Washington initiated its bounty programme in 1984, when legislation established Rewards for Justice, based in the Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
The programme was enhanced significantly under the 2001 Patriot Act, which, among other things, increased the overall funding, and, in particular, boosted the total available in certain individual cases, such as al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, to 25 million dollars. To date, the scheme has paid over 77 million dollars to more than 50 informants.
In most cases, rewards are capped at 5 million dollars, and are often considerably smaller. The list of twelve 'wanted men' in Afghanistan, which included Taliban and al-Qaida operative Abu Laith al-Libi, involved rewards ranging from 20,000-200,000 dollars. Such bounties were widely regarded by US and international officials in Afghanistan as too low.
Widening scope. Although the original focus of Rewards for Justice was counter-terrorism, during the 1990s its scope was widened to the hunt for war crimes suspects:
- The programme's focus is primarily on US concerns, but where those priorities overlap with international agendas, there has been a commitment to supporting the apprehension of those wanted for international crimes.
- Senior figures indicted by the UN and ad hoc international tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda were also put on the wanted list, which produced information that is believed to have resulted in detentions.
- Rewards for Justice also targets individuals associated with Saddam Hussein's former regime in Iraq.