Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pearl film could help State bureau

PhotoThis photo, taken June 13, 2007, provided by the Department of State shows Security Special Agent Randall Bennett outside the New York City premier of the Angelina Jolie film, 'A Mighty Heart', about the kidnapping and murder in Pakistan of Wall St. Journal Correspondent Daniel Pearl. Bennett was lead U.S. investigator on the case.

By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press WriterTue Jun 19, 3:50 PM ET

The State Department's little-known law enforcement and protection arm, eager to raise its profile, is trying to take advantage of the global buzz around Angelina Jolie's film about journalist Daniel Pearl's murder in Pakistan.

The department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security is trumpeting its role in the Pearl case ahead of the opening of "A Might Heart" on Friday.

DS, as it is known, focuses on the film's portrayal of Randall Bennett, a Diplomatic Security agent who was posted to Karachi, Pakistan, when the Wall Street Journal reporter was abducted there in 2002. Bennett played a key part in the hunt for Pearl's kidnappers and killers.

In the past week, the bureau has arranged interviews with Bennett for news outlets and has posted a three-part video discussion with him on the State Department's home page under the title "The Daniel Pearl Murder: A First Person Account."

"It's a good news story for us because Randall was ... instrumental in capturing the kidnappers and murderers of Daniel Pearl," said L. Kendal Smith, a spokesman for the Diplomatic Security bureau.

Unlike government agencies that promote themselves in Hollywood, the State Department and Diplomatic Security normally shy away from publicity, concerned that attention might compromise their ability to work quietly behind the scenes.

The bureau's 1,500 special agents provide embassy security, advise private U.S. citizens and companies, conduct criminal investigations and hunt for fugitives overseas.

"We walk a fine line on this," Smith said. "On the one hand, you worry about publicity affecting your job, but on the other, you want to be recognized for your accomplishments."

So, Jolie's decision to make a film version of Mariane Pearl's book, "A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life & Death of My Husband Danny Pearl," was an opportunity, especially given the centrality of Bennett's character, played by veteran actor Will Patton.

"This is a unique situation since Randall was an integral part of the resolution," Smith said. "We want to say, 'Hey! Here is one of our guys and he does great things.'"

Bennett attended the premiere of "A Mighty Heart" last week in New York and will soon be heading back to Pakistan to serve as the regional security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad after a yearlong stint in Baghdad.

In Karachi, he was one of the last people to see Pearl before his Jan. 23, 2002, abduction while researching a story about Islamic militants in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The day before, Pearl saw Bennett to ask advice about his intent to interview an alleged colleague of would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid, a meeting the agent recommended take place in a public venue.

"We just sort of hit it off," Bennett said of the meeting. "He had a really great smile, a good personality, good character, a goodhearted guy who was trying to do what was right. We liked each other and had made plans to get together after."

That second encounter never occurred as Pearl went missing and was eventually killed by his captors despite frantic efforts to secure his release. During that time, Bennett became close with Mariane Pearl.

"Everybody became very tight," Bennett says, full of praise for her. "We were crushed that we had not been able to get Danny back for her, and yet two days after she found out this had happened, she pulled herself together and threw a thank-you dinner for everybody who had been involved."

With Bennett's help, several men were arrested and convicted for Pearl's murder. The investigation continues, and earlier this month Pakistani police detained two more suspects.


On the Net:

State Department: http://www.state.gov/

"A Mighty Heart" film: http://www.amightyheartmovie.com/