Sputnik: In 2012 you traveled to Syria as a freelance photographer, how were you captured by the terrorist organization and when was your capture noticed by US authorities?
Matt Schrier: In 2012, I was in Syria for the first time, to photograph refugees and returned a month later to photograph the combat inside Aleppo. I was there for about 18 days. On my way home, on New Year's Eve, I was grabbed by the Al-Nusra Front and for the next seven months was held captive in six different prisons until I escaped.
Sputnik: How were you able to escape?
Matt Schrier: The window in the cell was flawed. So, someone had welded it together, but they didn't do a good job. So, after studying it, I realized that I could take it apart. It was kind of like a puzzle.
Sputnik: Still, you were probably surrounded by your captors. I mean what did you do once you got out? I think getting out of the window was one of the easiest parts. What did you do after that?
Matt Schrier: Basically, just weave through the alley-like streets for 35-40 minutes, and then I managed to hook up with the Free Syrian Army, convince them to take me in, they did. And the next day they drove me to the Turkish border.
Sputnik: What happened during the time of your captivity?
Matt Schrier: They took my personal information, everything from my social security number to my banking, passwords and they made hundreds of purchases online. A lot of those purchases were laptops and tablets. And the FBI was monitoring the whole thing. We know that this is not a theory that they were monitoring everything. They admitted to a governmental official over the phone before they even spoke to my family. They basically thought that I joined Al-Qaeda being that they were letting them steal my money.
You have to say well what's the angle, why would the FBI let terrorists steal money? You look at what they were purchasing, laptops and tablets. It all makes sense, all the pieces fit. Obviously, they were intercepting these laptops and tablets, playing their little spy game and delivering them right into the hands of Al-Qaeda.
Sputnik: How many days you were in captivity?
Matt Schrier: 210
Sputnik: When were you declared missing?
Matt Schrier: My mother reported me missing on January 31. Coincidentally, the same day they took all my personal information.
Sputnik: That was how many days after you had been captured?
Matt Schrier: One month.
Sputnik: How did they treat you?
Matt Schrier: At first, they treated me great. For the first month, five or six days, they really treated me really well. They gave me nine blankets, everyone else got one or two. They gave me sometimes the food they made for themselves, I was treated like a V.I.P., because the guy who ran the jail thought I was funny. But then they caught me trying to escape and that went downhill real quick. That's when they whacked my feet 115 times, transferred me to a new prison and locked me in a cold dark room for almost 40 days with barely any food.
Sputnik: And so you were not alone? There were other hostages?
Matt Schrier: The worst of my experience was being locked in a room with the other American who was basically a traitor and an Al-Qaeda collaborator whose only instinct was self-preservation. So he would do whatever he had to do whether it was to me or to other prisoners just to keep himself safe. His name is Theo Curtis and he admits a lot of the stuff that he did, like he knocked on the door to rat me out for planning the escape. He admits that and after I was gone, he admits he did things so horrible that he could be prosecuted for providing material support to Al-Qaeda like writing tweets for them to attract foreign fighters, and loading their guns for them, and stuff like that. So he was really the worst part of my experience and as far as the book goes, probably the most fascinating aspect.
Sputnik: Did they ask you to call your mother or your relatives or anybody to ask for, I don't know, money or anything else?
Matt Schrier: No. Obviously they were going to one day to ask for something, but they never got around to it. I escaped too quickly. Because I know they made some ransom requests for Curtis, who I was locked in a room with after I got out. And I'm sure they got millions of dollars from Qatar for handing him over so yeah, I mean, that was obviously the plan: it's a large investment keeping somebody alive for an extended period of time. Nobody does it for no reason.
Sputnik: Why would Qatar pay for an American?
Matt Schrier: Why would they pay for the American hikers who were held in the captivity in Iran? Because the US government asked them to do it, because officially we don't talk to them. So we find a third party to do so.
Sputnik: So Qatar was a sort of a go between?
Matt Schrier: Yeah, I mean I gave the FBI too much after I came home. I've got the Skype name of the guy holding, Curtis, he was in charge of all negotiations. I gave the Skype name to the FBI, I told them the next day, if they wanna deal with Qatar, they should give the number to Qatar, and the FBI was like we don't talk to them. So they just basically took the Skype name so that they could spy and a month later James Foley got his head cut off. Five days later, Theo Curtis comes home in a deal negotiated by Qatar.
Sputnik: So, the terrorist groups stole all of your information. So, how are you able to recover all of this stolen data and id you get any assistance from the authorities when you got back?
Matt Schrier: Citibank was a total nightmare to deal with. It took months and months to get the money back from Citibank. PayPal on the other hand was a dream come true to deal with. I had an overdraft of 300 dollars, I sent them an e-mail, within like two or three hours they called me up and they reimbursed me for over 11,000 dollars which Citibank was technically responsible for, but PayPal just handed over 11K and basically helped me to set everything up. As far as the FBI goes, they were no help. Because, obviously I didn't pay with my credit cards for seven months, they had my social security number, and the FBI refused to give me a new social security number. It took me six months to get identification. You know, the agent, Lindsey Perody, who was on the case, she is the one who really was responsible for all this.
Sputnik: So, after you escaped, you had to get documents…How did you get back?
Matt Schrier: The Turks let me call the embassy and the embassy sent the consul from Adana to Kilis where I was in Turkey. They picked me up, they drove me back to Adana, where the consulate is, and it took like two days for them to get my temporary passport and all the other documentation necessary arranged. And what they did, they flew me on the plane to Istanbul. And from Istanbul to JFK.
