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Wall Street Journal: FBI Facilitated Ransom Payment For Weinstein


There's news today that the FBI helped facilitate a ransom payment to al-Qaida to try to secure the release of hostage Warren Weinstein. He was the aid worker kidnapped in Pakistan in 2011. The White House recently revealed he was accidentally killed in a U.S. drone strike earlier this year.

Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that FBI agents helped advise Weinstein's family on their plans to pay a $250,000 ransom several years ago. And that seems to underscore a contradiction in U.S. policy, which says there will be no concessions to hostage takers. Adam Entous broke the story for the Journal, and he joins me now. Thanks for coming in.

ADAM ENTOUS: It's great to be here. Thank you.

BLOCK: And what exactly was the FBI's role in this case?

ENTOUS: Well, the family obviously was desperate in looking for a way to try to get Mr. Weinstein released, and they had made contact with a middleman in Pakistan. And they wanted help from the FBI in terms of strategy, in terms of making sure that this person who they were going to work with was who he says he was and this whole arrangement wasn't going to put the family in more danger.

BLOCK: And so what did the FBI do?

ENTOUS: The FBI has access to intelligence and has access to other sources and went back and did some investigating of their own on the side and came back to the family and said that they believed that this middleman was legitimate. And they basically said to the family that they thought this may be the best option for the family - paying the ransom. At the same time, the FBI did not, according to the officials we talked to, tell the family that they approved of this or that they were somehow authorizing it, and this was not U.S. government money or FBI money.

BLOCK: It was money the family raised?

ENTOUS: That's correct, private money.

BLOCK: And the payment was made in 2012?

ENTOUS: Yeah, the payment was made. The interlocutor took the money and went and delivered it, but Weinstein was not released as the family had hoped.

BLOCK: This does seem to be really a fine line that you're talking about here. The FBI is saying that this payment could be the family's best option. How is that not making concessions to hostage takers to try to facilitate this payment?

ENTOUS: Right. So the White House says publicly and privately to the families that the U.S. government strongly opposes making such ransom payments or making other concessions to terrorist groups because of concerns that if the U.S. starts doing that, then other Americans living abroad or traveling abroad would become even more targets than they already are of these groups that try to raise money. At the same time, the FBI is engaging on a daily basis with these families. They feel their pain more than anybody else in the U.S. government that is interacting with them.

BLOCK: And is that a contradiction then in U.S. policy?

ENTOUS: It certainly seems like a mixed message to be sending. The U.S. policy - when you look at the way it's worded by the White House carefully, they're referring to the U.S. government making payments or concessions. With regard to individuals who use private sources of funding, which is what occurred in this place, it's unclear what the repercussions would be for continuing. For example, there was a White House official that talked to the families last year three times and, according to the families, basically said that if you go down this road of paying a ransom, you could be prosecuted.

BLOCK: Families of other hostages?

ENTOUS: That's right. And so you can understand from talking to these families how confused they are because the FBI tells them you don't have to worry. We're not going to prosecute you for doing it. And you can just imagine how that would compound the difficult situation that they're in.

BLOCK: Adam Entous, thanks for coming in.

ENTOUS: My pleasure. Thank you.

BLOCK: Adam Entous is national security correspondent with the Wall Street Journal. He and his colleague Devlin Barrett broke the story that the FBI helped facilitate a ransom payment to al-Qaida for hostage Warren Weinstein. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.