On February 12, 2004, a solider with the U.S. National Guard, Ryan Gibson Anderson, was arrested at Fort Lewis in Washington for allegedly attempting to spy on behalf of Al Qaeda.
According to military officials, Anderson is suspected of attempting to share information, through a chat room on the Internet, about U.S. military and weapons capabilities with people whom he thought were associated with Al Qaeda. However, the chat room was monitored by law enforcement personnel and the person Anderson communicated with was an undercover operative. The sting operation involved the Army, the FBI and the Department of Justice.
An Army spokesperson said that the twenty-six-year old Muslim convert was being held on suspicion of "aiding the enemy by wrongfully attempting to communicate and give intelligence to the Al Qaeda network."
Anderson was an armor crewman in the National Guard's 81st Armored Brigade, and was scheduled to be deployed to Iraq within weeks.
Anderson posted several messages to various Usenet groups in 1995 and 1996 (Usenet is a collection of thousands of on-line discussion groups). One of his messages, dated Dec 17, 1995 and posted to the misc.activism.militia Usenet newsgroup, said that he wanted to join a militia group in Washington. In his message, Anderson wrote:
I am looking for a militia in Washington state to join. I am a college student at Washington State University, who would like to find a local patriot group to join. I have my own weapons, and I have a basic knowledge of their use, and have taken several courses on their safe operation.
Eventually, though, Anderson's posts became critical of the militia and patriot movements, especially the Montana Freemen and Timothy McVeigh, as well as some of the militia supporters on the newsgroup itself.
Anderson stopped posting to Usenet in the late spring of 1996, because the college term expired and he did not have access to his account. The following fall, he returned to college and to his Internet. Upon his return, he no longer seemed interested in the militia movement, but was now more interested in Islam.
In a message posted to the alt.religion.islam newsgroup, dated October 31, 1996, Anderson wrote:
I am a 19 year old Army Officer Cadet/collage [sic] student of German/Irish decent [sic] 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…I would like to talk to people, but short of walking up to people of obvious Arab decent [sic] and asking them if they are of the Faith, I don't [sic] know where to start. I would be greatfull [sic] to talk to someone, inshallah.
Formal charges will be filed against Anderson if his unit commander and a military lawyer can determine probable cause. He would then face a grand jury investigation, and possibly a court-martial.