U.S. Ignored Money Trail

Bush is doomed to fail if he doesn't cut off financing of terrorists

by Rachel Ehrenfeld
The Detroit News
September 30, 2001
http://detnews.com/2001/editorial/0109/30/a17-306400.htm


In the welter of events following the bombing of the World Trade Center in Feb. 26, 1993, few noticed that the first man arrested, Mohammed Salameh -- the poor, unemployed illegal immigrant -- offered $5 million for bail. Where could he get this kind of money?

The judge refused bail. But was the source of Salameh's offer the same as the one that funded the eight men -- arrested shortly afterward -- who planned to blow up Manhattan's tunnels and bridges and to assassinate public officials?

Were the same money sources behind the final attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11?

Now, a frantic search to identify funds belonging to radical Muslim terrorist organizations is on. Osama bin Laden has been accused of being the source for both attacks on the World Trade Center, as well as the Pentagon. President George W. Bush has declared that "Al Qaeda is to terror what the Mafia is to organized crime." But it is more than that. Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, is an elaborate international criminal organization and a much bigger threat than the Mafia.

"We have tougher laws against organized crime and drug trafficking than terrorism," Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft told the House Judiciary Committee, on Sept. 24th. And he went on to outline the Bush administration's proposals for changes in U.S. laws dealing with terrorism, incorporating some of the same legislation that has been used against organized crime and drug trafficking organizations for decades.

The Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were another wake-up call to the West about terrorism and its elaborate financing. For a long time, there has been evidence that terrorist, international drug trafficking and criminal organizations use the same fund-raising methods to enrich themselves.

Yet no one seemed to connect the dots. And no one seriously tried to crack down on their financing.

Bin Laden's is only one among many hostile international criminal organizations, often state-sponsored, that will do whatever they can to diminish the status of the United States as the only superpower.

According to a State Department report, the Taliban, who are at bin Laden's service, has the advantage of controlling the world's largest heroin production and distribution in the world.

Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the heroin production softwared to hundreds of tons each year. In 1999 alone, the world production of heroin was estimated at 500 metric tons; 400 were produced by the Taliban and available to fund bin Laden and his associates worldwide.

First warning

The writing was on the wall on July 5, 1991, when the Bank of England shut down what was the most important Islamic bank in the world, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). This criminal entity was created by the Pakistani Aaga Hassan Abedi "to fight the evil influence of the West"; to help with the creation of the "Islamic Bomb"; to finance all Muslim terrorist organizations; and to launder the money that was generated mostly by illicit drug trafficking and other illegal activities, including arms trafficking.

When BCCI went belly up, we learned from thousands of documents that Abu Nidal -- the notorious Palestinian terrorist organization that now enjoys the hospitality of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hezbollah and bin Laden -- had accounts in the bank. By the end of the 1980s, the "special services" provided by BCCI included access to Western humanitarian and international development funds, as well as drug money laundering, secret transfers of cash and bribes.

A "Black Network," a special enforcement unit supported by Abu Nidal and other terrorist organizations, operated from Pakistan. The same Pakistan that harbored bin Laden for many years while its officials told the United States that they didn't know his whereabouts. And the same Pakistan that for decades, even according to the State Department's annual report, had been a major drug trafficking and money laundering center.

Western blindness

Yet, now more importantly, we also discovered that the American and British governments knew and kept the bank open for a long time. The bank "that would bribe God" was able to get away with its criminal activities for decades due to Abedi's clever portrayal of the Muslim nations as victims of Western -- and particularly U.S. -- "imperialism." And when the bank was shuttered, the accusation in the Muslim/Arab and Third World countries was that the U.S. and the United Kingdom governments closed the bank to curtail the growing fiscal power of Muslim countries.

Like Abedi, anti-American, anti-Western terrorist and radical Muslim states and organizations, such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the PLO, Iraq and Iran, use Western democratic rhetoric to their advantage. But it is the willful blindness, mainly toward the growing volume of drug money laundering, exercised by Western bankers on the one hand and Western politicians on the other, that makes money laundering possible, despite the many laws and international conventions to control this phenomenon.

The BCCI was the first warning to the West. The second warning about the abuse of European and American financial markets by terrorist organizations, as well as their involvement in the illicit arms and drug trade, was made in February 1994 by the British National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS).

The Organized Crime Unit of the NCIS warned that Middle East terrorist groups and states were targeting the financial centers of London, Frankfurt and other Western countries, and that they favor illegal drug trafficking, money laundering and fraud.

