Today’s MF DNES had a riveting and insightful article on efforts by the Czech intelligence services to free the three journalists held in Iraq and freed Sunday. The translation is my own.

Czech Spies Looked For Hostages in Iraq

The Czech Republic was prepared to pay a ransom for the three Czech journalists held last week in Iraq, sources from the Interior Ministry told MF DNES, and it was confirmed Monday by Intelligence Director František Bublan.

“I think it would have come into consideration,” Bublan said, but refused to give any details.

Trustworthy sources in the Interior Ministry said that ransom would have been considered had the Czech journalists remained in custody into this week.

“It would have been an unofficial operation. The state would have definitely not figured in this, but rather some private company,” the source from the Interior Ministry revealed. The Czechs’ proposal would have been in the range of ten million crowns (around $365,000 USD).

Along with diplomats, Czech intelligence agents took part in the journalists’ rescue, and their operations in Iraq cost roughly three million crowns (roughly $110,000 USD). “We were involved,” intelligence director FrantiÅ¡ek Bublan said.

Thus far, not even he knows what exactly worked to release the journalists. “It wasn’t just us. There was a lot of pressure. Something outweighed the others. Something was decisive,” the intelligence director said.

“But it definitely wasn’t the meeting of our ambassador in Iraq with Sunni spiritual leaders which was covered in the media, because that took place at a time when our [journalists] were already released,” Bublan said.

It is unknown how many people took part in the secret operation. It wasn’t a concerted effort of one team of people.

“All possible avenues were used to gain information. It wasn’t just one person or one team. Everyone who was in the area was activated. In the second half of the week they were even joined by someone from Prague,” the Interior Ministry employee, who is informed of the secret services’ activities, told MF DNES.

Information Was Bought
The secret service had to mainly confirm the place the journalists were held, and possibly to make contact with the kidnappers. In the end, they were able to make contact at least with go-betweens for the kidnappers.

“Money was used to gain information. It works no other way there,” the Interior Ministry source said. In all, the weeklong operation cost three million crowns. This is counting resources for travel, telephones and for “purchasing” information.

An additional 250 thousand crowns ($9,140 USD) went to the Defense Ministry aircraft used to transport the journalists. Czech intelligence requested cooperation from some foreign intelligence services.

American [intelligence] services helped mainly with technical foundations [signals intelligence? – ed.]. Others, such as the Russians and French, for example, took part on the spot in gaining information from local people.

Telephones Didn’t Help
At the very beginning, intelligence promised that they could trace the kidnappers by using the telephones stolen from the Czech journalists.

After an entire week the kidnappers didn’t turn the phones on once. “It didn’t bring the desired effect. When you have phones turned off, it’s hard to localize,” Bublan said. The Interior Ministry source said that they could only use the telephones to find out call records.

According to these, a satellite could backtrack the journalists’ movements. Only [hostage] Vit Pohanka’s satellite phone could be used for this purpose, because [hostage] Michal Kubal had an older type of telephone that didn’t have good software.

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