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Alabama hostage rescue: why some secrets will remain in the bunker

The rescue Monday of a 5-year-old Alabama boy from an underground bunker involved lots of secrecy on the part of law enforcement. Not all questions are likely to be answered as to how federal authorities extracted him.


A sign and wreathes honoring murdered bus driver Charles Poland, Jr. hang on a fence surrounding Midland City Elementary School near Midland City, Alabama, Tuesday.

Phil Sears/Reuters

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Before he died in a hostage rescue attempt in a bunker in Alabama, Jimmy Lee Dykes kept a TV on as his captive, a 5-year-old named Ethan, played with a red Hot Wheels car nearby.

As negotiations began to break down over the course of the six-day ordeal, law enforcement authorities pushed reporters away from the scene and said precious little publicly, except to thank Mr. Dykes over the airwaves for taking care of "our child" ­– a direct message to Dykes, and, with a boy's life hanging in the balance, part of a covert, tactical mission bent on keeping Dykes, and thus the rest of America, in the dark.

Hostage negotiations, especially those involving children, are always tricky, and trained government negotiators already have a secret bag of tricks that are not shared. In this case, news reporters aided the effort, as well, with many agreeing not to publicize movements of equipment and people in the Midland City, Ala., area so as not to spook Dykes.

But while more will surely be told about the ordeal in Alabama, which ended Monday with a late afternoon raid that saved Ethan but ended in the death of Dykes, it's also clear that parts of the operation will remain shrouded in secrecy, given that it involved America's most expert paramilitary counter-terrorism units collaborating with US special operations forces, under the direct authority of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.


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