President Obama has ordered a comprehensive review of government policies dictating the way the government responds to overseas, terrorist-related hostage cases, according to an administration official.
The review was prompted by "the increased frequency of hostage-taking of Americans overseas, and the recognition of the dynamic threat posed by specific terrorist groups," Christine Wormuth, undersecretary of Defense for policy, wrote to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, in response to Hunter's request for reformed Defense Department hostage policies.
The comprehensive review, Wormuth wrote, will have a "specific emphasis on examining family engagement, intelligence collection, and diplomatic engagement policies. The review will seek to integrate innovative and non-traditional solutions to result in recommended actions to improve interagency coordination and strengthen the whole-of-government approach led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department."
Under current U.S. policy, the U.S. does not pay ransoms to hostage takers, nor does it conduct prisoner swaps or deals. Additionally, nothing of value is handed over to the hostage takers. However, as CBS National Security Analyst Juan Zarate noted on "CBS This Morning," those policies became murkier this year after the administration negotiated with the Taliban to secure the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for releasing five high-level Taliban detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Additionally, Zarate said there's been some criticism from the family members of hostages this year related to the government's ability to share information with them.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has held a total of four Americans hostage since 2012, and three of those Americans have been beheaded.
One reform the administration may consider, Zarate said, would be clarifying that it won't prosecute family members who try to pay ransoms to hostage takers, even if it violates criminal law.
While the U.S. doesn't pay ransoms, some European countries do, which has allowed some groups in North Africa to raise millions of dollars around a "kidnap for ransom" industry.