June 23, 2009 -- The New York Times used a private security company with ties to the CIA to bribe Taliban guards as part of its seven month effort to gain the freedom of reporter David Rohde and two others taken hostage with him in Afghanistan, according to people involved in the case.
The bribes were reportedly paid in small amounts of only a few hundred dollars at a variety of locations where Rhode was held. It was not clear what role, if any, they may have played in Rohde's daring escape early Saturday.
The company, the Boston-based American International Security Corporation, AISC, also proposed a possible armed assault to free Rohde but called off those plans when Rohde was moved from Afghanistan into Pakistan where such an assault was deemed more difficult to pull off, the people said.
Rohde and Afghan journalist Tahir Ludin escaped early Saturday morning from a Taliban compound in Miranshah, Pakistan, a city of 150,000 people considered a stronghold of the Taliban.
In an account published in the New York Times, Ludin said he and Rohde had lulled the guards to sleep by a long evening playing board games. Ludin said he and Rohde then used a length of rope he had hidden to climb down a 20 foot wall. The Times made no mention of any effort to compromise the guards.
While some of the newspaper's executives were aware of AISC's role, people involved in the case said it was unlikely Ludin and Rohde knew the full extent of what was being done on the outside to help them.
Over the weekend, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller hinted at some behind-the scenes effort to set up the escape, saying he could not talk about "the circumstances that were created at the end" for Rohde's escape.
AISC Used a Controversial, Former CIA Official
As part of the effort for the Times, AISC used a controversial, former CIA official, Duane "Dewey" Claridge, to help plot the escape of Rohde. Claridge was indicted in 1991 for lying to Congress about his role in the Iran-Contra affair but pardoned by President George H.W. Bush before going to trial.
Claridge declined to comment on the Rohde case or his connection to AISC.
On its website, AISC says its personnel are "drawn form the top levels of law enforcement and U.S. Special Forces" and "skilled in weapons, emergency medical response, international languages, tactical driving, communications, armaments and special intelligence." The company reportedly has a network of sources and operatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It says it has many prominent government and private business clients.
AISC president, Michael Taylor, declined to comment to ABC News.
In a statement attributed to Keller, the paper said it would not talk about "strategy, tactics, deliberations, advice we got." Such stories, he said, "only raise the level of danger for our reporters in the field, who already have enough risk to contend with."
The Times began a long and tortured negotiation with Taliban leader Siraj Haqqani soon after Rohde was kidnapped in November, according to people involved.
Haqqani referred to Rohde as his "golden rooster" and initially demanded a $25 million ransom and the release of ten prisoners from Guantanamo. People involved said Haqqani dropped the demand for a prisoner release and, instead, focused on money.
No ransom was paid, according to the New York Times, but the possibility that money would be paid set off a contentious debate inside the New York Times newsroom with some of Rohde's colleagues in New York and overseas arguing that any payment would set a dangerous precedent.
Keller, and New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. over-ruled the objections and left the door open to a possible payment, according to the people involved. At the same time they also pursued several other diplomatic and back-channel tracks, including contacts with former Pakistani officials thought to have sway with the Taliban and Haqqani.
News Executives Often Advised to Make Ransom Offers
The Times reportedly moved more than a million dollars in cash to the region and its negotiators reportedly thought they could get Haqqani to agree to a $2 million payment.
News executives are often advised to make offers of ransom, if only to keep the negotiations open in hope that some other event or development will intervene.
In 1982, NBC News was prepared to pay a ransom of $50,000 for me and 18 other Americans who had been hijacked on a plane in Honduras. The Americans on the plane ultimately escaped without ransom being paid, but the cash had been flown into the country just in case.
More recently, journalists kidnapped in Iraq and Afghanistan have been released after long negotiations that involved ransom payments which were never publicly disclosed.
Even when news organizations have made the difficult to decision to pay ransom, the money is often routed through third party individuals or governments. Saudi Arabia has often played a role in such situations, according to former intelligence officials.
It is the official policy of the United States that ransom should not be paid to terrorist groups for the release of hostages, although that policy was ignored by the Reagan administration to gain the release of hostages taken at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
As the negotiations for Rohde continued, Haqqani and his Taliban group sought to gain attention to its prisoner by releasing three different videos showing Rohde in captivity. The U.S. military was able to obtain one of the videos and reportedly showed it to Rohde's distressed wife, Kristin, who had married him only two months before he was kidnapped.
Rohde is with Family in Dubai
The New York Times kept Rohde's plight secret throughout the seven-month ordeal and asked others news outlets, including ABC News, to do the same. Keller said experts and Rohde's family felt "a storm of publicity would at best prolong David's captivity by increasing his apparent value, and could well put him in imminent danger."
Rohde, who is in Dubai resting and spending time with his family, has not publicly talked about his captivity or escape other than to confirm the account given by his fellow hostage Ludin.