decade after al-Qaeda issued a global declaration of war against America, U.S. spy agencies have had little luck recruiting well-placed informants and are finding the upper reaches of the network tougher to penetrate than the Kremlin during the Cold War, according to U.S. and European intelligence officials.
Some counterterrorism officials say their agencies missed early opportunities to attack the network from within. Relying on Cold War tactics such as cash rewards for tips failed to take into account the religious motivations of Islamist radicals and produced few results.
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, officials said, al-Qaeda has tightened its internal security at the top, placing an even greater emphasis on personal and tribal loyalties to determine who can gain access to its leaders.
Alain Chouet, former chief of the security intelligence service of the DGSE, France's foreign spy agency, said it can take years for informants to burrow their way into radical Islamist networks. Even if they're successful at first, he said, new al-Qaeda members are often "highly disposable" -- prime candidates for suicide missions.
He said it might be too late for Western intelligence agencies, having missed earlier chances, to redouble efforts to infiltrate the network. "I think you cannot penetrate such a movement now," he said.
How to vote
Vote-by-mail ballot request deadline: Varies by state
For the Nov 3 election: States are making it easier for citizens to vote absentee by mail this year due to the coronavirus. Each state has its own rules for mail-in absentee voting. Visit your state election office website to find out if you can vote by mail.Get more informationTrack ballot status
In-person early voting dates: Varies by state
Sometimes circumstances make it hard or impossible for you to vote on Election Day. But your state may let you vote during a designated early voting period. You don't need an excuse to vote early. Visit your state election office website to find out whether they offer early voting.My Election Office
General Election: Nov 3, 2020
Polling hours on Election Day: Varies by state/localityMy Polling Place