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. The United States accidentally killed Weinstein in January in a counterterrorism strike on an Al Qaeda compound.
It's long been U.S. policy not to negotiate or to make ransom payments to terrorist organizations so as to not fund future terror activity or to put Americans further at risk.
“Families that are in this terrible situation are relying heavily on these government experts,” Earnest said. “What’s also true is that we’ve been definitive about our no ransom, no concessions policy. It’s one that’s not subject to this ongoing policy review. That’s because that policy is clearly in our national security interest, that we know extremist organizations only use ransoms to fund their terror activities.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI vetted the Pakistani middleman that the Warren family used, providing the middleman with intelligence to help him make the exchange.
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.
Obama has ordered a review to determine how the government can better work with the families of hostages.