Rob Saale was the director of the U.S. Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, an interagency group housed at the FBI, between 2017 and 2019. In that capacity, he oversaw the coordination of government efforts and policies to facilitate the recovery of American hostages held abroad. He managed multiple incident aspects, including intelligence coordination, operational response, family engagement, oversight of the media and legislative affairs, as well as strategy development.

During his 23-year career with the FBI, Saale was involved in or had responsibility for international criminal and national security investigations of public corruption and violent criminal, white collar, and counterterrorism violations.

Saale is currently the president of STAR Consulting and Investigations, an international security consulting firm he founded.

CTC: This past June marked the fourth anniversary of the creation of the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell at the FBI, an organization you led before you retired from the FBI. Can you tell us about what that organization is and why it was created?

Saale: So, the Cell was created after the debacle with the families of the ISIS hostages—Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller. There was a combination of factors that led to the issues between their families and the government. There was stovepiping of information on the intelligence side and fights between different [U.S. government] agencies on how to handle the issue. Families were treated poorly by the U.S. government across the board. They were told if they paid a ransom, they’d be prosecuted. They did not have information shared with them and were held at arm’s length. There was a big outrage about the treatment of the families. Diane Foley [Jim Foley’s mother] really led that charge. And the [Obama] administration realized that they had handled the whole affair poorly, and so, to their credit, they conducted a hostage review. That review was only supposed to last 90 days but ended up lasting close to a year, and [it] assessed the state of the hostage enterprise at the time and how to make it better. The result was Presidential Policy Directive-30 (PPD-30), which established the current hostage recovery enterprise.1

The three pieces of that enterprise currently are the Hostage Response Group (HRG), the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell (HRFC), and the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA) at the Department of State. The HRG is the sub-deputies’ group at the National Security Council led by the Senior Advisor to the President for Counterterrorism. The HRG is the arbitrator of disputes between the interagency [for handling hostage cases] and approves policies and recovery strategies that are brought to it by the Fusion Cell. The Fusion Cell is responsible for coordinating both recovery efforts and efforts to support the families. Additionally, the Fusion Cell is responsible for making sure that intelligence is being shared among the interagency. The Special Presidential Envoy is the diplomatic arm for this. So that enterprise is really three pieces working together. The Cell is developing recovery strategies and ensuring that the operational nuts and bolts are all coming together; the HRG is a vehicle to quickly make time-sensitive decisions about hostage recoveries; and the SPEHA is the diplomatic arm.

The Fusion Cell has five main components. It has (1) an intelligence component with representation from across the intelligence community; (2) an operational component with representation from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), State Department Diplomatic Security Service, Department of Treasury, the Department of Defense (DoD) broadly, as well as specific representation from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC); (3) a family engagement team with FBI Victim’s Specialists and State Department Consular Affairs, operational psychologists, and a FBI crisis negotiator; (4) the external engagement team, which has an external engagement coordinator, a media coordinator, a legislative coordinator; and then finally (5) a legal team, the DoJ [Department of Justice] attorney. All these groups are under the leadership team, which consists of the Fusion Cell’s director and two deputies, which could come from one of three organizations—State, FBI, or DoD.

CTC: As the HRFC was being stood up, it was also given an operational role in managing hostage cases. I can only imagine that there were a lot of challenges in creating new processes and interagency collaboration while still managing active cases. By the time you took over, the HRFC was just under two years old. What were some of the priorities you focused on and some of the organizational challenges you had to overcome?

Saale: By the time I got there, the Cell’s processes for responding to cases and how they engaged with families were pretty well developed. What I found was that a lot of that institutional knowledge was just in people’s heads; it hadn’t been codified anywhere. So that was my first priority, making sure those standard operating procedures and processes were codified and developed into a resource for the next generation to use. My next priority was dealing with some of the less urgent yet still important parts of PPD-30. Prevention, for instance, is important, but not much had been done on that front because of the need to get the Fusion Cell up and running. Prevention is more than just regurgitating State Department travel warnings and telling people not to travel. Prevention could be identifying, dismantling, disrupting—through law enforcement means or kinetic means—some of these captor networks and facilitators to cut back on the number of hostage-takings. Part of that as well is the prosecution aspect. We tried to address those areas outside of the day-to-day process of running cases and outreach to the external partners.

