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Blood From Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror Hardcover – May 4, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
At first glance, this book is an account of how Farah happened on al-Qaeda's diamond-smuggling operations while he was the Washington Post's bureau chief in West Africa in 2001. Farah details the sequence of events that led to his now famous expose of the Mephistophelian alliance between al-Qaeda and Liberia's notorious former president Charles Taylor, and the summary rape and ruin of West Africa while Taylor orchestrated the inequitable trade of diamonds for uniforms, weapons and cars to perpetuate the nightmarish strife. However, this is not where the book endsâ"it's where a new unsettling story begins. After Farah's article ran in the Post, he and his family were forced to leave Africa for their own safety. On arriving home, Farah says, he was met by a bitter and embarrassed CIA determined to discredit him in order to cover the fact that they knew nothing about al-Qaeda's involvement in West Africa. Over time, the CIA's behavior led to the revelation of damning information about the United States's entire network of intelligence agencies, rife with infighting, disorganization and lack of central control. Farah's drum-tight presentation of evidence to substantiate his allegations will be difficult to dispute, and his stark and straightforward writing style makes this book hard to put down. Maps not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Long before President Bush placed an order to freeze terrorist assets, senior members of al-Qaeda had purchased millions of dollars of diamonds and other gems in an effort to convert cash into commodities that are difficult to track and easy to smuggle. This revealing piece of investigative journalism details how terrorist organizations are financed through an underground network that is fueled by the African diamond trade, gold, radical Islamic charities in the U.S and abroad, and crimes ranging from coupon fraud to drug trafficking. Farah first came upon the al-Qaeda diamond trail a few weeks after the September 11 attacks while working as the Washington Post's bureau chief for West Africa. This report exposes a critical gap in U.S. intelligence, revealing major oversights on the part of the FBI and CIA, who have consistently ignored compelling information that could have enabled the U.S. to cut off the flow of money to terrorists in the wake of 9/11. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top customer reviews
This book gives you some real insight into what led up to 9/11. What the President was looking at from an intelligence standpoint after 9/11, and why a lot of the banking laws changed after 9/11. It's a great book that has somewhat been buried on shelves because so many books have been written.
It is a book of two parts the first being the author's specific bad experience in Western Africa especially in Sierra Leone and Liberia pre and immediately post 9/11. This focusses on showing how use of high value non-monetary goods (diamonds in this case) allowed the use of non-banking arrangements like hawala and charities, to avoid standard intelligence approaches in blocking funds and in the process generate non-traceable routes.
The second part is even more depressing showing how the use since 9/11 of high volume/low financial value per item scams such as baby formula foods and cigarettes avoid detection under old methods of policing since they are too low to attract high level interest, but can ultimately generate millions.
Alongside this the stories told in passing of Russian and Israeli arms dealers cross border activities and endless in fighting between US government agencies over control not result, and the clear message is that the issues are still not fully understood or more critically the manner to detect and tackle yet been mastered and achieved.
Since almost nothing is made in America anymore I sometimes wonder how much exploitation goes into various sundry items. There's really not much that one person can do about the world's injustices, however, since a diamond is a major purchase it warrants a little investigation. My understanding is that synthetic diamonds are virtually the same quality and cost a fraction of natural ones.
Apparently there is also a lot of blood and destruction involved in gold mining as well, especially in Brazil right now.
By Douglas Farah
If the 9/11 Commission's report on intelligence shortfalls prior to 9/11 was hailed for its scope and completeness, it nonetheless failed to recognize the considerable role played by black market diamonds in al Qaeda's pre-attack strategic planning. Indeed, the report specifically downplays the activities of a small but clearly committed cadre of Qaeda operatives who bought millions of dollars worth of illegally mined diamonds from warlords in Liberia and Sierra Leone, saying reports of the group's use of African "conflict diamonds" lacked "persuasive evidence."
