FBI helped facilitate ransom payment: Was it the right move?

1 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Capital Journal Daybreak: FBI’s Role in Ransom for U.S. Hostage and More.

At least since the 1980s, United States administrations have remained firm in their commitment not to negotiate with terrorists, even when an American citizen’s life is at risk.White House spokesman Josh Earnest sought to draw a distinction between the U.S. government helping facilitate a ransom payment to a terrorist organization and actually negotiating with terrorists. “Speaking generally, helping with a ransom payment, to use your word, is not tantamount to paying a ransom,” Earnest said in response to a reporter’s question Thursday, one day after the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI helped facilitate a ransom payment from Warren Weinstein’s family to Al Qaeda to try to get the kidnapped aid worker home.

Friends of Giovanni Lo Porto, the Italian hostage killed in a US drone strike in January that targeted an al-Qaida compound, are pleading for his remains to be returned to Italy and demanding information about his death. This policy ensures that the US, unlike many European governments, refuses to pay ransom for American hostages held by terrorists groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, has called for a formal inquiry into the circumstances of Lo Porto’s death and said this week that he would write a letter to the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, urging him to find Lo Porto’s body and return it to his family.

Officials told the Journal that FBI agents weren’t directly involved in either authorizing or approving the ransom, meaning they didn’t technically violate U.S. policy of not paying ransoms for hostages. In fact, the American government has both paid money to hostage takers and helped hostages’ families do the same, and that practice is likely to continue. “The FBI has always supported and assisted families with ransom payments. While the White House sharply criticizes the practice in public and private, new details about the Weinstein case show how the FBI provides some families with guidance toward that end. Friends of Lo Porto – who they knew as Giancarlo – have expressed their demands for the return of his body on a Facebook page that was created for the aid worker in March 2012, when he was kidnapped while working for a German aid group in Pakistan. “Excuses are not good enough,” says one message, according to Corriere della Sera, the Italian daily. “We cannot allow there to be silence surrounding the tragic death of Giancarlo, and even worse, for his family and friends to be deprived of the right to place a flower on his grave.” Fabrice Calabrese, a friend who met Lo Porto in 2005 when both were living in London, told the Guardian that the event, A Flower for Giovanni, was organised as way to remember a person who was devoted to helping people. “We won’t forget him, and we hope that this will help remember him and spread his ideas of peace and tolerance.

Earnest said he couldn’t explain the distinction between negotiating and facilitating because he cannot talk about all the “tactics and tools that are deployed” by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Two Republicans governors, John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan, who are getting closer to a decision on whether to run for president are cut from a very different cloth than the first three GOP candidates to officially enter the 2016 race.

The family raised $250,000, and the FBI found the Pakistani intermediary and vetted him for the payment delivery — however, despite receiving the money, al-Qaeda did not release Weinstein. He was snatched by terrorist gunmen at his Lahore, Pakistan, home while working as an economic development adviser for USAID, following a stint in the Peace Corps. PROTESTS RESUME IN BALTIMORE, SPRING UP IN OTHER CITIES: Protests resumed in Baltimore last night, with hundreds of people marching to City Hall ahead of the city’s 10 p.m. curfew, put in place after violence flared Monday following the funeral of a black man who died in police custody earlier this month. Despite the tragic outcome, the case highlights the need for more flexibility for law enforcement agents who trying to walk a line between official policy and the desire to secure the release of citizens held hostage. “Of course we will negotiate – we’re trying to save lives,” says Gary Noesner, a retired FBI negotiator and author of the book “Stalling For Time: My Life As An FBI Hostage Negotiator.” “This has been a consistent policy for some time.

But the initial controversy has since died down as attention in Rome is currently centred on a government reform bill making its way through parliament. President Barack Obama last week apologized for the errant strike and said the administration’s policy concerning drone strikes is being re-evaluated. Weinstein’s family had praised the efforts of specific officials at the FBI, with Weinstein’s wife Elaine thanking them “for their relentless efforts to free my husband” after the announcement of his death on April 23. The Baltimore protest was energetic, with some people carrying signs and chanting “Hands up, Don’t shoot!” but there were no clashes with police.

Maryland’’s governor said he was seeking to build alliances with community leaders and make other changes to ensure that the streets didn’t tip back into chaos. More: Barely 100 days into her tenure as the city’s chief prosecutor, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby will soon face a momentous decision: whether to pursue criminal charges against any Baltimore police officers in the high-profile death of Freddie Gray … ZIP codes map out the impact of the Baltimore unrest … Hillary Clinton called for broad criminal-justice changes, including the use of body cameras in every police department and reduced incarceration.

HOUSE AND SENATE REPUBLICANS AGREE ON COMBINED BUDGET: Senate and House Republicans reached agreement on a combined budget, setting up votes for the first spending blueprint agreed to by both chambers of Congress since 2009. The agreement is unlikely to receive any votes from Democrats, who have said it relies too heavily on sharp cuts to federal programs without raising revenue. But a spokesman for the Weinstein family contradicted this version of events, stating that the family went ahead with the ransom payment after receiving advice and intelligence from FBI officials. A leading congressional critic of the Obama administration’s hostage policy accused the Obama administration of paying a ransom in another high-profile hostage case—that of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was released by a Taliban-aligned group in May 2014 as part of a trade for five high-level Taliban detainees. More: The country’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby is urging senators to support a bill giving Congress a role in reviewing a nuclear deal with Iran, even if that means opposing amendments the group would ordinarily support.