CTC: The hostages taken by the Islamic State weren’t the first U.S. citizens to be taken hostage by terrorist groups. The United States had to deal with a rash of kidnappings and hostage-takings during operations in Iraq in the period after the 2003 U.S. invasion. Do you think the fact that many people involved with those events were no longer working in government—the lack of institutional knowledge that you mentioned—contributed to the challenges that the government had in responding in the Islamic State cases?

Saale: Absolutely. In late 2011 through 2013, I was up at FBI headquarters running the violent gang unit that managed all the [FBI’s] gang cases at the programmatic level, but then I moved to the Violent Crime Unit. Part of their program management responsibilities were extraterritorial criminal kidnappings. At that time, it was really just being given lip service. All the Bureau was doing was tracking cases, for the most part. They weren’t trying to actively manage those cases at the headquarters level. At individual field offices, it would vary, but at the headquarters level, it wasn’t being done. When we had Jessica Buchanan taken hostage by Somali pirates in October 2011, we began pulling together an ad hoc group that met on a weekly basis and focused on that one case. I like to call it the grandfather of the Fusion Cell because it had many of the same components that the Fusion Cell had. It was very personality-driven and involved developing a lot of relationships, and at the end of the day, we were successful in getting her rescued.a What PPD-30 did was take the personality aspect and the individual relationship component out and codified those processes and institutionalized those relationships so that when people left their positions, the relationships remained.

Robert Saale

CTC: What were some of your experiences in the FBI that helped you respond to Jessica Buchanan’s kidnapping?

Saale: One of the places that I focused on early in my career was working gang cases. I really felt that gave me a good basis for counterterrorism work because, in the long run, CT is just a big gang case. You need to know how to identify what a network is, its organization, and break it down. I did that for the first part of my career. After 9/11 happened, I did a couple years on the Director’s detail and then got into CT work. I think a turning point in my career was [when] I volunteered to go over to Iraq in 2005 as part of the Bureau deployment program and got embedded with [then] Major General McChrystal’s task force as an interrogator. I really got to see first-hand the whole concept of “it takes a network to defeat a network.” At that time, late 2005-2006, that task force was operating on all eight cylinders, going 150 miles per hour. It was really an impressive organization to be a part of, and I observed and soaked in a lot of those lessons about the interagency working together. I tried to implement those ideas when I was a task force supervisor, and they really culminated when I had the opportunity to lead the Fusion Cell.

I think the biggest thing that I took away was the transparency of information sharing. [McChrystal’s] task force had intelligence briefs where everyone would talk freely about what was going on with each of their targets and what everybody else was doing to support those missions. It really created a shared consciousness with everybody understanding what everybody else was doing. Some of that stuff I had from prior experiences. I had been a SWAT guy and a tactical guy, so when I’d interrogate somebody and they’d tell me about a target and I’d show them some pictures of a house, I’d naturally know that the operators are going to want to know: what kind of locks were on the doors, how many fighting-age males were there, and what kind of weapons they had. I also saw at the same time they [the operators] were cognizant of what the analysts needed to find new targets, so they were very diligent about collecting phones and pocket litter. They knew not to just discard that stuff. While it might not have meant anything to them, the analysts might be able to glean something from some bit of paper with a few numbers on it.

CTC: Is that cross training, that shared consciousness of knowing what the other side is doing something you tried to inculcate in the HRFC?

Saale: Absolutely. To give you an example, there was very rarely a piece of intelligence that was not shared with everybody in the Cell, unless it was extremely compartmentalized and sensitive. For the most part, everybody from the victim specialists to the State Department consular officers saw the same intel as the operational folks and the analysts. We had a number of cases where the intel folks would identify a gap in intelligence about a victim—for instance, their location or who was holding them. The victim specialists, who are spending time with the families, might know—in the case of a dual citizen—that the family had extended family members on the ground [wherever the victim was being held] that might have their own network of information. So, the victim specialists were able to ask the family questions or would pick up on something important when the family said something, knowing that analysts or the operational folks were looking for it. Conversely, when the family team would brief a particular issue the family was concerned about, if the intel analysts came across that information, they would know the family was interested in it and could work to get that declassified without having to be told. We eliminated a lot of the back and forth. It was just like people knew what everyone else needed, so they took their own initiative.