Given the secretive nature of the diamond business and the physical isolation and insecurity of Sierra Leone's and Liberia's interior (where most of the diamond deals were done), the commission's researchers might have been forgiven this omission, especially if other sources of information had not existed. But this was not the case. In fact, an exceptionally well researched record of al Qaeda's African diamond operations did exist. It was not buried in sensitive intelligence documents or stored on inaccessible government computers. It was all in the public record - specifically in the archives of The Washington Post, in two years' worth of articles by Douglas Farah that formed the backbone for his stunning book Blood from Stones.
That Farah's painstakingly researched portrait of al Qaeda's (indeed, many of the world's major terror groups') secret financial network was willfully dismissed by the commission is in large part a reflection of the powerful culture of denial in the American intelligence community - a culture the commission rightly detailed as partly responsible for pre-9/11 failures.
Fortunately for policy makers and readers interested in the shadowy regions of the global financial system, Farah's book offers an critical analysis of al Qaeda's strategic motives for buying diamonds, as well as the networks the group and its affiliates used to quickly and quietly move immense sums of cash around the world.
Farah's reporting is sharp, incisive and personal, informed by an impressive array of documents and interviews with American, European and other intelligence officials, as well as Farah's own on-the-ground reporting in Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Gulf, Pakistan, Europe and Washington.
Blood from Stones reads like a classical primer on investigative journalism. From Farah's serendipitous discovery of the link between al Qaeda and West Africa (a Liberian source recognized several al Qaeda operatives in a post-9/11 issue of Newsweek that Farah had brought to a meeting) to his journeys to Sierra Leone's diamond fields, the hushed diamond buying rooms of Antwerp and Brussels, and the bustling souks and markets of Pakistan and Dubai, Blood from Stones is written with a precision verging on scientific. But perhaps more impressive than the bibliography of documents and intelligence files are Farah's interviews with current and former government officials who had, in the years leading up to 9/11, picked up on al Qaeda's effort transfer its assets out of formal finance and banking systems - but whose warnings were mishandled, misdirected or simply ignored.
These interviews illustrate the challenge American investigators faced as they sought to track a shadowy and agile enemy. In a series of candid interviews with former Treasury Department officials, Farah describes the molasses pace (and reluctance) with which the American intelligence community shifted gears from tracking criminals through the formal international finance system to the hidden-in-plain-sight but maddeningly secretive networks of traditional hawala money traders.
It is not surprising then, that Farah's first reports of an unexpected and non-traditional link between Islamic fundamentalists and West African warlords were greeted with suspicion by American intelligence. As Farah points out in his book signing appearances, "The first reaction from the CIA and others in American intelligence was: `If we don't already know about it, it can't be true.'"
Bureaucratic blinders are not uncommon in Washington's eternal inter-agency turf wars. But the CIA's steadfast reluctance to accept Farah's reporting - even after much of it was validated by European intelligence services - went beyond what might be considered the standard brush-off tactics employed by the Agency against an inconvenient journalist. Farah documents in troubling detail efforts by the CIA to discredit him and his sources, including a terrifying account of the detention and intimidation of Farah's key African source by US intelligence operators.
That the CIA allocated significant resources to destroy the credibility of the man who had guided Farah through the labyrinthine relationship between al Qaeda, the Liberian warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, and the brutal and bizarre Sierra Leonean rebel group the Revolutionary United Front, is an indication not only of the Agency's desperate desire to cover its own failures, but also of the US intelligence community's deeper disregard for Africa and its perennial crises.
To be fair, Blood from Stones gives credit to American officials who resisted the Agency's groupthink and valiantly tried to raise interest in Washington in the lawless areas of West Africa - regions where the terms "rebel group" and even "government" are often euphemisms for mafia-style criminal syndicates. In addition to the former Treasury Department officials who noted al Qaeda's move to protect its cash from international seizure Farah gives high marks to former US Ambassador to Sierra Leone Joe Melrose, and Representatives Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) and Tony Hall (D-Ohio).
The revelations Farah records in Blood from Stones may yet receive a stamp of approval from the American intelligence community. But even if public recognition doesn't come from the spooks, one hopes that bureaucratic pride hasn't prevented the CIA and other agencies from putting this book on the must-read list for every agent and analyst engaged in the global war on terror.
John Pitman, former Voice of America West Africa correspondent, 1998-2000.