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Report: FBI Vetted Middleman In Ransom Payment For U.S. Hostage

The FBI helped the family of Warren Weinstein vet a Pakistani middleman who could transport $250,000 to his captors to secure the release of the kidnapped aid worker, The Wall Street Journal is reporting. Weinstein, as we reported last week, was inadvertently killed in a U.S. military operation in January.

The Journal adds:

"The FBI's previously undisclosed role reveals a contradiction in the U.S.'s longstanding position against paying ransoms for hostages. 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 towards that end.

"In the Weinstein case, the FBI vetted a Pakistani middleman used by the family to transport the money and provided other intelligence to enable an exchange, actions that some senior U.S. officials said encouraged the family to go ahead with the transaction."

NPR has not independently confirmed the newspaper's reporting.

The White House announced last week that Weinstein of Rockville, Md., and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto — both al-Qaida hostages — were killed in what it called a counterterrorism operation. Media reports said a drone strike on an al-Qaida-linked compound killed both men. President Obama said he took full responsibility for the operation.

The Journal report quoted unnamed U.S. officials saying the FBI agents "didn't directly authorize or approve the ransom payment, and thus didn't violate U.S. hostage policy.

"Instead, the agents decided to help the Weinsteins once they concluded family members had made up their minds to proceed, said officials involved in the case. U.S. officials said they provided the information in part to protect the family."

The FBI told the Weinsteins that the Pakistani intermediary seemed to be legitimate, the officials told the paper. The family raised the money through private sources and delivered it to the Pakistani, it added. The intermediary told the newspaper last week that he handed over the cash — in $100 bills — to the kidnappers in June 2012 in Peshawar, Pakistan. It did not secure Weinstein's release.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that U.S. policy prohibits making concessions to terrorist organizations and that policy hasn't changed.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.