Deja Vu for Reagan-era Hostage

Dec 1, 2007 5:02pm

ABC News’ Kim Berryman reports: For one political veteran watching the events unfold in Rochester, New Hampshire Friday, the scenes of the hostage crisis were all too familiar. Lanny Wiles, now a senior staffer to presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, was at the center of another politically connected hostage event in 1983 when he was an aid to President Ronald Reagan.

Wiles and five others were held hostage that year at the Augusta National Golf Course, home of Georgia’s prestigious Masters golf tournament. During the ordeal, the captor, Charles Harris, held five people at gunpoint and demanded to speak with the President.

During the economic downturn of 1983, Harris had recently lost his job and been divorced. Heavily intoxicated during the standoff, Harris confided in Wiles that he “just wanted to tell the president about his problems.”

Harris released all but one of the hostages from the club house and held then 40- year old Wiles at gunpoint for the next two hours.

Reagan tried to oblige by trying to reach Harris by phone in the clubhouse five times that day, against the advice of Secret Service agents. Harris hung up on the President’s calls and did not get through.

Eventually Wiles helped end the stand off by suggesting to his hostage taker that he should go get them something more to drink.

Today, Wiles says it is probably best that Reagan’s calls did not get through. “If it’s just one-on-one and you can build a rapport with him you’re not in bad shape,” Wiles said today about the relationship between hostage taker and hostage. “It is the outside interference that can make the situation between the hostage and their captor tense.”   

Wiles told ABCNews today that there were many similarities and some key differences between the events in New Hampshire, and those in Georgia 24 years ago.

The alleged hostage taker in New Hampshire Friday, Leeland Eisenberg, also released several people before choosing to hold the last  hostage for several more hours.

“The difference between Charlie [Harris] and this guy” Wiles says of Friday’s hostage taker, “is that Charlie had more options.”

The hostage-taker in Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters Friday was prepared for suicide bombing, Wiles points out, “his only options are to give up or blow up.”

Wiles would not comment on how the Clinton campaign handled today’s events, but he spoke highly of police officers and negotiators. “These people are trained to do these kinds of things and they obviously know what they are doing.”

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