Sebastian Rotella


Photo of Sebastian Rotella

Sebastian Rotella is a senior reporter at ProPublica. An award-winning foreign correspondent and investigative reporter, he worked for almost 23 years for the Los Angeles Times before joining ProPublica in 2010. He covers international security issues including terrorism, intelligence, organized crime, human rights and migration. His reporting has taken him across the Americas and Europe, and to the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa.

In 2020, Sebastian was part of the ProPublica team whose coverage of the pandemic and the CDC was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for public service. The Association of Health Care Journalists gave that coverage the Award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism in the investigative category.

In 2016, he was co-writer and correspondent for Terror in Europe, a Frontline documentary that was a finalist for the Investigative Reporters and Editors broadcast/video award. In 2013, his Finding Oscar investigation with This American Life won a Peabody Award, a Dart Center Award, and two awards from the Overseas Press Club. In 2012, he was recognized with Italy’s Urbino Press Award for excellence in American journalism. His A Perfect Terrorist investigation of the Mumbai attacks (with Frontline) was nominated for an Emmy, and the online version of the story got an Overseas Press Club Award in 2011.

In 2006, he was named a Pulitzer finalist for international reporting for his L.A. Times coverage of terrorism and Muslim communities in Europe, which won the German Marshall Fund’s senior award for excellence in European reporting. He was part of a team whose coverage of al-Qaida received an Overseas Press Club award and finalist honors for Harvard University’s Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2002. In 2001, he won Columbia University’s Maria Moors Cabot Prize for his career coverage of Latin America. His work in Latin America also won honors from the Overseas Press Club, Inter-American Press Association and the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

At the L.A. Times, Sebastian served as a correspondent at the Mexican border, in South America and in Europe. His border reporting inspired two songs on Bruce Springsteen’s album The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995).

Sebastian is the author of three novels: Rip Crew (2018), The Convert’s Song (2014), and Triple Crossing (2011).He is also the author of Twilight on the Line: Underworlds and Politics at the U.S.-Mexico Border (1998). He speaks Spanish, French and Italian. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, studied at the University of Barcelona, and was born in Chicago.

Syria’s Jihadi Migration Emerges as Top Terror Threat in Europe, Beyond

Western support for the opposition in Syria’s bloody civil war raises fears of a blowback from the European extremists who’ve flocked to new land of jihad.

The Terror Threat and Iran's Inroads in Latin America

As some in Congress question a State Department report downplaying Iranian influence, intelligence officials say covert Iranian cooperation with Venezuela has been a gateway for hostile activities in the region.

How the NSA’s High-Tech Surveillance Helped Europeans Catch Terrorists

The debate about National Security Agency eavesdropping has left European investigators bemused. U.S. technology collects mountains of data that often aids their cases, they say. But there's no substitute for real human spying.

Defenders of NSA Surveillance Omit Most of Mumbai Plotter's Story

Officials say National Security Agency intercepts stopped David Coleman Headley's planned attack in Denmark, but sources say a tip from the British led to his capture after the U.S. failed for years to connect multiple reports of terror ties.

How Hezbollah Trained an Operative to Spy on Israeli Tourists

Sophisticated lessons in spycraft, explosives and arms detailed in a Cyprus court case that is forcing the European Union to consider designating the Lebanese-based group as a terrorist organization.

Boston Bombing Suspects Echo Home-Grown Terrorists in Madrid, London Attacks

Counterterror officials say the emerging portrait suggests the brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev slipped into Islamic extremism under the influence of Internet propaganda.

Terror Group Recruits From Pakistan’s 'Best and Brightest'

A new study of 917 fallen Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters documents the group's extensive integration in Pakistani society and helps explain its impunity for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Four Disturbing Questions About the Mumbai Terror Attack

Despite extensive evidence and a U.S. indictment, Pakistani authorities haven't moved to arrest accused masterminds in the 2008 massacre or explain the alleged involvement of officers in Pakistan's spy agency.

Shadow War: Hezbollah’s Hand Seen In Bombing of Israeli Bus

Bulgarian Investigators say the July 18 explosion that killed six appears to be part of a continuing covert offensive by Iran and Hezbollah to retaliate against Israel and the West.

Judge Gives American 35 Years for Plotting Deadly Mumbai Terror Attack

Although David Coleman Headley avoided the death penalty, Judge Harry Leinenweber said he hopes the sentence "will keep him under lock and key for the rest of his natural life."

The American Behind India’s 9/11 -- And How U.S. Botched Chances to Stop Him

Officials say David Coleman Headley slipped through the cracks despite repeated warnings to U.S. law enforcement. Indian authorities think the U.S. knew more than it has revealed about the ex-informant’s activities before the 2008 siege that killed 166 people, including six U.S. citizens. Both scenarios suggest breakdowns in counterterror systems.

Support for Mumbai Terror Group Lands Chicagoan 14-Year Prison Term

Tahawwur Rana, 52, had been convicted in 2011 on two counts of material support of terrorism for aiding Pakistan’s Lashkar-i-Taiba militant group and of a plot to attack a Danish newspaper.

Although a Fugitive, Accused Guatemalan War Criminal Hasn't Run Far

ProPublica’s reporting last year about the search for perpetrators of the Dos Erres masscare led to the discovery that an ex-colonel who is a leading suspect had lived openly in an upscale Guatemala City neighborhood.

The New Border: Illegal Immigration's Shifting Frontier

As the net flow of immigrants from Mexico nears zero, violent and impoverished Central American countries have emerged as the fastest-rising source of illegal immigrants to the U.S. Mexico's southern border with Guatemala — a hotbed of smuggling — highlights the challenges of managing immigration in the years ahead.

The Dos Erres Fugitives

How an Accused Guatemalan War Criminal Won U.S., Canadian Citizenship

Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes denies any role in the slaughter of 250 villagers at Dos Erres in 1982, but investigators say he concealed his background as an army commando and manipulated the immigration system.

Como un Presunto Criminal de Guerra Logró Hacerse Ciudadano en Estados Unidos y Canadá

Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes niega cualquier participación en la masacre de 250 campesinos en Dos Erres en 1982, pero los investigadores dicen que escondió su pasado como comando militar y manipuló el sistema.

Guatemalan Massacre Survivor Wins Political Asylum in U.S.

As a boy, Oscar Ramírez Castañeda was abducted by an officer in the squad that conducted one of the worst massacres in Guatemala’s civil war.

Immigration Charges For Accused Commando In Dos Erres Massacre

Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes had become a U.S. citizen while allegedly concealing his military service and involvement in the infamous 1982 attack that left more than 250 people dead in a remote Guatemalan village.

U.S. Government Pressures Pakistan on Mumbai Terror Group

Treasury Department issued an order against eight leaders of Lashkar-e-Taiba that prohibits Americans from doing business with them and freezes assets.

Follow ProPublica

Latest Stories from ProPublica