Paul Cruickshank is a Fellow at the Center on Law and Security at New York University's School of Law. He previously worked as an investigative journalist in London, reporting on al Qaeda and its European affiliates and was part of the CNN reporting team that covered the London July 7, 2005 attacks. He collaborated closely with Peter Bergen in interviewing acquaintances of Osama bin Laden for Bergen's 2006 oral history "The Osama bin Laden I Know" and worked with CNN on a two-hour Emmy-nominated documentary "In the footsteps of bin Laden." Cruickshank has written about al Qaeda and Islamist groups for a number of publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic and Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. He has provided on-air analysis to CNN, BBC, NBC, CBS, BBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera on national security issues. Cruickshank graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in history, and has a Masters degree with Honors in International Relations from the Paul. H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at the Johns Hopkins University. He has also worked in the European Parliament in Brussels and at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.
Paul Cruickshank: Well clearly New York is Al Qaeda’s number one target in the world. Al Qaeda has an obsession with New York. It’s had an obsession with New York almost since its founding. In the ‘90s . . . ’93, … who trained in Al Qaeda training camp, launched an operation against the World Trade Center. He didn’t manage to collapse the building, but people died in that attack. And Al Qaeda, of course on 9/11, targeted New York again. And Al Qaeda’s leaders have made no secret that they would like to attack New York yet another time. So unfortunately New York and also Washington are the key Al Qaeda targets in the United States. Other cities in the United States might be targeted; but I think the risk is much, much lower honestly with other cities just because of the symbolic importance of New York and Washington. Al Qaeda were planning a second wave of operations of 9/11 of certain targets also on the West Coast. LAX, the airport in Los Angeles, was a target … 2000. So there are other cities as well which are on Al Qaeda’s wish list, if you like. Now within New York, obviously the NYPD . . . their concern is clearly about some of the transport infrastructure – the subway system, commuter trains – anywhere in New York where crowds gather. New York is the media capital of the world, and definitely the United States. So any attack here would really get incredible media coverage for Al Qaeda. And bin Laden once said to …, the head of the Taliban, that the media battle was 90 percent of the war. I’ve been very surprised that there’s not been more thwarted operations launched by Al Qaeda against New York in recent times. But that said, you know the U.S. intelligence agencies, the NYPD are doing an amazing job right (01:05:34) now. Billions of dollars are being directed against protecting the city. It’s very hard for Al Qaeda to infiltrate operatives here. They don’t have any logistical set up. They don’t have any real support base in the New York area. So it’s gonna be very difficult for them to launch any sort of attacks or … making materials. The plots we have seen here have been more the lone wolf variety. In 2004 there was a plot of Harold Square subway system, but there was the one guy operating on his own who didn’t have links to any of the Al Qaeda leadership at all. And it was just a self-starting type of attack plot which was thought out, and he’s now serving a significant sentence. So New York is the . . . There’s a reason why a lot of the money in the U.S. counterterrorism has been diverted to New York. And there’s very good reason for that, and that’s because New York would be a very symbolic target for Al Qaeda. I’m trying to be as careful as possible. I don’t like generally sort of making people, you know . . .
Recorded on: Jan 14 2008