CTC: How do you do that? Was it just having a morning stand-up type meeting where everyone goes around the room and briefs what they’re working on, or did you have to really force those relationships?

Saale: So, it’s both. The first piece is having that stand-up meeting, but then you really have to force those relationships and connectivity. As a leader in the Cell, someone would get a piece of information and bring it straight to me, and I’d have to ask if they’d spoken with the victim specialist about the issue. If they said no, I’d have to direct them to ensure they looped in the victim specialist because it was important to the families. Initially, we had to force those relationships. But when people saw it was successful, they’d develop that back-and-forth trust, and it would just become a natural muscle movement for people in the Cell.

CTC: Since the Islamic State hostage crisis, kidnappings have somewhat receded from the news, although the recent rescue of an American in a French hostage rescue in Burkina Faso highlights that the issue hasn’t completely gone away.b What is your assessment of the current hostage threat today? Who is most at risk, and where are the greatest threats? As hostage-taking recedes from the forefront of public attention, are there risks that HRFC will face decreased interagency collaboration?

Saale: If you look at hostage-taking, it’s really cyclical. From 2010-2012, we had all sorts of hostages being taken in East Africa in acts of piracy. The E.U. and U.S. stepped in; there was an increased military presence; the shipping industry changed their best practices and put armed security details on ships; and the problem went away. Two years later, ISIS went into Syria and realized that a good model to generate revenue quickly was to kidnap Westerners. A significant portion of their early revenue stream came from those ransoms. The same thing applies to JNIM [Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin]c and the terrorist groups in West Africa where much of their revenue comes from hostage-taking. As groups emerge, they tend to see hostage-taking as a very lucrative means to generate revenue for their cause.

We’re now seeing ISIS going away in Syria, but the remnants of ISIS are going to disband and spread. As those start to take hold in other places, I think you’re going to see those veterans of the ISIS fight think back on how they really got their movement going in 2011-2012, and they may start to consider taking hostages to generate some revenue.

I fear we may be on the cusp of another surge in hostage-taking. Where will that be? Wherever Westerners are expanding and coming into contact with militant groups. It’s not just Westerners, of course. If you look at Afghanistan, there are Chinese and Indian engineers who are being taken hostage and all sorts of other people who we don’t really have visibility on. Hostage-takers like to get Westerners, but I think they are also somewhat indiscriminate. They are really looking at any potential victim who has someone behind them that will pay.

When I was at the Cell, my biggest worry was Southeast Asia [and specifically] the area around Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines where the Abu Sayyaf Group operates. Almost all of their revenue is generated through hostage-taking. West Africa still is an area of concern. I think the Tri-Border Area down in South America is another potential concern.d As Western companies go down there to increase mining and oil and natural gas development, they’ll start to put more Westerners down there, increasing that potential contact with militant groups.

CTC: One of the most rigorous debates in hostage policy is whether the U.S. government’s no-concessions policy deters the kidnapping of American citizens. One of the underlying assumptions of this policy is that terrorist groups deliberately target Americans. We’ve seen public statements from al-Qa`ida leadership and some of Usama bin Ladin’s letters that indicate this desire at the leadership level.2 From your experience broadly, is this deliberate targeting something that is happening at the tactical level, or are the abductions of Americans more ad hoc?

Saale: I think it’s really based upon individual groups. With a group like AQ [al-Qa`ida], whose organizational structure is more hierarchal, if AQ’s central leadership wanted something done, it generally got pushed down to all the levels. Other groups that have a more decentralized leadership structure might look at hostage-taking as a way to generate revenue. Maybe some local commander, in the back of his mind, might see kidnapping an American or a Westerner as a propaganda tool, too. There is some evidence that groups will take American or British hostages if they can get them with other Westerners, and they [the Americans or British] would be the hostages that the group might execute in order to put pressure on other [Western] governments that don’t have as strong [of] a no-concessions policy.

CTC: The United States’ no-concessions policy isn’t just about deterring kidnapping. An important part of the rationale is to prevent terrorist groups from financially benefiting from ransom payment. Is kidnapping for ransom still a major funding mechanism for terrorist groups?

