Some interesting sleights-of-hand in what I take to be a White House riposte to my Daily Beast article last week authored with colleague Shane Harris. The riposte is carried in the Washington Post. The thrust of our piece was that the administration received from British sources by the and of the first week of June positive identification on the whereabouts of American and British hostages held by the Islamic State. By late May there were three possible locations for the captives — all in or around Raqqa, the de facto capital of the militants in northern Syria.
Our sources — a mixture of British and White House officials and private security contractors as well as family members and friends of American hostages James Foley, Steve Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller — confirm that positive identification of the location the captives were being held at had been passed on to the administration by June 6. The thrust of our article was that, and I quote the opening paragraph of the story, “The U.S. government obtained intelligence on the possible location of American captives held by ISIS in Syria last year, but Obama administration officials waited nearly a month to launch a rescue mission because of concerns that the intelligence wasn’t conclusive and some of it had come from a foreign service.”
The foreign service in question was British intelligence.
Officials — including deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes — seem at great pains in the Post piece to insist that Obama signed off on the rescue mission within about 24 hours when presented with a final operational plan. But the question remains, why if the administration received the crucial information by June 6 did they wait until July 4 to launch the rescue, by which time the captives had been moved. There is no denial carried in the Post article about when the administration received intelligence about the location.
And in our Daily Beast article, we don’t suggest the hold up was with the President but his officials. I quote: “But a U.S. official said that inside the White House, Obama’s senior national-security advisers were not willing to base a raid on intelligence developed by a foreign service. ‘The issue was that they didn’t trust it, and they wanted to develop and mature the intelligence, because it wasn’t our own,’ said the U.S. official, who asked to remain anonymous when discussing sensitive hostage-rescue efforts. ‘They got the information. They just didn’t trust it. And they did sit on it, there’s no doubt about that,’ the official said.”
My latest piece co-authored with Daily Beast colleague Shane Harris has prompted a storm of comments. We explore claims that the Obama administration delayed last summer acting on intelligence received about the location of Western captives held by ISIS.
The opening paragraphs:
“The U.S. government obtained intelligence on the possible location of American captives held by ISIS in Syria last year, but Obama administration officials waited nearly a month to launch a rescue mission because of concerns that the intelligence wasn’t conclusive and some of it had come from a foreign service, U.S. and British officials told The Daily Beast.
British officials, as well as private security contractors, said they were frustrated by Washington’s hesitance to give the go-ahead for a rescue attempt, which eventually was carried out on July 4, 2014, by which time the hostages had been moved. The following month, ISIS began beheading its American and British prisoners in a series of grisly Internet videos”
Worth noting the speed with which Israeli acted back in 1976 to mount a mission to rescue hostages held at Entebbe. The Air France passenger jet was seized by Palestinian militants on June 27; the rescue operation was launched July 6.
My take last night on a new twist in the cynical media operations of the so-called caliphate with a hostage ‘reporting’ from the embattled town of Kobani on Syria’s border.
“British hostage John Cantlie, who was abducted by jihadists alongside American journalist James Foley, was featured in a new propaganda video posted Monday night reporting from inside the besieged town of Kobani. He scornfully rejects Western media coverage of the battle for the Syrian border town, saying the militants of the Islamic State are not on the retreat and are now just mopping up…
The video then homes in on a healthy-looking Cantlie, who is dressed in black—like an ISIS fighter—in contrast to the orange jumpsuit of a prisoner he was seen wearing in five episodes of jihadist propaganda films called ‘Lend Me Your Ears.’ His hair has grown out and his skin color is less pale, suggesting that the previous videos were shot several weeks ago, around the time ISIS beheaded Foley and another American reporter, Steven Sotloff.
In the “Lend Me Your Ears” series, the British freelance photojournalist emphasizes that he is a prisoner of the Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL, and doesn’t know whether he will live or die. But in Monday night’s five-and-a-half minute clip, titled “Inside Ayn al-Islam” (the Arabic name for Kobani is Ayn al-Arab), the 43-year-old Cantlie makes no reference to his captivity, raising questions about whether he has crossed the line and is now a willing propagandist for the jihadists behind the camera.”
I quote also a British security official saying: “The video is troubling. Was this filmed under duress? Volunteered and suggested? Is this Stockholm Syndrome? Does it cross a line? Is he playing them?”
American and Western officials are scrambling to understand the mindsets of the Westerners joining the jihadist Islamic State. In an article today for the Daily Beast I explore the challenges they are facing.
“Identifying who already has gone to join ISIS, who might go, and why is an urgent priority, and the FBI’s psychological analysts at Quantico have been enlisted in the effort to chart the pattern of radicalization and to try to get into the heads of these young men and women.”
There is still much not understood and decades of de-radicalization programs supply only a few answers. A former senior bureau profiler, Mary Ellen O’Toole, talked me through some of the problems when putting Western jihadists on the couch, saying it is as hard as pinpointing potential serial killers in the general population.
“You can look at second or third-generation immigrant men and say they are more vulnerable but one variable doesn’t make a mass murderer,” she told me. Real-world profilers have to be cautious and avoid falling back on facile ethnic, racial or religious “profiling.”
But she had no doubts that the British jihadists involved in the killings of American reporters James Foley and Steve Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines are psychopaths.
Fears for the safety of dozens of Western captives—among them journalists and aid workers—kidnapped in northern Syria by al Qaeda factions are mounting amid signs they are being moved deeper into territory firmly under jihadist sway. Private security experts and Western intelligence sources say the captives are in the process of being transported closer to the Iraqi border in an operation directed by a Chechen commander.