Washington U.S. intelligence officials say that sending FBI profilers to interview suspected al-Qaida captured by American soldiers could help them better understand and stop the group's new generation of young terrorists.
The FBI behavioral scientists plan to create psychological profiles of the suspected terrorists imprisoned at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The results will be analyzed at FBI headquarters and shared with the CIA and the National Security Agency, said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We are trying to get more cultural knowledge and get into the minds of radical fundamentalists," the official said.
The behavioral scientists have been asking questions designed to uncover the detainees' personal histories, why they joined forces with the terrorist group blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks and how they view the United States.
The profiles will be used to develop ways to disrupt recruitment and hunt terrorists within the United States.
"This is an important piece of our plan to look beyond today and tomorrow and think about preventing attacks even further down the line," the official said.
The United States is holding 564 people at the base in Guantanamo Bay, most of whom were captured in Afghanistan. The results of the profiling, which is still under way, have not been used in any law enforcement effort yet.
This is not the first time the United States has attempted to profile prisoners of war. Government contractors conducted similar interviews with Viet Cong prisoners during the Vietnam War and enemy soldiers in the Korean War.
That data was used for propaganda pamphlets dropped over enemy cities aimed at undermining support, researchers said.
A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the profiling effort also was aimed at fostering a better understanding of what the "Sunni side of radical fundamentalism is about."
The two major branches of Islam are Sunni and Shia. Al-Qaida is led by Sunni Muslims.
Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is credited with giving rise to anti-U.S. extremism among Sunnis in the early 1990s, gaining allegiance from groups in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
While the number of formal al-Qaida members has remained fairly constant at about 200 since 1990, the fruits of that recruitment have led to a large increase in the number of young men who are willing to carry out directives from the group.
The number of young Islamic extremists is growing because of a backlash against globalization and Western culture, some experts said.
"We are seeing the rejection of the Western world an attempt to find an identity in a world that has been denied to them," said Emilio Viano, a terrorism expert and professor at American University. "Al-Qaida offers religion, nationalism and a way to strike back against feeling powerless against the United States."
Stephen Zunes, a professor at the University of San Francisco, said he was skeptical of the government's profiling effort and doubted it would lead to any change in efforts to deal with extremists.
"Much of the public comment from the government has reflected the idea that they hate us because of our freedom and democracy," Zunes said. "I'm as proud as any American but the unfortunate truth is they are angered by a policy in the region, which has nothing to do with freedom and democracy. I don't think the profiling will lead to a better understanding of that by the government. They don't want to acknowledge it."