Saale: Yes. From 2004 to 2012, the U.S. government estimated that that terrorist groups had raised at least $120 million from kidnapping for ransom, with AQIM [al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb] and AQAP [al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula] playing a big role in that.3 In 2014, ISIS raised up to $45 million from ransoms alone.4 Abu Sayyaf is another group whose funding comes almost entirely from kidnapping.

This is part of the discussion that I’ve had with advocates and think-tanks. I do not doubt that if Americans are taken hostage and that the U.S. government was willing to pay ransom, the likelihood of Americans being released increases dramatically; that’s what ransom payments are for. I also think that the U.S. government has to think on broader terms, not just for individuals who are being held right now, but the other Americans overseas in at-risk areas. If the U.S. government was willing to pay ransoms and these groups knew it, their targeting of Americans would certainly increase.

I also believe that there is some gray area. PPD-30 said that no concessions does not mean no negotiation; you’re allowed to negotiate. I think there needs to be a bit of a gray area on a case-by-case basis where, at the National Security Council level, there are options for showing good faith if we’re talking to a group. Giving them something, be it a battery for a cell phone, medical supplies, whatever it might be—something that won’t enhance their ability to strike at the U.S. or its interests—may be helpful to establish good faith. Those things would need to be weighed carefully, but they might be opportunities to open a dialogue, much like in hostage situations with bank robberies. The police won’t be getting a plane and $6 million for the robbers, but they will get them some food and a phone call so they can slow down and start thinking about what they’ve done.

CTC: In those types of negotiations, it’s often helpful to have both that carrot that you’ve described and a stick. Brian Michael Jenkins has stated that “the apprehension of kidnappers and the destruction of kidnapping gangs appear to be the most powerful factors in reducing kidnappings.”e Do you think the United States places enough emphasis on going after terrorist kidnapping networks? What tools does the United States have to do that? What are the legal challenges of prosecuting terrorist kidnappers in the United States?

Saale: I think the intelligence community, the FBI, and DoD do everything they can. I think DoJ has been woefully inadequate with their prosecution of kidnappers because of a reluctance to bring individuals back to U.S. soil and roll the dice on taking them to trial. I think that’s shameful.

In every hostage-taking, especially a criminal kidnapping or a terrorist hostage-taking, the FBI is going to open up a case, especially in a criminal kidnapping or a terrorist-related hostage case. That case will be assigned to one of four field offices, depending on the region of the world where the case occurs. At that field office, a squad will be assigned to work the case. You would think that if someone is taken hostage in Syria, we’d never be able to catch the perpetrators, but these agents do incredible work on putting the cases together. In 2011, a crew of pirates hijacked the yacht S/V Quest, taking four American citizens hostage. Unfortunately, the pirates murdered all four Americans, but the FBI went to incredible lengths to create a case against the hostage-takers. An FBI agent was imbedded in the SEAL task force that responded to the event and was able to immediately begin collecting forensic evidence. The yacht was towed to Djibouti, and a larger FBI team processed it as a crime scene. The evidence gathered was critical in the securing the convictions of the hostage-takers.f There are a number of stories like that where the FBI has been able to get prosecutions—the Achille Lauro hijackersg and some of the FARC kidnappings, for instance. Conversely, there are a number of folks that have been members of ISIS or AQ in places where the U.S. might not have had the prosecutorial reach, but where the [U.S.] military has been able to use kinetic means to bring kidnappers to justice.h

CTC: Does the United States highlight that enough? Does the United States link those successes to the kidnappings in a way that helps with any deterrent effect they might have?

Saale: No, we don’t do a good enough job of that. Part of the fear of highlighting these successes is because we don’t want to highlight the methods and sources that law enforcement, intelligence, and military use to bring the perpetrators to justice. There’s a fear that once we start highlighting the fact that we are involved in bringing kidnappers back to justice, questions will be raised about how they are brought back, which may prevent those techniques from working in the future. Instead of crafting a response that answers the question indirectly, we just decide that we’re not going to talk about it at all. It doesn’t help when even people inside the government don’t know we build cases and try to prosecute kidnappers. I’ve been in interagency meetings and had a representative from the DoD tell me that there’s no need for hostage debriefings to be unclassified because the FBI doesn’t prosecute hostage-takers. These were debriefings with civilian hostages that, if unclassified, could be used in affidavits and criminal complaints, or used as evidence in court. From their perspective, that was unnecessary because they’d never seen or heard of a hostage-taking-related prosecution. When I started ticking off cases where the FBI had built criminal complaints, they were surprised. It wasn’t their fault for not knowing; it was our fault for not highlighting those successes.

