reveal that the luggage has been through U.S. Customs (e.g., custom’s stickers).

Be aware of all the documentation that contains information about you, your business, and your family. Destroy all documentation, especially trash, that could be used by terrorists as a source of information.


David L. Heiserman, Editor

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All Rights Reserved

Revised: June 06, 2015