America reacts

The reaction in the United States and other Western countries was a barrage of anti-money-laundering regulations and allegedly better banking supervision. A new anti-money laundering industry sprung up, and billions were spent on the development of new technologies and many instruments to monitor these illegal activities.

But the ease with which bin Laden Inc. was able to prosper and bilk the markets just before their attack on America is strong evidence that the anti-money-laundering measures and insider trading laws are largely ineffective. It also proves that technology alone is not the answer, that human intelligence is necessary to fight this, like other wars.

It also brought home the realization that laws and regulations are not worth the paper they are written on without the political will to implement them.

Testifying on money laundering and terrorism before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Sept. 26, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., warned that "the evidence is clear that terrorists are using our own financial institutions against us."

This is not surprising, since the terrorists have been using our democratic system to undermine it and destroy our way of life all along. The naive U.S. attitude that our successful capitalistic democracy, combined with financial and technical aid negotiations, would bring around the radical Muslims failed miserably.

Clinton appeasement

Despite its stated policy of not negotiating with terrorists, the Clinton administration went out of its way to appease a few of the 20th century's most notorious terror groups: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the PLO and the Irish Republican Army. All are heavily involved in the drug trade.

On the eve of the 1993 handshake on the White House lawn between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Britain's National Criminal Intelligence Service estimated the PLO's ill-gotten gains to total between $8 billion to $10 billion, with an annual income of about $1.5 billion to $2 billion from "donations, extortion, payoffs, illegal arms dealing, drug trafficking, money laundering, fraud, etc."

Since then, Washington has only aided and abetted the PLO. Since the start of the Oslo process, Arafat has received at least $3 billion more from the United States and the international community, without any serious demand for accountability, according to a report this year to Congress. Arafat, in well-documented instances, has been systematically skimming off portions of these funds, as he has with monies given to him on behalf of the refugees in the camps.

The PLO was in the drug trafficking business almost from the beginning. Operating from Lebanon, under Habash's able leadership and assisted by a PLO-owned shipping company SUMUD, the organization exported hashish, opium, heroin and cocaine, first to Europe and later even to the United States and Australia. In return, it obtained weapons for their war against Israel and the West, and amassed a massive treasure trove. In addition, the PLO and Arafat, who enjoy the financial and strategic support of Hussein and bin Laden, have the distinction of being the organization that promoted "suicide bombers" as a weapon.

Yet the Clinton administration subsidized a multitude of radical Palestinian groups, ranging from Arafat's Fatah branch of the PLO and its military wing, the Tanzim, to the socialist-nationalist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), headed by George Habash, all with close ties to bin Laden, Iraq and Iran.

Will Bush repeat errors?

The Bush administration seems destined to repeat the same mistake as its predecessor, dismissing verbal Palestinian leadership attacks on the United States as a need for internal "propaganda." It fails to understand, even after the terrible attacks, that all terrorist organizations are the same.

Thus, it is difficult to comprehend that the administration has just offered to remove Damascus from the State Department's list of terrorist sponsors if Syria joins the U.S.-led coalition against bin Laden. It was the Clinton White House that, despite evidence to the contrary, removed Syria from its list of the drug trafficking countries, to entice Syria to join the "peace process" in the Middle East.

The failure of that process and the compromises the United States has made to maintain an illusion of peaceful prospects had no doubt added to the Muslim radical terrorists' resolve to attack what they see as a naive and vulnerable America.

In another example of self-delusion, in 1999, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright suggested a U.S.-led coalition to negotiate with the FARC and supported Colombia President Pastrana's "land for peace" initiative, despite a report from the General Accounting Office that the FARC is running a major international criminal enterprise that, among other things, supplies hundreds of tons of cocaine and heroin to the U.S. black market.

This second Clinton "land for peace" initiative gave half of Colombia to the narco-terrorist FARC, while doing nothing to diminish its violence or appetite to control the rest of the country.

Instead of re-evaluating this misguided policy, the Bush administration, even after declaring war on terrorism, appears to be drifting toward embracing it -- by giving some regimes that sponsor terrorism a pass for their cooperation in a U.S. coalition.

More difficult to comprehend is the omission of two of the most vocal radical Muslim, anti-American terrorist organizations -- Hamas and Hezbollah -- from the presidential order to freeze their assets.

Even if America receives help, it will remain important to follow and cut off the money supply to terrorist groups and their state sponsors. The United States may achieve a short-term goal of finding bin Laden and perhaps unseating the Taliban, but there will remain plenty of anti-U.S. terrorists prepared to take their place.

The West has already had several warnings. If it doesn't try to choke the financing of terrorism now, it invites another tragedy like the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- probably with even deadlier weapons.

 

� Copyright 2001

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