The discrepancy may be rooted in changing perceptions since the attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon in 2001 about what measures are appropriate in hostage situations, experts say. “It’s just in recent years, post-9/11, the idea has morphed into no negotiations. In December 2014, Representative Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a combat veteran, asked the Defense Department’s inspector general to investigate an alleged ransom payment for Bergdahl, which he said was “led by” the Joint Special Operations Command.

That and other appearances show him laying the groundwork for a strategy that could pay dividends both in some GOP primaries and in a general election, reinforcing his supporters’ claim that Mr. In September 2014, an individual who claimed to have access to a proof-of-life video of American hostage Caitlin Coleman and her family contacted an office in the Defense Department working on hostage policy issues and offered to sell the video for $150,000, according to the U.S. official. The government’s ability to sweep up the phone and email records of millions of Americans faces a test today, as a key House panel will vote on a bipartisan plan to rework the practice.

A third source, who is a former U.S. law enforcement official, denied that the money was a direct ransom payment, but said that Qatari officials had helped negotiate with al Qaeda in Syria to win Curtis’s release. Plus, congestion is becoming increasingly common at major U.S. ports—a problem that could have profound implications for the $900 billion worth of goods transported to and from the U.S. each year by container ships.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that states can prohibit judicial candidates from soliciting campaign donations, rejecting arguments that such bans violate the free-speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment. The military has attempted rescue missions in a number of cases, including the successful freeing of Al Geiser from Afghanistan in 2008, but rescue missions can be risky. Notably, he didn’t use the word “ransom.” Obama administration officials have, on many occasions, used the words “concession” and “ransom” interchangeably.

Women’s health advocates are accusing insurers of failing to fully comply with the 2010 federal health law’s extensive requirements for covering contraception and maternity care. But hostage negotiation experts and former U.S. officials have stressed that ransoms used as a lure are not considered a “concession,” that is, a quid-pro-quo payment of cash in exchange for a hostage’s release.

A rescue mission was ruled out in Weinstein’s case because there was no credible intelligence available indicating his precise location in Pakistan, the Journal reported. “The refusal of payment does not prevent Americans from being kidnapped, never has, never will. The two core reasons for the interpretation of the current policy, simply don’t work,” he says. “What FBI agents know, is that in a great majority of instances it is either pay some money or the hostage doesn’t come out.” The Saudi monarchy’s overhaul of its aging leadership moves a younger generation of royals into position to reinvigorate the country at a time when it is trying to assert political and military leadership in the Middle East and reshape ties with the West. The Afghan military waged a ground assault in the northern province of Kunduz, where the Taliban have captured swaths of territory in a new front line in the war. OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: President Obama participates in Discovery Education’s virtual field trip series, focusing on improving literacy, at 10:55 a.m.

He signs the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015 at 2:55 p.m., and meets with members of the New Democrat Coalition at 3:20 p.m. … Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders at 10:30 a.m. and Syrian Opposition Council President Khaled Khoja at 11:30 a.m. CONGRESS: The Senate will convene at 9:30 a.m. to resume consideration of H.R. 1191, the bill to create a congressional review of the Iran nuclear deal. In the House, the Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing on allegations against Department of Homeland Security Department Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at 10 a.m.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mike O’Reilly testify on FCC transparency at 2 p.m. … Foreign Affairs examines U.S. policy toward Iraq and Syria at 2 p.m. ELECTION 2016: Jeb Bush appears at a summit sponsored by the National Review … Two official candidates—Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and Republican Florida Sen. Dionne Jr. says “Baltimore is Exhibit A for why there is such frustration over how the costs of globalization and technological change have been borne almost entirely by the least advantaged people in our society.” The Federalists’s Robert Tracinski writes that the left is “cocooning itself in a bubble of ideological uniformity,” intending to “suppress dissent on key issues by making it impossible for anyone to even express a divergent opinion.” Much of the rapid change in attitudes toward gay marriage can be attributed to generational change, Democratic pollster Mark Mellman writes in The Hill: “The generational effect is being felt throughout the electorate. Half of millennial Republicans and 43 percent of millennial white evangelicals now favor same-sex marriage.” Millennials, meanwhile, are divided on whether the U.S. justice system is fair and unbiased, “with white millennials expressing far more trust than black millennials, according to new data from the Harvard Institute of Politics,” writes Jane Velencia of the Huffington Post. In the WSJ’s Think Tank, Rhodes Cook explores why Vice President Joe Biden, despite a sterling resume, isn’t generally considered a presidential contender, and concludes that age, his previous undistinguished runs for the office and the presence of the “800-pound gorilla” named Hillary Clinton are all holding him back.

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