FBI uses journalists as bait for terrorists, escapee from Syrian group says
WASHINGTON — The only thing as bad as being tortured for months as a captive of jihadists in Syria was dealing with the U.S. government afterward, according to one former American hostage.
Matt Schrier, 36, a freelance photographer held by extremists for seven months in 2013 until he escaped, has told Tribune News Service that the bureaucracy he endured on his return home was a second kind of nightmare after the months of abuse he suffered while a hostage.
“I never thought it would get this bad,” Schrier said.
The FBI never told his father that he had been kidnapped. It waited six months into his capture to produce a wanted poster, and only after his mother prodded. It allowed jihadist forces to empty his bank account — $17,000 — with purchases on eBay, even as the government warned hostage families not to pay ransom so as not to run afoul of anti-terrorism laws.
After his escape, the government made him reimburse the State Department $1,605 for his ticket home just weeks after he arrived in the United States. When he had no means to rent an apartment, FBI victims services recommended New York City homeless shelters.
The FBI declined to comment on the specifics of Schrier’s complaints but said in a statement: “The FBI provides support services to victims and their families, to include help in meeting short-term exigent needs, and shares information about their loved ones that is timely and appropriate.”
There is no way to independently confirm Schrier’s version of events. But it is consistent with the anger relatives of other hostages have expressed when speaking of their interactions with government officials.
“The next time the FBI calls me will be the first time,” said Schrier’s father, Jeffrey, 67, who lives in Coconut Creek, outside Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “I thank God my son was able to escape, because if he was waiting for the government to spring him, he would still be waiting in that hellhole.”
Spurred by the recent beheadings of three Americans who had been held hostage in Syria by ISIS, the Obama administration this month said it is reviewing the way government agencies handle hostages and their families.
But none of the families of those who have been killed or are still missing has been asked to be a part of the review, which White House spokesman Josh Earnest said last week began in August. Schrier and another American who was released told McClatchy that they have not been contacted, either.
“How can you change a policy where there is not one?” Jeffrey Schrier asked. “If there had been a policy, on what planet would you not notify the kidnapped person’s father?”
National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said the White House would have no comment.
Schrier’s complaints are a symptom of a bigger problem, the families say — a government approach to retrieving hostages that gets lost among several government agencies. The FBI generally is a family’s main point of contact because it is charged with investigating overseas crimes against Americans.
Often, families said, they feared that their loved ones’ cases were seen more as a way for the United States to gather intelligence on the groups holding American citizens than on actually finding and freeing the hostages.
Schrier is among those making the accusation. “They use us,” he said. “They use journalists as chum to bring sharks to the surface.”