Opponents of the WTO take note: one of the unintended consequences of globalization is financial freedom for terrorists.
Why has the money trail around al Qaeda grown so cold? In part, writes Washington Post Africa correspondent Farah, the “rapid deregulation that came with globalization, where international financial transfers are instantaneous and hard to trace,” has served to hide the terrorist group’s balance sheet. Though the Clinton administration took pains to freeze some $240 million belonging to the Taliban and al Qaeda in Western banks in 1999, following attacks on US embassies in Africa, terrorist operatives swiftly transferred still more money into commodities such as diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, gold, and other precious gems and metals that could be readily traded without drawing attention to the parties involved. Such a savvy move should have come as no surprise, writes Farah, given that Osama bin Laden “initially rose to prominence not as a fighter but as the most influential financier for the mujahadeen fighting to drive the Soviet army out of Afghanistan.” Yet it and other ploys apparently eluded Western intelligence agencies, which reacted with embarrassment when Farah filed newspaper reports about al Qaeda’s involvement in the West African diamond trade, providing funds that purchased weapons for tyrants such as Charles Taylor of Liberia. Farah’s swiftly moving narrative introduces a cast of characters worthy of a le Carré novel, ranging from tough-talking CIA agents to canny African operators to the super-villainous former Soviet officer responsible for arming both sides in the Afghan civil war. It also sounds disturbing themes, among them the ineptitude of high-ranking American intelligence officials: “I returned to Washington stunned that no one in the embassy [in Abu Dhabi] had even heard of one of the largest companies in the gold business”; “the al Qaeda–Hezbollah alliance was observed by intelligence operatives on the ground in Africa and Asia long before it was accepted by analysts in Washington.”
Immensely valuable for those who follow the movements of international terrorists—who, by Farah’s account, walk among us on all sides.