Could the Taliban Collect the $5 Million Bin Laden Bounty?

The U.S. government is offering up to $5 million for information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction of Osama Bin Laden. In the unlikely event that members of the Taliban turn over Bin Laden, could they collect?

It’s possible. The “Rewards for Justice” program, administered by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, won’t discuss hypothetical scenarios. But the idea wasn’t ruled out. The program is also offering up to $5 million–and possibly a new identity and relocation to the United States–to anybody providing information that fingered the perpetrators of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

After a terrorist case is solved, an investigating agency such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation can forward a recommendation to an interagency rewards committee that a reward be paid. Chaired by the State Department’s diplomatic security service, the committee’s core members come from the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Justice, the National Security Council, and the State Department’s office for counterterrorism. The interagency committee recommends whether a reward should be paid and the amount. The secretary of state and the attorney general then decide whether to pay the reward.

Congress approved the rewards concept in 1984. Initially, rewards ranged from $100,000 to $250,000. After the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, Congress upped the ante to $500,000 and then to $2 million. After the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, Congress increased the limit to $5 million.

The Rewards for Justice program applies to any act of international terrorism committed against American interests worldwide. The government doesn’t have to advertise ahead of time that a reward is being offered for informants to receive money from the program. But sometimes, at the request of an investigative agency, the program is aggressively promoted. In Bin Laden’s case, for example, FBI agents have distributed matchbooks in Afghanistan and Pakistan that feature a photo of Bin Laden and the reward information.

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Explainer thanks Andy Laine of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.