The FBI reportedly helped the family of an American hostage pay $250,000 (£162,000) to al-Qaeda in a move that appeared to contradict long-standing US policy not to pay ransoms to terrorists.
The family of Warren Weinstein, an aid worker accidentally killed in a botched US drone strike, asked for the FBI's help as it prepared to make the payment to al-Qaeda in 2012, according to the Wall St Journal.
FBI agents reportedly agreed to vet a Pakistani middleman for the ransom payment and, after concluding that he was legitimate, advised the family that paying might be the best hope of recovering Mr Weinstein.
The FBI declined to comment but US officials apparently believe the agents did not violate American policy because they did not directly authorise the payment.
Nonetheless, the episode raises new questions about America's sometimes confusing hostage policy which has been under scrutiny since the murder of several US captives held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).The parents of James Foley, the first American beheaded by Isil, have claimed they were threatened with prosecution if they tried to make any ransom payments.
The US government has also been accused of sticking so rigidly to its policy of not negotiating with terrorists that it failed to follow up leads and engage with interlocutors who might have helped locate the hostages.
The criticism led the White House to promise a review of its hostage policy but American officials have said consistently that they would stick to their position on not paying ransoms.
The FBI's involvement in the Weinstein case appears to show that at least one branch of the US government is prepared to soften its stance.
After Mr Weinstein's death was announced last week, his widow Elaine thanked "specific officials from the FBI" but said other parts of the US government had been "inconsistent and disappointing".
Mr Weinstein was kidnapped in Lahore in August 2011 and his family was later approached by a Pakistani man claiming to have a ransom demand from the al-Qaeda kidnappers.
The Weinsteins asked the FBI to look at the man and agents concluded that he was a legitimate middleman as opposed to someone hoping looking to scam the family.
Although the payment was handed over in 2012, Mr Weinstein was not released. He died in January alongside an Italian hostage after a US drone bombed an al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan.
Both Britain and the US have consistently refused to pay ransoms to secure the release of hostages, arguing that it only encourages terror groups to take more captives.
Other European countries have made ransom payments and secured the release of their hostages.