The federal government will stop threatening criminal prosecution for families attempting to pay ransom for loved ones taken hostage by terrorist groups, President Barack Obama will announce today in an executive order clarifying and changing the way the government handles hostage situations. The sweeping new policy is due to “an idiot” at the Department of State, an official close to the review process told The Daily Caller News Foundation. The unintended effect of the change will be “to encourage more kidnappings of U.S. service members and U.S. diplomats stationed abroad, and it’s going to make Americans targets.”
“All this because an idiot opened her mouth out of place and someone told the media,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity told TheDCNF.
By law, the government cannot make concessions to terrorist groups, but the executive order will clarify that federal agents can communicate and negotiate with captors on a family’s behalf — and that families who try to ransom a loved one will not be punished, The New York Times says the report will decide.
The Department of Justice “does not intend to add to the families’ pain in such cases by suggesting they could face criminal prosecution,” an official told the Times.
The changes are the result of an extensive review of federal policy regarding hostages abroad. Obama ordered the review in December after frustrated family members of current and former hostages complained about the process, and in light of changing national security realities, such as the rise of the Islamic State, since the policy was written in 2000.
It’s long been an unofficial policy to look the other way if a family tries to pay a ransom, but making that policy official could prove problematic if non-family members try to get financially involved or if family members try to solicit the public for the money they need to pay a ransom.
“This is really media-driven,” the official told TheDCNF. “The White House wants this issue to go away.”
Other families had expressed frustration with the old process, but Nancy Curtis, the mother of a former al Qaeda hostage released last summer, garnered media attention when she said in November that the Department of State had threatened to prosecute her if she tried to pay a ransom for her son’s release.
“Neither the FBI nor the Justice Department would have ever made that statement” threatening to prosecute, the official told TheDCNF, blaming a loose tongue at the State Department for messing up the communication with Curtis that caused the media hype and review process.
“She was not an FBI or Justice Department person,” the source said. “She was a State Department person who overstepped her bounds, and that is probably what led to the president’s statement.”
The order also creates an interagency “fusion cell” at the FBI– a White House team that oversees hostage policy and a special State Department envoy to communicate with other countries regarding hostage situations.
“[W]henever possible, families will receive more information, faster, on their loved ones and the efforts to recover them,” the report will say, according to the Times.
A new “issue manager” will coordinate intelligence between agencies and work to declassify relevant information about a given hostage on behalf of family members. And one coordinator will serve as a point of contact between relatives and the fusion cell, and will also belong to the White House hostage policy team.
This report, by Rachel Stoltzfoos, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.