NPR mined Professor Samuel Rascoff's terrorism expertise for the third time this summer in a July 29 segment on All Things Considered. A former Director of Intelligence Analysis for the New York City Police Department and 2009 Carnegie Scholar, Rascoff was called on to discuss Bryant Neal Vinas, a 26-year-old Long Island man who managed to leave the U.S. and join up with al Qaeda in 2007. Vinas, in the span of a little more than one year, moved out of his father’s Long Island home, received an al Qaeda education, participated in attacks on U.S. soldiers, and provided information on New York City subways and the Long Island Rail Road before being captured in November 2008 by Pakistani troops and handed over to U.S. officials. Vinas pleaded guilty in January to charges including conspiracy to commit murder for firing on U.S. troops and providing material support to a terrorist organization. The question raised by NPR: How did he so easily make it into Taliban and al Qaeda camps?
Rascoff explained how Vinas could have infiltrated al Qaeda: “He begins by associating with certain people in New York City, and they know someone overseas. He goes to Pakistan, and then the next thing he knows he is in the company of Taliban leadership who, in turn, send him to a place where he is in close proximity to al Qaeda," said Rascoff. “It is really a case of taking it one step at a time and one personal reference at a time." U.S. officials began tracking Vinas before he left the U.S, but according to NPR, they eventually lost his trail.
"Vinas's experience tends to undermine the story we've been telling about what it takes to get inside the hard core al Qaeda," said Rascoff. U.S. officials have not had similar success, but Rascoff questioned what the results would be if a U.S. operative actually did make it into a camp.
"Let's assume we could follow the Vinas playbook literally play-by-play," he said. "Still, the American organization or official would be left with the question, 'Now that my source is on the inside and bringing all this terrific intelligence back to headquarters, how on Earth will I be able to extract this source with his neck intact?'" So, then, really, it's as miraculous that Vinas made it out as it is that he made it into al Qaeda's inner circles.
Posted on July 31, 2009