CTC: What are the legal challenges of prosecuting terrorist kidnappers in the United States?

Saale: Often when we’re developing evidence for a hostage case, we rely on the hostage’s unsubstantiated account to place their kidnappers at the scene. In criminal proceedings, of course, the hostage-taker would deny being present, and their attorney would try to provide alibi witnesses. It’s definitely a challenge to develop the amount of evidence to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty of a kidnapping. When you do have evidence, oftentimes it’s not as clean as it might be back in the United States when it’s been handled by law enforcement officers. A lot of the evidence in support of hostage-taking cases comes second- or third-hand; some of it comes without much providence or verifiable chain of custody. So, yes, these cases are challenging, but I think they’re worth it. We need to take the risk.

I would definitely like to see Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh brought back to the United States and tried.i I’ve spoken to the prosecutor and the agents for the case; I’m familiar with the district it would be prosecuted in; and I’m confident the government could get a conviction. I know that some people within DoJ have had bad experiences in the past, where they’ve brought someone to the U.S., but the individual wasn’t convicted and then ended up claiming asylum in the U.S. [the CEC Future case].j I think this case is different. In the [CEC Future] case, the defendant was relatively sympathetic and was able to paint himself as a businessman, a go-between for the pirates who conducted the kidnapping, who was simply helping to free hostages.

These guys [Kotey and Elsheikh] are different. They were captured on the battlefield acting on behalf of a foreign terrorist organization, part of whose strategy involved the kidnapping and captivity of Western hostages and ultimately their execution for propaganda value. They’ve admitted being part of the group responsible for holding Western hostages.5 They would be categorically different defendants.

I think it’s incredibly important that we bring them [Kotey and Elsheikh] back and try them in a U.S. court. Their prosecution would provide justice to the families; it would treat them like the criminals they are and show the resolve of the U.S. to bring the killers of American citizens to justice. We can’t bring hostage-takers to justice all the time, but when we have the opportunity to do it, we should.

CTC: One of the mandates behind the PPD-30 and the creation of the HRFC was to help “secure the safe recovery of U.S. nationals held hostage abroad.”6 Has the HRFC’s creation increased the number of Americans recovered in terrorist kidnap cases? Can you talk about any of the successes you and your team had in the time you led the HRFC?

Saale: I would say that by formalizing relationships and processes, U.S. victims of kidnapping and hostage-taking are being recovered more often and more quickly. One of the successes we had involved a Colombian case in which five kayakers, among them several Americans, were taken hostage by the FARC in 2017.7 Because of the Fusion Cell and the HRG, we were very quickly able to get [the State Department] post in Bogotá, SOUTHCOM [U.S. Southern Command], and JSOC up to speed and on the same page. The hostages were taken on a Thursday during the day, and by Saturday afternoon, due to the rapid coordination, there was so much ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] overhead, we were able to locate them. Through back channel messages from the Colombian government to the FARC, they were released within 72 hours. When I look back at this case, and some others that are still too sensitive to talk about, I do think that the Cell’s role in facilitating recoveries has had a positive impact in helping to bring Americans home.

I will say, however, that some cases the HRFC is involved in are exceptionally hard to resolve and recovery options are limited. Robert Levison, for instance, has been held for more than 12 years and Austin Tice’s captivity is going on eight years.k In cases like these, when the U.S. is falling short of recovering its citizens, the HRFC’s role in family engagement becomes incredibly important to support their families as much as possible.

CTC: You previously mentioned relationships with the families of U.S. hostages as being a big part of the creation of the HRFC. Do you think the Fusion Cell has been successful in improving the relationships with the families of Americans held abroad?

