Diane Foley, James Foley's mother, offered a rare interview to ABC News this week in which she admitted the family considered a ransom payment to ISIS to secure her son's safe return. However, she also says White House officials told the family they would face criminal charges for supporting terrorism in the event a ransom was paid. The message came directly from a high-ranking military official on the White House National Security Council. The last threat came just days before the video of Foley's beheading surfaced.
"We were told that several times and we took it as a threat and it was appalling," Diane Foley told ABC News, "Three times he intimidated us with that message. We were horrified he would say that. He just told us we would be prosecuted. We knew we had to save our son, we had to try." Michael Foley, James Foley's brother, said he, like his mother, was also "directly" threatened by a State Department official with the same charge.
Another official with knowledge of the threat spoke to ABC under the condition of anonymity, saying "It was an utterly idiotic thing to do that came across as if he had the compassion of an anvil." A second official said the NSC officer "had no business speaking about legal issues he was unqualified to discuss."
National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden issued this statement about the charge:
Without getting into the details of our private discussions with families, the law is clear that ransom payments to designated individuals or entities, such as ISIL [ISIS], are prohibited. It is also a matter of longstanding policy that the U.S. does not grant concessions to hostage takers. Doing so would only put more Americans at risk of being taken captive. That is what we convey publicly and what we convey privately."
The threats came after the Foley family started raising funds to pay a ransom. Mrs. Foley remains concerned that donors to the fund were also threatened by federal officials. "We did not want any of our donors to be prosecuted; we weren't concerned about ourselves."