Did the White House Know Where ISIS Hostages Were Being Held for Months?

Guy Benson
|
Posted: Feb 12, 2015 1:07 PM
Did the White House Know Where ISIS Hostages Were Being Held for Months?

Fox News' Chief Intelligence Correspondent Fox News, Catherine Herridge, reported earlier in the week that Obama administration officials were in possession of "very specific intelligence" pertaining to the precise location where ISIS terrorists were holding a group of Western hostages, including since-murdered Americans James Foley, Steven Sotloff and Kayla Mueller. Herridge's sources said the eventual rescue mission was launched seven weeks after the hostages' location was identified, significantly longer than the 30-day delay reported last summer by Tony Harnden. The intelligence gathered had reportedly nailed down the exact building where the kidnapped parties were being held:

By the spring of 2014, the ISIS captors, we're told, felt so confident in their situation that there was very little visible security around the hostages. And by May, eight Western hostages were held together in one location," Herridge said. She added that Mueller was kept separate from the men, but she was able to communicate with other Western hostages, including James Foley, that she was not being mistreated or abused by her ISIS captors. According to Herridge, there was very specific intelligence about the location of a group of Western hostages in May 2014, so specific that intelligence officials even knew in which building they were being held. "The question is why there was such a delay by the White House to act on this information," Herridge said. "They did not OK the rescue operation until about seven weeks later. And there was clearly a fundamental disconnect between the quality of the intelligence, which the rescue team felt was of a sufficient level that they could act, and what was described to me as a significant delay on behalf of the White House, asking for the intelligence to build up further before they would act." Herridge said that this was the last and best opportunity to rescue all of the hostages together, because after ISIS learned of the possible raid, the hostages were no longer held together.

Allahpundit asked all the right questions about this report in his write-up yesterday, like how the White House could explain this timeline (if it's accurate), and how ISIS came to learn that a raid was in the works. Today brings a Daily Beast story that quotes Foley's mother, who alleges that Western intelligence agencies had pinpointed the hostages' location roughly four months before the belated rescue mission was finally launched. ISIS moved their prisoners just before American forces arrived on July 4, 2014; the timing was reportedly off by between a few hours and two days.  Over the span of months, the French and British apparently shared actionable intelligence with their American counterparts, who did...nothing, until it was too late:

Toward the end of May, the British government had identified two or three locations in and around the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic State, where the militants had moved hostages during the previous weeks and months. But the British were not absolutely sure in which location the Westerners were held. The captives included American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well aid worker Kayla Mueller. The information—based on debriefings of European captives who had been released, satellite and drone surveillance, and electronic eavesdropping—was not definitive in May. Then, in early June, London had a “positive identification and that information was shared with Washington,” said a British source. The delay of nearly a month before the rescue bid was mounted remains a source of bewilderment for British officials...Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, who was the first American to be shown murdered on camera, also raised questions about the timing of the rescue effort, telling The Daily Beast that French officials had developed information about the hostages’ location as early as March, but that the U.S. government didn’t act on it. “That was part of our frustration,” she said. “The State Department said they were connecting with the French and everybody at the highest levels.” And yet, there was no movement on the U.S. side. “Very specific information was available as early as mid-March. And that’s what’s been so tough for us as families, because apparently they were held in the same place all those months,” Foley said.

The Daily Beast reports that Washington was skeptical of the intel coming out of London and Paris, so "strategic patience" ruled the day.  Ed Morrissey wonders if American decision-makers still felt burned by faulty German intelligence on WMD's in Iraq, and were therefore unwilling to move on information passed along by European allies.  But even if those concerns existed, he argues, this scenario was quite different:

This, however, was a different story. We work closely with British intelligence — so closely that our own NSA scandal involves them, too — and they rated this information as solid. According to Diane Foley, the French had also developed similar intelligence long before that corroborated MI-5. That would be two different agencies developing the same intelligence, and the CIA’s contacts with former hostages who had been ransomed should have confirmed the reliability of the information — at least enough to attempt a mission there.

It's probably worth taking all of these reports with grains of salt.  Did these unnamed American and British intelligence sources have access to the complete picture -- and what explains the varying accounts of timing delays (did the administration dither for four months, wait seven weeks, or move within one month)?  Could the Obama administration fairly argue they were being extra cautious in verifying the intelligence and meticulously planning a raid, sacrificing precious time for understandable preparations?  Are grieving, heartbroken families sharing facts, or repeating rumors they'd picked up over time?  President Obama eventually did green-light the rescue mission, just as he eventually ordered the Bin Laden raid.  These types of targeted military actions are extremely risky and have resulted in high-profile debacles in the past.  Regardless of what one thinks of Obama, it's unfathomable that he didn't want to see these hostages rescued.  The criticism that may apply is that he was overly cautious to the point of indecisive paralysis, a state that has characterized much of his foreign policy -- particularly vis-a-vis ISIS and Syria.  I'll leave you with two data points from the latest Fox News poll, both of which pertain to these issues:

ISISpoll

rescuepoll