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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

The Paladins mission danger scale

We are sometimes called upon to make relative comparisons of the dangers of certain missions, for example by applying a numerical quantifer (e.g. a number between 0 and 10). However assessments of danger in unorthodox situations are highly subjective. Due to the inherent unorthodoxy, there is insufficient data to assimilate the behaviour being contemplated in a specific location on mission to any particular statistical data set about danger.

So for example Caracas, widely considered the most dangerous city in the world, has an annual homicide rate of 41 per 100,000 inhabitants. However that does not mean that we can give Caracas an objective numerical danger assessment of (say) 41, compared to 5.4 for Havana (the latest available homicide rate per 100,000 people available for Cuba, in respect of 2016). Firstly homicide rates reflect a range of risks across a population in respect of which the mission visitor will not share the same profile. Secondly mission visits may involve risks far more substantial than those exposed to the mean resident of Caracas or La Havana; or risks far less substantial. And that may depend upon the underlying nature of the society factored into the specific details of the mission.

To give an anodyne example:

  1. A visit to Caracas can be made much safer simply by staying in a five-star hotel and following all their security protocols (hotel cars for journeys , etcetera).

  2. By contrast a visit to Moscow, rather a safe city (the authorities are a little cagey with the figures but the 2021 mean homicide rate per 100,000 people in Moscow has been estimated as about 3.5), may become substantially more dangerous if the mission visitor stays in a five star hotel and has certain sorts of mission objective in mind. That is because five star hotels in Moscow can be comprehensively bugged in anticipation of residents with motives adverse to the interests of the Russian Federation.

Hence all we can do in creating a danger scale is to create a series of descriptions of more or relatively dangerous mission, fixing at least some variables (e.g. visit time: one week); and engaging in a qualitative estimation of a similar level of danger with the various descriptions associated with each number of scale. At all times it must be remembered that there are different kinds of danger that we are going to be comparing qualitatively and hence subjectively, e.g.:

  1. Random casual acts of physical violence by non-state actors (e.g. Caracas)

  2. Premeditated acts of intentional physical violence by non-state actors (e.g. Mexico City - premeditated auto hijack with the connivance of the auto rental company)

  3. Random casual acts of physical violence by quasi-state actors (e.g. DRC - police checkpoints)

  4. Premeditated intentional acts of physical violence by state or quasi-state actors (e.g. Myanmar military acts upon journalists)

  5. Premeditated intentional acts in the nature of state-induced custody (e.g. Russia- cryptic legal proceedings)

  6. Arbitrary or random acts in the nature of state-induced custody (e.g. Iran; Qatar; some Emirates within the UAE - being arrested for commonplace if formally unlawful activities such as having sex or drinking alcohol)

  7. Premeditated intentional acts in the nature of constructing personal or political leverage over an individual (e.g. prostitution or drugs stings; Russia, Belarus)

  8. Government seizure of documents or materials preventing one from leaving the country and thereby being able to terminate one's mission (e.g. Ukraine)

  9. Accidents of fortune from man-made causes (e.g. internal DRC domestic flights; Enerhodar, Ukraine: nuclear reactor meltdown causing radiation sickness)

  10. Accidents of fortune from non-man-made origins (e.g. the Goma volcano)

  11. Harm, threats or leverage against one's associates and contacts that have value to one's mission (e.g. throughout the CIS)

  12. Use of cyber-warfware and/or computer hacking and/or use of physical proxies located in third countries to harm and/or acquire leverage over the mission asset's contacts (personal or professional) outside the mission country. (e.g. China; North Korea)

  13. Use of legal or Signals procedures to cause losses to the mission asset (e.g. bogus legal proceedings freezing a person's assets, bogus money laundering reports about legitimate bank accounts, identity cloning to create bogus financial information including fake bank accounts in a mission asset's name, impersonation of a person's identity on social media to associate them with opinions that may damage their reputations, propagation of defamatory material about the mission asset on the internet - Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Russia)

  14. State acts against unrelated or innocent third parties in retaliation for the acts of the mission asset, the principal purpose of which is to obtain leverage over the mission asset's moral compass. (e.g. China, Rwanda)

  15. Self-induced reckless injury or asset losses of the asset on mission, the likelihood of which is increased by reason of the mission environment (e.g. cocaine addiction fostered by travel to Colombia; fines paid as a result of police arrest in consequence of physical brawling: more common where the mission asset has a military or otherwise violent background)

Then there are risks not to the individual asset on mission but to those deploying the asset. These risks may harm both asset and deploying principal; but this list focuses upon risks to the deploying principal:

  1. Asset flips covertly (i.e. without informing his or her principal) as a result of bribery or acts tantamount to bribery

  2. Asset flips covertly as a result of threats or blackmail directed at the asset or a person intimate with the asset

  3. Asset flips covertly as a result of ideological conversion

  4. Asset flips covertly as a result of fear, desperation or anger about the treatment they are receiving by their principal (the usual solution to this problem is money or strong diplomatic support in the face of problems)

  5. Asset flips overtly (causing a public relations or equivalent loss) as a result of bribery

  6. Asset flips overtly as a result of threats (consider prisoners and hostages making public statements in favour of the political positions of their captors)

  7. Asset flips overtly as a result of ideological conversion

  8. Asset flips overtly as a result of fear, desparation or anger

  9. Asset becomes disillusioned and hence freelance, disruptive or unpredictable. Disillusionment generally relates to unreasonable nature of risk the asset feels he is being asked to take; a sense of insufficient remuneration; or a sense of insufficient support or communication. Disillusioned and freelance assets can become extremely dangerous and the remedy is typically to engage with them intensively to meet their concerns.

