In 2002 Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan after attempting to interview an alleged associate of Richard Reid, the man convicted of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with a shoe bomb.
Pearl's story was adapted for the silver screen in "A Mighty Heart," which opens in theaters today. Superstar actress Angelina Jolie stars in the lead role of Pearl's wife, Marianne.
Randall Bennett, one of the last people to see Pearl alive, was recently interviewed for a series of short videos posted on YouTube by the U.S. State Department.
Bennett was the regional security officer in Pakistan when Pearl disappeared. As the head of the State Department's bureau of Diplomatic Security in the country, Bennett, who just returned weeks ago from a one-year tour as an RSO in Iraq, was one of the central figures in the desperate two-week search for the missing American. His character, played by actor Will Patton, was featured prominently in the film.
In the short clips, Bennett, appearing much more relaxed and polished than he's portrayed in the movie, describes how he first heard about and reacted to the news of Pearl's kidnapping. He details the efforts he and his team undertook, along with their Pakistani colleagues, to find the missing reporter and hunt down the network of people that orchestrated his capture.
The movie, based on a book written by Marianne Pearl, matches Bennett's account in the interview.
On the day he was kidnapped, Pearl was pursuing an interview with Sheikh Gilani, a Pakistani man he had been told was tied to the shoe bomber Richard Reid, a hot story at the time. An investigation after Pearl's murder revealed that Gilani was used as bait by Sheikh Omar, a man who went by the name of Bashir, to lure Pearl into the kidnapping. "Sheikh Gilani, as it turned out, had no idea his name was even being used," Bennett said in the interview.
"You have to remember that Sheikh Omar was a professional at this. This is what he did for a living. He tricked people. He was a terrorist who prided himself on his ability over a particular period of time to bring somebody into a level of trust and confidence where he could carry out his act and that appears to be the case," Bennett added.
Before attending the interview Pearl consulted with various officials and experts, including Bennett, to determine whether it was safe to meet with Gilani. According to Bennett, Pearl left their meeting agreeing that it would be best to meet Gilani only in a public place. A later investigation revealed that as Pearl waited for the interviewee at a restaurant he received a phone call on his cell phone and left, never to be seen in person again.
In the video clips Bennett reveals that he had considered sending an undercover surveillance team to accompany Pearl to the interview in case anything bad should happen. Ultimately Bennett decided not to do so because these services are reserved for high-ranking U.S. officials. "It wouldn't have been appropriate and the decision was made not to do it, not to use U.S. government resources for private interests," he said in the interview.