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Honk if You Helped Capture Bin Laden



Did your license plate help bring down Osama bin Laden? Just maybe. You’ll have to wait and see.

In 2002, state legislators approved the “United We Stand” Virginia license plate, a 9/11 commemorative plate intended to raise money to fight terrorism. Fifteen dollars from every plate was placed into a special, nonreverting “United We Stand Fund,” to be administered by the state.

That money, the original legislation said, would be “used solely as reward payments to informants with information about known terrorists or terrorist plans.” A total of $337,800 was raised from sales of the license plates from 2002 until 2006, when legislators removed the extra $15 fee from the plates.

Virginia was one of six states to send these license plate fees to the Rewards for Justice Fund, a privately run nonprofit founded in 2001. The fund raised nearly $2.3 million from 2002 to 2008, which it gave as grants to the State Department. It’s now defunct; attempts to reach its former executive director were unsuccessful.

That $2.3 million may sound like a lot. But it’s just a drop in a vast bucket. The State Department’s Rewards for Justice program, which received the grants from the private fund, has paid informants more than $100 million since 2001. To be eligible, informants have to provide a tip that leads to, among other things, the prevention of terrorist acts, or the apprehension of someone who has committed acts of terrorism or conspired to do so.

Could an informant who helped find Osama bin Laden get a reward -- which might contain a buck or two from your license plate fees? The feds can’t say yet.

The reward process is a complex one, says an official with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. An informant can’t raise his or her hand and demand the bin Laden reward, which was advertised as up to $25 million. A deserving informant must be nominated by the federal investigating agency. The Interagency Rewards Committee must then consider the nomination, and recommend an amount to be awarded.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must sign off before any money changes hands. Of course, this is all highly, highly confidential. And there may be no deserving informant in the bin Laden case.

So if you feel your “United We Stand” license plate has done its work, you can trade it in for the recently introduced “Peace” plate, which contributes $15 to the Virginia Association for Community Conflict Resolution.

Or anything, really, as long as it’s not that Parrotheads plate.

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