Saale: I think the support that has developed over the past four years by the Fusion Cell has been very successful. If you look at the outstanding report done by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, you’ll see comments from the families that believe they’re getting more support than before the Fusion Cell’s creation.8 I never really had challenges with family engagement. I’d go meet with families that were described as difficult to deal with, but I never had problems with them. Were they frustrated? Sure. I’d be frustrated too if my son or daughter had been held for years on end. I’d be frustrated if in sitting in meetings with U.S. government officials, I knew more than the regional expert giving me the brief. I understand, though, why that happens. Oftentimes, the longer their loved one is being held, these families develop more regional expertise than the regional experts at State, the FBI, or DoD. But it’s because they’re laser-focused on this one issue and one area, whereas other government officials have a variety of concerns. That’s just one example, but I completely understood their frustrations.

The problem with family engagement I would have was encouraging the interagency to work with the families. Most of the time, the intelligence community [IC] was very good about getting intelligence reporting to a place where part of it was declassified for sharing with families. At other times, there was an unwillingness within the IC to share with the families. Often this was because of some sensitive operational matter or the sensitivity of the information in general. I would try to convey to the intelligence collectors and the operators that the family had more to lose than any of us; they have more stake in this game than any of us, so we should trust that they wouldn’t share information if we cleared it for them. I’d reinforce that with the families. “We’re telling you something, but this is very sensitive, this can’t get out, you can’t tell this to your cousin or share with extended family. This can’t get out.” I never had a family violate that trust.

It was a challenge with people in the IC, especially those who work in regions with less familiarity with hostage-taking cases. There are some regions of the world where hostage-takings are more regular. People who work in those regions in the IC, DoD, State Department, and FBI are all familiar with responding to hostage-taking events and engaging with families. If you have a one-off somewhere that’s out of the ordinary, you have to start from scratch and explain to everybody why we do this and why it’s important.     CTC

Substantive Notes
[a] Editor’s note: Jessica Buchanan and Poul Thisted were rescued by U.S. Navy Seals on January 25, 2012. See Jeffrey Gettleman, Eric Schmitt, and Thom Shanker, “U.S. Swoops In to Free 2 From Pirates in Somali Raid,” New York Times, January 25, 2012.

[b] On May 11, 2019, French special operations forces conducted a hostage rescue to recover two French tourists in Burkina Faso and ended up also rescuing an American woman and a South Korean woman. See Btissem Guenfoud, Ben Gittleson, and Edith Honan, “French forces rescue American during raid to free tourists in Burkina Faso,” ABC News, May 11, 2019.

[c] Editor’s note: Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, al-Qa`ida’s affiliate in Mali and West Africa, was formed in March 2017 by the merger of Ansar al-Din, al-Murabitoon, al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) Sahara branch, and the Macina Liberation Front.

[d] Editor’s note: The Tri-Border Area (TBA) straddles the national boundaries between Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil and has historically been associated with a variety of illegal activities to include money-laundering, counterfeiting, drug trafficking and arms smuggling.

[e] See Brian Michael Jenkins, Does the U.S. No-Concessions Policy Deter the Kidnapping of Americans? (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018), p. 22. Other research has found that hostage rescue attempts, both successful and unsuccessful, may have a deterrent effect, reducing the likelihood of future kidnapping by the group targeted in that area. Peter Dyrud, “Think Twice: Deterring Transnational Kidnapping,” forthcoming.

[f] Editor’s note: A total of 15 individuals were sentenced to life in prison in the S/V Quest case after being arrested and charged with piracy. Eleven of the hijackers pleaded guilty, while three hijackers and one negotiator, arrested after the hijacking in Somalia, were tried in separate cases in federal court. See “US Court Convicts Somalis of Piracy and Murder,” VOA News, July 9, 2013; “Somali Hostage Negotiator in S/V Quest and M/V Miranda Marguerite Piracies Sentenced to Multiple Life Sentences,” U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Virginia, August 13, 2012; “Hostage Rescue Team: Mission in the Gulf of Aden,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, March 27, 2013.

[g] Editor’s note: In 1985, four members of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) seized the Italian cruise liner M.S. Achille Lauro, attempting to secure the release of 50 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. While holding the ship, the PLF hijackers executed Leon Klinghoffer, an American citizen. After holding the ship for two days, the hijackers disembarked in Egypt, releasing the remaining hostages in exchange for safe passage and a flight out of Egypt. A U.S. Special Operations task force forced the plane with the hijackers to land in Italy, transferring the hijackers into Italian custody. Eventually, with U.S. assistance, the hijackers were tried and convicted in Italian courts. See William E. Smith, “Terrorism: The Voyage of The Achille Lauro,” Time, October 21, 1985; Tom Clancy, Carl Stiner, and Tony Koltz, Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces (New York: Penguin Putnam, 2002), pp. 265-296.