Sputnik: When you were a missing person, did the FBI look for you? When did the FBI become involved in your case?
Matt Schrier: That's the question. My mother reported me missing on January 31 and the State Department basically jerked my mother around for almost two months, without telling her to call the FBI and pretending they never called the FBI themselves. But anyone who has a common sense knows that the State Department calls the FBI when somebody is missing in Syria. And anyone who went on my website — my website I think had 33 pictures from Aleppo — so they knew where I was. But for some reason they were making my parents, you know, they were stringing my mother along for as long as possible at the State Department, while the FBI did all this. As you can see, this turned out to be very profitable for the FBI, so the longer my family didn't contact them, the better it was for them. Eventually my mother had a colleague at work who had a brother-in-law that worked for the FBI. And it was through him, not the State Department that my folder landed on agent Perody's desk. And this was March 18-19, I believe, and it still took her another three weeks to get on the phone with my mother.
Sputnik: They were not at all instrumental in actually… I mean you found yourself, you escaped yourself, you did it yourself, basically. Tell us about, you know, what happened when you got back to the States? How were you greeted…Obviously your parents were probably very glad to see you…
Matt Schrier: Well, the FBI never told my father that I was kidnapped and my parents don't speak. So, the FBI was basically making my mother think that I was okay, so she wouldn't tell him, because they knew that he would ask a lot more questions. So, my mother was waiting for me with the FBI and the FBI driver wouldn't even let me go into the city with my parents. I had to drive in the car with them. You know, I gave her the briefing the two days later because I wanted to help as much as possible. You know, over the next couple of months and more, the uglier everything got.
Sputnik: What are your main complaints against the FBI?
Matt Schrier: What they did is they conducted an illegal operation using me as bait. If they were doing what they did with the computers to help me, then I wouldn't have a problem with it. But they weren't doing that. They were doing the opposite. You know their whole point of view was: "we told you not to go over there, and you are not coming home anyway, so we might as well exploit the situation and make the best of it. And that, basically, was hanging me out to dry.
Sputnik: And so what was it that the FBI gained by exploiting you in your opinion?
Matt Schrier: They gained 19 laptops and tablets that they were able to deliver to the hands of Al-Qaeda and spy on them without knowing it. So they get the laptops, the IP addresses, they puts GPSs in them, who knows what else. I mean this is like arguably one of the best intelligence gathering opportunities they've ever had in post-9/11. It has been five years, no one has been arrested, some of these guys have moved back to Canada. None of them have been arrested.
One of them mailed two tablets to himself under his real name in Quebec. They do have foreign fighters over there. It is a large organization, Al-Qaeda, there are like 10,000 of them. Some of them are Canadians. Those are the ones that were brought in to interrogate me due to the language barrier. And due to the knowledge of how the West works. You know, the typical Syrian doesn't know what a social security number is. Canadians do. So they brought them in to do all this and there were the ones who were most probably making purchases or the bulk of the purchases.
Sputnik: Have you filed a complaint to anybody regarding this?
Matt Schrier: I filed a complaint to everybody: to the FBI's internal investigation section with evidence, to the Inspector General, to the FBI building in person. I did it to the Office of Professional Responsibility at the Department of Justice, I even filed a police report with my local police because I have the evidence that agent Perody was illegally hacking it into my PayPal account. I have taken every single route. I've gone to Fox News, during prime time saying I've got evidence I want to hand over to the Justice Department. They are trying to ignore this, hoping that the media covers it for a few days and it goes away. But it's not going away.
Sputnik: What kind of evidence do you have to back up all of your, you know, you have been digging and collecting evidence as well. Can you tell us about the kind of things that you have?
Matt Schrier: Sure. I have e-mails between agent Perody and my mother trying to convince her that I'm okay, telling her that I'm the one using my credit cards and my bank accounts and my cell phones six months in. I have an e-mail from agent Perody to me after I came home telling me that she froze my bank accounts with 8,000 dollars left, and I went to Citibank and there was an overdraft of $553. So I emailed her, like what the hell are you talking about and she gets back to me saying: oh, I froze your account, I guess the terrorists called up with your security questions; as if that is enough to unfreeze a bank account frozen by the FBI. Citibank sends me an e-mail saying the FBI never froze your bank accounts, we froze your bank accounts on June 6, because of an overdraft. We have no record of the FBI ever doing it.
On June 6, the very same day Citibank froze my accounts, agent Perody sends my mother an e-mail telling her that his bank accounts have been frozen. Ok, that's proof that they are monitoring my bank accounts. On top of this, on April, I think, 7th or 8th, before she ever got on the phone with my mother, agent Perody, she talked to a governmental official who my mother was in contact with and the governmental official asked: What's going on, do you think he joined them? And agent Perody said: No, no, no, we are pretty sure he didn't join them because of his financial records. So they are investigating me. Because, like I said, they thought I joined them. This is a multi-agency operation because the CIA has to be involved because it is overseas. So, you have the FBI, the CIA, over three continents —North America, Europe, Asia- the director of the FBI new about this. It's too large, it's not one rogue agent, it's just too big of a scale for the director not to know. So, you've got to realize the FBI gets more points for killing bad guys than saving good guys these days.
So, we have to realize that FBI gets more points for killing bad guys than saving good guys these days.
The views and opinions expressed by Matt Schrier are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.