The consistent lesson from the foregoing is that assets, who may be highly intelligent, manipulative, egotistical, self-confident, effective covert or overt managers of others, shrewd assessors of their own self-interest and how to blend those interests with moral principle or respected loyalty, experienced in responding to unusual and dangerous situations rationally and even deceitfully (manipulating their own emotions as well as those of others), bearing sophisticated and sometimes unusual moral compasses, capable of thinking on multiple tracks simultaneously, capable of absorbing vast quantities of information presented to them in a variety of formats and with the ability to draw rapid inferences and competent but flexible theories from the data sets they have, and who may be physically and/or mentally tough, all in ways outside the capabilities of their handlers, may require constant attention, indulgence and supervision in a way that is appropriate to their distinctive personalities (and each one is different).

You do not want to lose an asset: it can cause havoc. Better therefore to devote the resources to understanding them and working with them so that they remain comfortable undertaking high-risk work. Successful mission assets typically have vastly higher senses of risk tolerance than normal people; otherwise they would not do the work. That quality entails constant management, engagement, supervision and even indulgence. With those things, a strong mission asset can become a striking, powerful, dangerous and even intimidating force that will cause foreboding in one's adversaries and will serve as a mutually understood denominator of the seriousness with which the principal is entertaining an issue, difference or dispute and the potentially fundamental range of options the deploying principal is contemplating. That may be revealed simply by the fact that such an asset is being deployed, with their typically tabula rasa approaches to problems (nothing is taken for granted; all options are on the table).

Nevertheless without making the requisite effort to keep the nuclear missile silo clean, operative and in satisfactory condition, there is a constant risk of misfire.


Note that some risks do not (or should not) impact short-term mission visits, e.g.:

  1. Government (legally or non- legally sanctioned) expropriation of private property (e.g. Zimbabwe)

  2. Harm, threats or leverage against one's long-term friends or relatives (e.g. Ukraine; Iran) - note that this should not be a risk in the prior category of mission risks, unless one sends a mission asset to a jurisdiction with which they have close personal connections. It is always a mistake to do this because the prospects of easy or casual leverage virtually always grant greater power to one's adversaries than the imagined increased contacts that a personally connected individual may have with persons of importance. (This in itself often creates false leads, as the personal connections are pre-known in the target jurisdiction, and the personal contact is used to supply false information.)

These categories of danger have been spelled out so that any person considering rationally a risk assessment for a specific mission (or the risk to which a mission asset was actually exposed in a now-completed mission) appreciates that any such assessment involves a qualitative and subjective weighing exercise in unquantifiable risks and dangers. The reason the aforementioned categories of risks and dangers are unquantifiable is because they are sufficiently infrequent that no statistically significant data sets have been (or perhaps ever could be) created to objectivise the process of assessment.

Moreover any pre-mission risk assessment should go through the foregoing lists of risks systematically, assessing risks under each category and as appropriate taking steps in mitigation, in advance of an in-the-round risk assessment being made that can then be taken to an appropriate political or other decision maker.

With this significant set of qualifiers and riders in mind, here now is our scale of risk descriptors and the quantiative correlate for each one. With reflection about the most propitious range within which to distinguish subjective descriptions of highly varying types of risk, we have settled upon a scale of 0 (least risky) to 5 (most risky). Each number corresponds to a subjectively assessed estimate of the percentage chances of a highly harmful outcome in one or more of the above identifiable categories.

0 (0 per cent risk). Travelling to a Balkan state of complex competing political incentives to collect personal information about individual politicians using lawful human intelligence means.

1 (20 per cent risk). Travel to Switzerland with a view to obtaining from persons employed therein confidential financial information about third parties with a view to using that information for journalistic or international law enforcement purposes.

2 (40 per cent risk). Travel to Mexico City with a view to making contacts who may reveal information about the extent of collusion between criminal organisations and law enforcement bodies in respect of internnationally criminally prohibited activities (e.g. the wholesale trafficking and distribution of narcotics).

3 (60 per cent risk). Travelling to Russia to meet with a person one believes to be a dissident member within the Russian intelligence services umbrella, with a view to obtaining that person's future cooperation and/or provision of information about the activities of Russian intelligence services.

4 (80 per cent risk). Travelling to Hong Kong as a PRC and a third state dual national with a view to meeting and supporting opposition groups to the Beijing-dominated rule of the Hong Kong SAR.

5: (100 per cent risk).Travelling to Iran with a view to funding opposition political interests.

We hope this scale is useful for the purposes of evaluating relative risk of different sorts of mission. Remember that the degree of risk in each case depends upon the personal and other qualities of the individual asset and an in-the-round picture of that person in the context of the mission being contemplated.


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