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But why is it so important to keep even the identity of the kidnapping victim – including the fact that anyone was kidnapped at all – so hush-hush?
First, there is the psychological-warfare aspect, says retired Rear Adm. George Worthington, the first deputy secretary of defense for Special Operations and low-intensity conflict.
Splashing on the front page of US newspapers that an American has been taken hostage offers the kidnappers an important public-relations victory, which the Pentagon would rather deny them.
More important is that complete silence on the subject “will get them even more nervous,” argues Mr. Worthington. “They don’t know whether a rocket is going to come down on their heads, or how close we are to them – they know nothing.”
By contrast, swaggering, threatening messages from the US, such as, “We’re coming to get you” would undermine the effectiveness of psychological warfare, Worthington argues. “They know that we’re coming to get them. The silence is more telling than anything else.” And more unsettling, he adds.
What’s more, if the kidnappers begin to question whether the US government is even aware that an American has been taken, they might feel they have to put out a message in order to publicize the kidnapping, take credit for it, or lay out the terms of the ransom.
These messages can carry valuable intelligence clues.
“It’s very spy-versus-spy stuff,” says Worthington. “The idea is to keep your cards very close – you just don’t show your hand.”