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The David Rohde Puzzle


As Rohde was sold and moved, his location was hard to track. Haqqani’s network controls most of North Waziristan in Pakistan as well as the Afghan villages along the border. Its strength has come from its tribal roots in the area in addition to a lack of American or Afghan government presence. And beyond the challenges presented by a group moving its captives constantly to avoid detection, negotiators had to contend with such mundane difficulties as spotty phone service in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

According to two sources directly involved in the negotiations, Haqqani’s people moved Rohde, Ludin, and Mangal in and around Miran Shah, North Waziristan, where they keep multiple safe houses, operate training camps, and run madrassas. According to one source involved in tracking Rohde’s movements, Haqqani, fearing a U.S. military operation, recently moved Rohde out of the Miran Shah entirely, before returning him a few days later. The fact that Rohde was being moved so frequently meant that a paramilitary raid was all but impossible.

The Escape

Two weeks ago, says a source close to the Times, negotiations had broken down. According to Chase, the ransom expert, the cardinal rule of negotiation is that there can be only one channel through which an organization negotiates. “It’s called the Coca-Cola Template,” says another source close to the negotiations. “Someone from Coca-Cola gets taken, and the executives tell the employees, ‘No one talks to anyone. We have a channel, and we will conduct the negotiations.’” But the number of people attempting to negotiate on Rohde’s behalf included the FBI, the Times, Clayton, the private contractors championed by Mulvihill, and Rohde’s colleague Gall. The multiple channels had confused and divided the Haqqani clan.

According to sources, negotiators on behalf of the Times had offered $1 million in ransom, an offer that had been firm since January. A source who was directly involved with the transfer of funds says that more than $1 million had been moved to Afghanistan and readied for payment. Haqqani’s team still wasn’t satisfied. A month ago, they came back with a new demand for $8 million, according to sources close to the negotiations.

Then, late Friday night, Rohde and Ludin made their move. It was a harrowing and brave escape. What they could not have known was that the groundwork may have been laid long before they rappelled down the wall. A source directly involved with Rohde’s negotiations says that a network was set up to pay bribes to guards in the various Haqqani compounds where Rohde and Ludin were being held, including the one from which they escaped. The goal was to grease the wheel for a future rescue attempt, and it may have enabled their getaway. It is unclear whether the Times had any knowledge of the bribery network. “David doesn’t know what happened with the guards,” the source says. “It’s a very nice idea that he escaped.”

Rohde will likely tell his own story, eventually, in the paper. But in the end, no one may know the full story of what happened on his behalf.

Matthew Cole has reported in Afghanistan and Pakistan for various publications. His book about the CIA is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster


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