Financing Terrorist Networks

Some years ago a California politician coined the now-famous phrase, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” In Funding Evil, Rachel Ehrenfeld presents a convincing case that it is also the “mother’s milk” of terrorism.

President Bush’s recent announcement that the U.S. Government would freeze the funds in this country of several charities which support Hamas underscored Ehrenfeld’s thesis that we can ultimately declare “victory” in the war on terrorism if we succeed in drying up most of its funds.

Ehrenfeld, director of the Center for the Study of Corruption and the Rule of Law, and an expert on narco-terrorism and official corruption, spells out in detail where the terrorists’ money comes from and the circuitous routes if often takes to get to the evil-doers.

The author notes that the State Department has identified 69 terrorist organizations in the world, 31 of which are Islamist. She contends that annually “the total cost of maintaining the global Islamist network is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.”

Ehrenfeld says the funding sources for this group of organizations consists of governments such as those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, charitable organizations (such as the Muslim World League and International Islamic Relief Organization), seemingly legitimate businesses operating as fronts, exploitation of financial and commodities markets (especially diamonds), and international trade for the purpose of “laundering” money.

She argues that the Soviet Union and its allies trained many of today’s terrorist group, asserting that “The collapse of the Soviet Union served as the catalyst for an alliance between radical Sunni and Shiite movements that helped revive Islamist fundamentalism.” That is a rather broad assertion, but the training of terrorists by Soviet client states is irrefutable.

Drugs play a large role in funding terrorist groups. Citing U.S. government figures, she says that FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), alone, gets $7-8 billion in annual drug revenues. Others “that benefit most from the trade in heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and hashish” include al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and the IRA (Irish Republican Army).

Freezing assets of terrorist beneficiaries has been only partially success. According to the author by April of this year only $124 million in assets had actually been frozen. She claims that some countries pay only lip service asset-freezing. Though she does not name them, she claims that in several European countries, nit-picking bureaucrats have released frozen funds because they claimed the U.S. had not provided the right information.

Funding Evil is a sort of Cook’s Tour of terrorist organizations, their supporters and the means of financing their deadly activities. In this regard, the author unearths some surprising facts. For example, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) funds the Palestinian Authority’s schools.

The European Union (EU) has, for several years, given large sums to the Palestinian Authority in the apparent hope that it would engage in legitimate building of a civic infrastructure.

What is to be done to curb the funding of terrorism? The author has a number of recommendations. Among them, she says we should treat all terror-supporting entities equally.

Does this mean that because some rich Saudis are funding terrorists we should cut off our supply of oil? Presumably not until we have an alternative source, such as Russia.

Her recommendation on reducing the heroin and cocaine trade is more practical: “Instead of spraying herbicides which have no real effect on the poppy and coca plantations, the U.S. should employ new technologies that permanently destroy” the plants.

Reading Funding Evil will make you angry and that is probably the author’s objective: She wants each of us to speak out and build a groundswell for more effective fighting of this scourge called terrorism.