Last week, multiple media outlets reported a “proof of life” video for Warren Weinstein, which you see above, courtesy of the terror-nerds of As-Sahab. Weinstein was taken from his home in Lahore, Pakistan on the morning of 13 Aug 11. Most media outlets describe Weinstein as a “government contractor“. Technically, he’s an employee of J.E. Austin Associates, which I won’t link to since I got this interesting Google Search result:
Hacked. That’s interesting. Should be enough to get the conspiritards interested…
Anyway, J.E. Austin holds USAID contracts in multiple countries for indigenous business development, and Weinstein is/was an employee. I do find it interesting that most media reports refer to him as a government contractor. Accurate enough, I supposed, but the phrase has taken on new meaning since the GWOT. I think it’s safe to say, given Weinstein’s resume, he wasn’t in Lahore looking for bad boys. Assumably, he was executing a USAID contract for Pakistani business development not unlike this one here. And now, AQ has him squirreled away somewhere – forced to take a guess, my call is FATA.
First, let’s get something straight. The video isn’t a “proof of life.” A proof of life (POL) video has to have two things. One would be proof that at the time of the video, letter, phone call, etc.’ the hostage was alive. Verifiable handwriting, corroborated voice, or in this case, a living, breathing guy who looks and talks like Warren Weinstein. The other requirement for a POL is something that corroborates the time/date at which the POL was put forth. In POL videos, the most common item might be a dated newspaper. Or perhaps a reference to something that was known to occur on that day, and can be independently corroborated. This second requirement is noticeably missing in the latest Weistein video. Therefore, it’s a not a true POL video; it’s simply proof that, at some point in Obama’s second term as POTUS (Weinstein references this temporal fact in the video), Warren Weinstein was recorded, on video, and alive. Anything beyond that would require computer forensics analysis in an effort to re-construct a time and place for the video. And that isn’t something we’re going to see in the news.
Second, take off your pundit cap while you watch the video and put yourself in his shoes. Weinstein is clearly under duress. Whether from beatings hidden by the track suit and lack of movement within the video itself; or from the emotional and mental distress of being held in captivity for more than two years, Weinstein is in a bad spot. Also consider the fact that he doesn’t have SERE (Survival-Evasion-Resistance-Escape) training to fall back on. Anything he says, or writes for that matter, has been scripted, rehearsed, and coerced.
Weinstein is one of two Americans whom I am aware of, known to be held hostage in Pakistan at this time. The other is Sgt (USA) Bowe Bergdahl. But while the latter is a known captive of that fun-loving Haqqani clan, the former is claimed by AQ. This is relevant because the release of the video, and discussion of current Personnel Recovery cases in Pakistan bears heavily on AfPak relations and the impending drawdown in Afghanistan. At this point, it’s checkers, not chess. Because let’s face it – contrary to what we might think, no hostage is worth kicking down doors for in Pakistan. It’s clear that both our government and Pakistan’s are good with unfettered drone strikes in the FATA. It’s a high-stakes equivalent of the “this is my side of the car” child’s game of antagonism. I’m not on “your side” if only my finger touches your side of the car. In the same way, we’re technically never in FATA, although there’s a load of American engineeering, electronics, and high-yield explosive ending up there.
A military operation to rescue a hostage like Weinstein in FATA would be a clear violation of this ridiculous game. It would require a lot of juice to be worth the squeeze. A lot.
But, I get ahead of myself. Launching a rescue operation would first require an accurate location of Weinstein. If he is in the FATA, the odds of finding him are not good. Here’s a fun game: run a search on news from the FATA. You’ll probably find a fair amount of information. Now, dig deeper. It’s clear that journalists are only going to places on the fringe; places with some semblance of governance. They aren’t going to the wild places, the places you’d expect to find American hostages. If Pakistani journalists aren’t willing to bet their lives on getting a good story from places like that, you can bet that it will present an even more difficult challenge for HUMINT. No problem – we’ll just SIGINT the hell out the joint. Right? Except it’s the FATA. What about the word “tribal” says wi-fi and cell phones? Never mind the fact that any terrorist with half a brain cell knows using cell phones is generally a bad idea; flying SIGINT overhead means dealing with that tricky sovereign airspace issue once again.
Militarily, Weinstein presents a very difficult, but not impossible, problem. Given that, it’s reasonable to assume that DoD is more than happy to let DoS take responsibility, as they should. As such, this will become a process of diplomacy, but never divorced from the military framework of the AfPak relations. Which brings me back to the chess game. Unlike HQN, which has a stake in any kind of Afghan reconciliation process, AQ is not interested in getting along. AQ is interested in generating breathing room gained by eliminating drone strikes and trading Gitmo hostages. AQ knows the drone strikes won’t stop any time soon. AQ, like HQN, knows that the Gitmo detainees are the only talking points it has with the US.
I’m hesitant to hazard a guess as to how all this ends. Hopefully, Warren is released without cause, or finds a way to escape. In the meantime, State says it’s “working behind the scenes.” Translated, it means they are asking the Pakistani government for help with the case, while hopefully maintaining an interagency footing with every agency that might be able to contribute to the case. Stay tuned…
Featured image courtesy of The Express Tribune