Army: Recovery of Captured Journalists Poses “Challenges”

02.29.12 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

A recently updated U.S. Army doctrinal manual on recovery of U.S. military personnel who are captured by enemy forces — which is considered “one of the highest priorities of the United States Government” — includes a new section on the recovery of journalists who have been kidnapped or detained abroad.

“International journalists risk jail, kidnapping, or death in the course of their profession, particularly in areas of conflict,” the manual observes. “The danger is not just to the journalists themselves, but also to their staffs and families. The dangers and the risk of isolation become acute in areas with persistent conflict, such as parts of Latin America and Asia. As joint and Army forces conduct global operations, they encounter members of the news media.”

“While not responsible for the protection and security for any except those embedded with military units and organizations, in some situations Army forces conduct operations to recover journalists designated by U.S. authorities. Recovery of journalists provides challenges for joint and Army forces.”

“Journalists often have little training in survival, evasion, resistance, and escape techniques. Even those working for large media conglomerates may have had limited training, such as briefings or informal orientations on how to avoid being a target. Their organizations may learn of their capture only when the hostage-takers issue a ransom demand. Some news organizations employ private security details, but  it is common for hostage-takers to simply overpower the security force and take the journalist, usually with dire consequences for locally hired staff.”

“Occasionally a journalist or media organization will collaborate with U.S. forces for protection. This is never more than an arrangement of personal security. Sections 403 to 407 of Title 50, USC, prohibit anyone with United States or foreign press credentials from formally collecting information or intelligence for U.S. forces. This same section does permit voluntary cooperation if the individual journalists realize that they are providing information to a U.S. intelligence entity. Journalists are never a part of the military forces, but they can be part of the information network. Journalists generally understand the local situation and can volunteer information, including information on their colleagues who are isolated or held hostage.”

“Army forces sometimes allow news media representatives to embed, from field Army to platoon level. […] By definition, embedded journalists become a part of the Army units to which temporarily assigned. They are therefore under the force protection umbrella, including personnel recovery.”  See “Army Personnel Recovery,” Field Manual 3-50.1, November 2011 (sections 4-52 to 4-58).

The previous edition of FM 3-50.1, dated August 2005, did not address the recovery of captured journalists.