Arizona Aid Worker

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It was confirmed today that Kayla Mueller, an Arizona aid worker kidnapped by ISIS, is dead. Dr. Paul Kinsinger, a clinical professor of business intelligence at the Thunderbird School of Management at Arizona State University, will discuss the dangers faced by aid workers in the Middle East.

Steve Goldstein: After days of uncertainty, the U.S. government and her family confirmed today that Kayla Mueller of Prescott is dead. Mueller was kidnapped by Isis in Syria while working for doctors without borders in 2013. Isis claimed she was killed in a Jordanian air strike in Syria, a claim that U.S. officials say is not confirmed. Here to talk about what it's like for foreign aid workers in the Middle East and more is Dr. Paul Kinsinger, clinical professor of business intelligence at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona state university. Paul, welcome.

Paul Kinsinger: Thank you.

Steve Goldstein: What are the expectations that aid workers can and should have entering into realms like Syria?

Paul Kinsinger: This is a big, big question. The game is changing. It has begun to change in the last several years, but aid workers, and indeed media representatives are becoming targets in an asymmetrical war these days. Groups like Isis and others before them, in different spots in Africa and so on and so forth have actually seen these people not as neutral players who are there to take care of the collateral damage, quote, unquote, caused by Civil Wars and strife like this, caring for refugees -- they see them more as pawns in a game. And that can be either pawns designed to earn them money through ransom, which is a big part of what Isis has been doing, or a way to try to get at where the west or developed countries are weak and vulnerable in their perceptions, in terms of turning public opinion in places like the United States against any action the United States would contemplate taking.

Steve Goldstein: How open do our eyes have to be, and the eyes of someone like Kayla Mueller have to be, when she is going there for humanitarian reasons, wants to do good, but we can't be naive about these things either.

Paul Kinsinger: No, we can't. Unfortunately the world has changed in some very difficult ways from where it was 50, 60 years ago. I think, unfortunately, people with goals of trying to do some of these things have to have their eyes open as to the precariousness of the potential situation they go into. These -- as we know during the unfolding of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, 2012, 2013, the situation was extremely fluid. And many parts of the country were being traded weekly, sometimes daily, who controlled them, and certainly the roads and other ways to get around Syria were being moved from government hands to rebel hands to different kinds of rebel groups, so on and so forth. Unless you had an extraordinary on the ground ability to understand these things, you were taking a fairly high risk to be in doing any of these kinds of activities at the time. Hence the number of people were kidnapped, both people in the aid community and in the journalist community.

Steve Goldstein: How closely do U.S. agencies communicate with a group like doctors without borders, sort of to say here is a primer and what you need to know and be careful.

Paul Kinsinger: State department and other organizations make an effort to try to raise awareness among these groups as best we can. In certain circumstances, we try to prevent the movement of Americans with American passports. There are certain countries that you cannot go to legally and there have been over recent history in the middle east places you are not only warned not to go to, but are told you cannot go here legally on this passport. That said, you know, people who want to go will find a way. And they often do. So, in essence, you can make them as aware as possible. You can brief them. You can give them the lay of the land, but if they're really bent on getting to where they want to go in one of these situations, they're probably going to do it.

Steve Goldstein: How about the communication with a terrorist group like Isis. Some of us who are lay people were surprised that Isis was in direct contact with Kayla Mueller's parents. How does that come to be and how much is that changing?

Paul Kinsinger: This gets back to the discussion earlier, around ransom, you know. It is pretty clear that Isis has grabbed a lot of people in Syria, largely for purposes of ransom, and they have made some real headway with many, many countries around the world that have paid. Many of our European allies do not have the same no ransom policies that the United States and United Kingdom. They do pay and have paid, have a history of it. Same with some other countries in Asia will do this, too. This has been actually a lucrative enterprise for Isis, and we know they have been financing themselves by knocking over some banks in Iraq, and having access to oil sales out of northern Iraq and out of Syria, still lucrative ransom business can't hurt. And they found that it has been quite good. So, I think initially, the idea for a lot of the hostage taking was around can we actually turn this into dollars for us? And I suspect that one of the first things they do is ask their hostages, what are your -- what is your contact information? What is your internet, email address, so on, so forth. How do you reach people. Show us your Facebook account, LinkedIn, whatever there is in social media, give us access to these things. And we will then both mine it for information about who you might really be, I.E., are you a spy, and, then, secondly, we will use it to reach out to people who care about you and who will potentially pay for you. So, I have no doubt that there was some private channel communication from Isis to the families of the hostages that they have to do exactly that. They're probably using their email accounts.

