The Obama administration will tell families of Americans held by terror groups that they can communicate with captors and even pay ransom without fear of prosecution—part of a broad review of US hostage guidelines that will be released tomorrow. President Obama ordered the review last fall after the deaths of Americans held hostage by ISIS militants. The families of some of those killed complained about their dealings with the administration, saying they were threatened with criminal prosecution if they pursued paying ransom in exchange for their loved ones' releases.
Two people familiar with the review said there will be no formal change to the law, which explicitly makes it a crime to provide money or other material support to terror organizations. However, the administration will make clear that the Justice Department has never prosecuted anyone for paying ransom—and that will continue to be the case. Sources say the move is aimed at recognizing the role families may play in seeking to free their loved ones. However, there will be no change in the ban on the government directly paying ransom or facilitating payments for families. (Read more ransom stories.)