Biden administration diplomats and intelligence officers are operating “with the sincere belief” that Austin Tice is alive, two U.S. officials told McClatchy on Wednesday, and the group is working daily to free the American journalist who went missing in 2012 while covering the war in Syria.
“We operate with the sincere belief that Austin is alive and waiting for us to come get him,” Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens said.
The Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, a team of experts from different government agencies that gathers diplomatic leads and intelligence information together in one place, is pursuing the Tice case.
A source confirmed that Chris O’Leary, who formerly worked out of the Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI’s New York field office, has recently become director of the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell.
A National Security Council official said that this group is “working daily to bring Austin and all U.S. citizens held in captivity overseas home,” with Carstens serving as the diplomatic lead.
Tice was detained eight years ago at the age of 31 at a checkpoint in a suburb of Damascus. Five weeks later, a video was released showing him held by unidentified armed men.
No one has claimed responsibility for his disappearance.
Carstens was appointed by former President Donald Trump in March 2020, and has been kept on by President Joe Biden. Carstens participated in direct talks with Syrian government officials last year that broke down quickly after the Syrians refused to provide any knowledge of Tice’s whereabouts, officials said.
The Biden administration is still reviewing its policy toward Syria, and officials would not comment on whether direct talks over Tice would continue.
Tice was born in Texas and served as an officer of the United States Marine Corps.
He was a student at Georgetown Law School in 2012 when he traveled to Syria as a freelance journalist for McClatchy and other news organizations.
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