[h] Editor’s note: An example of such kinetic action was the death of Abu al-Umarayn, a senior Islamic State leader “involved” in the execution of Peter Kassig, a U.S. citizen kidnapped by the Islamic State in October 2013. See Hannah Preston, “Who Is Abu Al Umarayn? ISIS Leader Held Responsible for 2014 Death of Former U.S. Army Ranger, Killed in Drone Strike,” Newsweek, December 2, 2018.

[i] Editor’s note: Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, alleged to be two of James Foley’s kidnappers, were captured by the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were held in SDF-controlled prisons prior to the United States taking them into custody earlier this year. Both were British citizens who emigrated to fight for the Islamic State and whose citizenship reportedly has been revoked. See David Millward, “Trial of Jihadi ‘Beatles’ faces delay as US prosecutors gather evidence,” Telegraph, July 7, 2019; Dominic Casciani, “Islamic State ‘Beatles’ El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey could be tried in UK,” BBC, July 30, 2019; and Bethan McKernan, Julian Borger, and Dan Sabbagh, “US takes custody of British Isis pair,” Guardian, October 10, 2019.

[j] Editor’s note: See, for example, the trial of Ali Mohamed Ali, the negotiator in the November 2008 hijacking of the Danish cargo ship CEC Future. Ali was arrested 2011 after traveling to the United States and charged with conspiracy to commit piracy, aiding and abetting piracy, conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, and aiding and abetting hostage-taking. In November 2013, he was acquitted by a jury of the charge of piracy, and although the jury deadlocked on the charge of hostage-taking, the charges were dropped. After this, Ali reportedly applied for political asylum in the United States, though the resolution of that case is unclear. See “Somali man found not guilty of piracy in 2008 ship hijack,” Guardian, November 26, 2013; Josh Gerstein, “Failed pirate trial a bad omen?” Politico, February 10, 2014; and Josh Gerstein, “Senators troubled by accused pirate’s acquittal,” Politico, February 25, 2014.

[k] Editor’s note: Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, disappeared in Iran in 2007 while on a CIA operation and is suspected of being held by the Iranian government. Austin Tice, a freelance journalist, was detained in 2012 in Syria after being stopped at a checkpoint south of Damascus. The identity of his captors remains unclear. See “For First Time, Iran Says Case Is Open on Missing C.I.A. Consultant,” Associated Press, November 9, 2019, and Nisan Ahmado, “Parents of US Reporter Missing for 7 Years in Syria Still Await His Return,” VOA News, November 14, 2019.

[1] “Presidential Policy Directive – Hostage Recovery Activities,” White House, Office of the Press Secretary, June 24, 2015.

[2] “Letter Regarding Al-Qaida Strategy,” SOCOM-2012-0000017; Rania El Gamal “Al Qaeda chief urges Westerner kidnappings,” Reuters, April 26, 2014.

[3] “Remarks of Under Secretary David Cohen at Chatham House on ‘Kidnapping for Ransom: The Growing Terrorist Financing Challenge,’” U.S. Department of Treasury, October 5, 2012.

[4] “Testimony of A\S for Terrorist Financing Daniel L. Glaser Before The House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, and House Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities,” U.S. Department of Treasury, June 9, 2016.

[5] Editor’s note: Izzy Lyons, “British terrorist Alexanda Kotey admits role in ‘Isil Beatles’ and London terror plot,” Telegraph, May 28, 2019.

[6] “Presidential Policy Directive – Hostage Recovery Activities.”

[7] Editor’s note: Jeff Moag, “Kayaker Ben Stookesberry On His Four Days As a Hostage in FARC-Held Colombia,” Men’s Journal, April 25, 2017; Jay Bouchard, “How 5 Kayakers Were Taken Hostage in Colombia by FARC Rebels,” Outside, May 11, 2017.

[8] Editor’s note: Cynthia Loertscher, Bringing Americans Home: The First Non-Governmental Assessment of U.S. Hostage Policy and Family Engagement (Washington, D.C.: New America Foundation, 2019).

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