Steve Goldstein: What about the perspective that Kayla was a young woman. Do hostage takers, do we have expectations that terrorist groups will treat females any different than they treat males?

Paul Kinsinger: In the middle east this has long been an issue of concern. What would happen if women were taken hostage, as far back as the fall of the American Embassy in Tehran, 1979, 1980, a small group of women as part of that contingent of Americans taken there. There were concerns in Washington at that time. What would happen to the women? Would they be treated any differently? It turned out they were treated better, for the most part. I think our history in looking at these issues in the Middle East has been that groups like Isis do take a different look at women. They don't treat them as harshly. They don't hold as many of them. They are not as natural a target. However, obviously, they must have felt there was the possibility for some ransom here, and they're going to hold on to her until they see if there is any real potential value, either getting money from the family or in some kind of political value in terms of, you know, turning the social media screws on the United States.

Steve Goldstein: Mention of Iran, late '70s, early '80s, the Iran Contra situation, U.S. doesn't negotiate with terrorists. How complicated is that when we are dealing with terrorists that again are not representing a particular country?

Paul Kinsinger: It is enormously complicated, more than probably the vast majority of Americans can ever comprehend. Having been in U.S. government during that time, late '70s, early '80s, Iran Contra and that period and seeing all of the contortions that the U.S. government went through to try to get hostages released out of Lebanon at the time when, you know, journalists, doctors, teachers, educators and others were being held by Hezbollah, so on and so forth, the gyrations that were gone through in terms of negotiating in some -- very, very discreet way, to constantly looking for ways to get into -- to mount a rescue operation. Which is extraordinarily difficult as well. The chances that these things work out are really very, very slim. It is not like the movies, unfortunately. Real life is not like the movies in this case. You know, the government has to try. It is going to do whatever it can. But it is pretty hard to pull rabbits out of a hat which is what like a lot of these things are. Isis and these guys are fully aware that rescue operations are being looked at all of the time. Their every movement is being monitored. I have little doubt that these hostages, among others, have been moved constantly. And that there has been constant confusing signals sent out as to where they are at any given time. That's how they do it.

Steve Goldstein: People are heart broken about what happened to Kayla Mueller. We are hearing from members of Congress who in many cases like to make big broad statements. Does something like this considering the fact that it is a young woman, a young American woman, do you expect this to change how the U.S. approaches going after Isis?

Paul Kinsinger: You know, probably not. Not in the long run. I think there will be a certain burst of, you know, sympathy and concern around this. Probably some further discussion around the role of women in these kinds of adventures, doctors without borders and others. But, frankly, this is the way of the world today, and I suspect we will see more of these kinds of situations. And young women, middle-aged women, mature, people are going to find themselves in harm's way out there trying to do good in different parts of the world that -- where simply the -- what has been considered part of the rules of strife have been expanded to the very edges of what's going to be done by these guys.

Steve Goldstein: For a brief answer on this final question, when you look at the middle east right now -- does it feel more dangerous to you?

Paul Kinsinger: Feels more dangerous largely because you have less -- you have fewer clear lines drawn in the sand over the origins of the conflict. For 30 years, it was pretty much the Arab Israeli conflict. It is still there which is being overshadowed by the looser, less clearly defined conflicts breaking out in the absence of strong states.

Steve Goldstein: Thank you for joining us.

Paul Kinsinger: Happy to help, thanks.

Dr. Paul Kinsinger:Clinical Professor of Business Intelligence, Thunderbird School of Management at Arizona State University;

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