Mr. and Mrs. Tice insist they know next to nothing about their son's current status, only that he is the latest in a string of American journalist kidnappings over the past few years. But the couple have worked to keep the pressure on the parties involved by raising sympathy and compassion in television interviews, including one with Russia's RT.TV Arabic service. They traveled to Beirut for a week in November in hopes that being in the region as they made their plea might prompt action.
The tactic is not new, but it is effective, says the security contractor. Security firms are often brought in during cases like these to assist governments, families, and employers navigate the confusing, difficult scene.
"Using family members is good to portray the individual as a human being," he says. But he notes that the message that Tice was there for the people of Syria – something that both Tice and his family have said – may not go over as well as one might think.
"Stating that a captive was there for the people of Syria (let's say) creates unwanted attention and hatred with the local population," he says. "More than one person has stated on web pages, 'Why do we care about Tice when thousands are dying every day?'"
Hope from a YouTube video
The last communication Tice's family and employers received was a YouTube video released in September. Posted on a pro-Syrian government website, it seemed to be an attempt to implicate Islamist militants as Tice's captors. But inconsistencies resulted in a nearly unequivocal dismissal of that possibility.
"When the video of Austin came out, a lot of analysts had looked at the video, and it was clear this was kind of a mock-up of guys who were posing to be these Islamic extremists," says Dahlia El Zein, Middle East and North Africa researcher for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in New York.