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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.

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The agency has not said how it got an inside glimpse of the closet-sized bunker, but Rogan says it's likely that a small device was attached to one of the items handed to Dykes through the pipe, including toys and medicines for the boy.

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"We have a big crime scene behind us to process," said Special Agent Steve Richardson of the FBI's Mobile, Ala., office at a press conference Monday. "I can't talk about sources, techniques or methods that we used. But I can tell you the success story is (the boy) is safe."

What is known is that the agency used military bomb-sniffing equipment and Army bulldozers to dig a similar bunker nearby, where an FBI counterterrorism team practiced a variety of extraction methods, aided, a source told CNN, by military advisers.

The military connection has added to the ordeal's mystique, especially given another recent hostage resolution shrouded in secrecy: the extraction in early December of kidnapped American doctor Dilip Joseph from the Taliban in Afghanistan, an operation that most Americans had little knowledge of, even though one Special Forces soldier was injured, and later died.

In that case, the media blackout was very much on purpose, “It’s very spy-versus-spy stuff,” retired Rear Adm. George Worthington, first deputy secretary of defense for Special Operations and low-intensity conflicts, told the Monitor last year. “The idea is to keep your cards very close – you just don’t show your hand."

Given the military's involvement in the Alabama siege, those tactics became clear as soon as federal authorities took over from the local police force. "It was like everything was lit up, then the FBI got involved and, boom, everything went quiet," a local fireman told the British newspaper the Daily Mail last week.

So far, police are remaining mum even as Ethan is being released from the hospital just before his sixth birthday on Wednesday. At least outwardly, Ethan doesn't seem deeply affected by the ordeal, though reporters have not been able to penetrate a deep cordon of law enforcement to get more details.

While understandable, the tendency toward secrecy on the part of government – often strategic, but also due to a natural distrust of media – can create tension between the responsibilities of law enforcement and the public's right to know how its government is operating, says Rogan.

But aside from tactics, there are other details from the siege and raid that are likely to go unreported, he adds. One of them is how the decision to finally breach the compound was made. Police have said they were concerned about his erratic behavior, yet, to that point, Dykes had exhibited caring instincts for the boy.

"They may not fully disclose how he died immediately, and though it was obviously a success in that the child was rescued safe and unharmed, it was not a complete success, since a true complete success is one where there is no violent resolution," says Rogan, adding that 97 percent of hostage situations end nonviolently, according to FBI data.

Over the weekend, police said Dykes, who was scheduled to go to court last week over a misdemeanor charge of menacing his neighbors with a shotgun, had a "story [to tell] that's important to him, although it is very complex."

Officials have not yet elaborated on the story Dykes wanted to tell the world.


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