The baby-faced, high-school yearbook photo of Ryan G. Anderson is deceptively mundane and seemingly innocent. On Thursday, the 26-year-old National Guardsman was arrested after allegedly trying to pass information about military capabilities to al Qaeda over the Internet. A Muslim convert, Anderson was a member of the 303rd Armor Battalion of the 81st Armor Brigade at Fort Lewis, Washington. He will be charged with “aiding the enemy by wrongfully attempting to communicate and give intelligence to the al Qaeda terrorist network,” said base spokesman Lt. Col. Stephen Barger.
Who is this suspected al Qaeda sympathizer with the boy-next-door looks? Is he another Johnny Taliban who conspired with foreign terrorists, or is he a traitorous wannabe who got caught playing with fire? Either way, the case underscores the continued vulnerability of the U.S. military to Islamist infiltration.
Thursday night, I did a little Internet digging on the groups.google.com search engine of Usenet discussion forums, which provides some interesting clues about Anderson. Washington State University confirms that he graduated from the school in 2002 with a degree in military history, focusing on the Middle East. Using the e-mail address email@example.com, Anderson posted prolifically to a strange and volatile variety of Internet newsgroups, including forums for gun enthusiasts, skinheads, cinema, games, Islam, and Arabic culture. He offered opinions on everything from the movie Starship Troopers to sniping weapons and presidential politics. Putting aside the chronic misspellings, the 154 messages are an instructive glimpse into the mind of an immature American youth with a potentially dangerous longing to belong. Here’s a small taste:
On Oct. 31, 1996, he posted a message to alt.religion.islam with the subject line, “Help! I am looking to convert, but I dont (sic) know where to start!” The message continued:
I do not know if this is unusal, but I am a 19 year old
Army Officer Cadet/collage student of German/Irish decent who was raised in a “zombie Lutheran” home (i.e. everyone always followed the religion their fathers followed with no thought otherwise).
I began to look at the Middle East as a course of study as I am a steadfast student of history. Seince beginning my Arab History 272 class a number of months ago, Islam has almost literaly called to me. I find myself scrambeling to find any current information, but in a collage of 24,000, 18,000 of which are students, even an English translation of the Qu’ran is quite nearly impossiable to find. I would like to talk to people, but short of walking up to people of obvious Arab decent and asking them if they are of the Faith, I dont know where to start.
I would be greatfull to talk to someone, inshallah.
Nobody replied to Anderson–at least not through the newsgroup. On Sept. 26, 1997, Anderson–now with a new, adopted Muslim moniker-posted to soc.culture.arabic:
Salaam Alaaykum all,
I am a Muslim convert studying at Washington State University for n Asian History Major, my focus is on Arabic nations (they include them under the Asia program here, I have no idea why).
Anyway, I wish to study abroad in a country like Egypt or Turkey this coming summer (1998) or next fall, for a semester. I have done some initial poking around here for leads, but as of yet found little. I have been told that there is an American college in Cairo, and I believe that there may be some programs in Turkey that I would be interested in, but I havnt seen any info for them for a while and I would like to know if they are still avaliable.
Thank you all,
Again, no answer. A lonely Anderson turned to the ladies on Oct. 2, 1997, posting an ad headlined, “Old Fashioned Romantic Seeks Dangerous Woman,” to pnw.personals:
Im a well educated, underpayed 20 year old who is sick of meeting all the wrong types. Yes, I will admit I am not the usual “man of the ’90s”, my dream girl must be a tough, independant minded one who can handle herself and isnt worried about acting “un-lady like”. A girl who can handle a blade or a rifle is definitly my type, I my self am a fencer, aspireing sword fighter and gun-slinger with an innate ability to work with old weapons. Other intrests include history and travel, old cars, planes and motorcycles- it has been said I am a bit of a Lawerence of Arabia; passionet and a little eccentric, but in my heart of hearts I need someone I can trust implicitly and love fiercely, knowing those two things are returned in full. Can you fit the bill? My physical tastes are picky, but the more you match my psychological needs, the more I will overlook, I am moderate to good looking, 6′0″, 170lbs, brown/green with a Scottish/German/Russian ancestory that shows.
A few days later, apparently reacting to news of the release of Hamas spiritual leader by Israel in a three-way prisoner swap brokered by Jordan’s King Hussein, Anderson offered a conspiracy theory posted to soc.culture.somalia, soc.culture.palestine, alt.religion.islam, and alt.culture.somalia:
Is it possiable Mossad replaced the Shiek entirely? With the amount of knowledge they have on people, I wouldnt put it entirely beyond them to be able to substitute an imposter.
If your theory is correct, and Hamas becomes…ineffective, who then, will fill the power vacuume? The days of the PLO being an effective freedom-fighting group is pretty much over, militarily speaking of course.
Pentagon officials told the press yesterday that Ryan Anderson/Amir Talhah developed “some kind of extremist Muslim ideology,” which allegedly motivated the American tank crewman to visit extremist Internet chat rooms where he reportedly offered to pass on to al Qaeda 800 pages of documents describing the armor being deployed in Iraq. (According to officials, it doesn’t appear he transmitted any information to terrorists.)
In the end, it seems that Anderson finally got someone to answer to his pathetic pleas for attention on the Internet. We can count our blessings that it was federal investigators who nabbed this useless idiot in a sting operation before he had a chance to make friends with America’s worst enemies.