ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- Francisco Martin-Rayo left his job on Wall Street to travel through terrorist recruiting grounds in Yemen, Pakistan and the Somali border.
"What was most interesting to me was trying to figure out what's the difference between someone who joins a terrorist organization and someone who doesn't," Martin-Rayo told 11Alive reporter Jennifer Leslie.
Francisco Martin-Rayo holds a master's degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School, where he was an International and Global Affairs Fellow.
Harvard funded his trip to the Middle East. He just released a book about his experience called "Winning the Minds."
"Sometimes they'd say, 'I hate your country, but you're OK,'" Martin-Rayo said. "And you go, 'I'm an American, so we should have a conversation about it.'"
He got as close as he could to training camps and was once mistaken for an Israeli spy.
He returned to his home in Alpharetta with a clear sense of what it takes to counter extremism.
"People who had access to a well-rounded education were statistically significantly less likely to join a terrorist organization or become an extremist," he said.
Martin-Rayo believes the U.S. needs to do more to support moderate groups and democratic organizations in the region.
He gives credit to the FBI and Homeland Security for infiltrating domestic terrorism groups and heading off the most recent plot in New York City.
Quazi Nafis was arrested on Wednesday, accused of trying to blow up the Federal Reserve Building.
Authorities said the 21-year-old Bangladeshi national also had his eyes on the New York Stock Exchange and President Obama.
"I think we've gotten good at stopping those attacks by amateurs who don't have the skills or access to the materials they need," Martin-Rayo said.
But it's a different story in the Middle East, where Martin-Rayo hopes to influence foreign policy with his experience.