FBI negotiated ransoms for years with kidnappers, gov. source says

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan
Despite US policy banning federal officials from doing business with kidnappers, particularly terrorists, a government source told the Associated Press the FBI has for years negotiated and paid ransoms to kidnappers both domestically and internationally.

The government source said the FBI used a secret exemption begun under the Bush Administration which allowed the bureau to use money to engage with suspected kidnappers. The source added the FBI has used the exemption so often “you could drive a truck through it.”

President George W. Bush issued the directive in 2002, giving the FBI latitude to engage with suspected kidnappers and tempt them with money if it would be useful for intelligence gathering or in support of an investigation. The rules were to apply to criminal situations and international kidnappings.

READ MORE: FBI helped Al-Qaeda hostage’s family with ransom payment - report

The Obama administration, however, has maintained a policy of not negotiating with kidnappers. Some families of US hostages killed in Syria, according to the AP, said “a White House official threatened them with possible prosecution if they paid ransoms to militants who the US regards as terrorists.” The official has since left the White House, according to administration officials, who added that in the future families wouldn’t be threatened with prosecution. Still, they said the anti-ransom policy remains.

On Wednesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that the government's "no ransom" policy was unchanged, but added: "Speaking generally, helping with a ransom payment, to use your word, is not tantamount to paying a ransom."

The AP sought comment on the source’s disclosure from President Obama’s National Security Council, the FBI, Justice Department, and the National Counterterrorism Center, but there was no immediate comment.

The new disclosures follow revelations by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that the FBI, in 2012, helped an American family try and negotiate with Al-Qaeda. The negotiations were done through a Pakistani middleman and sought the release of Warren Weinstein, a 70-year-old contractor involved in American aid and development to Pakistan since the 1970s.

Weinstein was kidnapped by Al-Qaeda, who told the White House they could secure his release by halting air strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somali and Yemen, and by releasing the 1993 World Trade Center bombers: Omar Abdul Rahman, Ramzi Yousef and Sayyid Nosair, and relatives of Osama bin Laden – Abu Musab al-Suri. The group also wanted a $250,000 ransom. Despite the help of the FBI, the family was unsuccessful in getting Weinstein released and he was killed inadvertently during a US drone strike on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

READ MORE: 'Unparalleled" public interest: US media united to demand classified Petraeus case docs

Over the three and a half year period of Warren’s captivity the family made every effort to engage with those holding him or those with the power to find and rescue him,” a family spokesman told the Journal. “This is an ordinary American family and they’re not familiar with how one manages a kidnapping.”

The ransom was paid using $100 bills obtained from a “private” source, the intermediary told the WSJ. The family made the payment after receiving a “proof of life” phone call between Weinstein and his wife.