Sunday, November 1, 2015

Scott Shane's "Objective Troy"

Scott Shane is a reporter in the Washington bureau of the New York Times, where he has covered national security since 2004.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone, and reported the following:
I set out to write Objective Troy in part to fathom how a mainstream, popular imam who publicly and privately condemned the 9/11 attacks had ended up joining Al Qaeda in Yemen and becoming the first American citizen to be killed without trial on orders of the president in a drone strike.

Page 99 catches my subject, Anwar al-Awlaki, as his career as an American Muslim preacher takes off in 2001 and on the brink of the turning point of 9/11. At 30, he has become the imam at a big mosque in Falls Church, Va., where his perfect American English and perfect Koranic Arabic impress both the old and young in a big, influential congregation. He's active on the speaking circuit, both in the U.S. and the U.K. He's preaching at the U.S. Capitol and lecturing to military chaplains. As the page ends, he learns of the 9/11 attacks in a taxi from Reagan National Airport after flying home to Washington from California -- and has no idea that three of the 19 hijackers will turn out to have prayed in his mosques. That will prompt a suspicious FBI to order 24-hour surveillance. The bureau will eventually clear him of suspicions of terrorism -- but discover that this married father of three, who preaches about the sanctity of marriage, is visiting prostitutes in Washington hotels every week or so. The trauma of 9/11 will make Awlaki suddenly a national media star, a young, eloquent imam who can patiently explain the mysteries of Islam to Americans. He is on his way to becoming a truly national voice for American Muslims, a much-needed role in the post-9/11 era. But not long after p. 99, when Awlaki learns from the manager of an escort service about the FBI's file on his sex life, he will suddenly flee the U.S., abandoning a thriving career and a growing pubic reputation and starting on a path that will lead to Al Qaeda and war on America.

For me, as a journalist who has written on terrorism and counterterrorism for 14 years, this is a poignant moment, in which the life of a talented and ambitious cleric with huge potential to be a useful voice in American policy debates takes a fateful turn. The FBI was actually interested in whether Awlaki was a terrorist, not in his sex life, and it would conclude that he had no ties to terrorism in 2001-2002. But its accidental discovery would have unpredictable consequences for the U.S., for President Obama and for Awlaki himself.
Visit Scott Shane's website.

--Marshal Zeringue