has the pleasure to have Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, the author of the new book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It,
as its guest today. Dr. Ehrenfeld is the director of the New York–based American Center for Democracy, and the Center for the Study of Corruption & the Rule of Law. She is the foremost authority on Narco-Terrorism, having coined the phrase and been the first to write about the phenomenon in her book "Narco Terrorism" (Basic Books, 1990). She is also the author of "Evil Money" (Harper Business, 1992).
Dr. Ehrenfeld is represented by www.benadorassociates.com.
Frontpage Magazine: Dr, Ehrenfeld, welcome to Frontpage Interview. In Funding Evil, you reveal how a significant amount of terror against the U.S. is actually funded by laundered U.S. dollars. Tell our readers a bit about that and what we can do to stop this madness.
Ehrenfeld: Since the major currency for business in the world is still the U.S. dollar, it is also the currency of choice for criminals and terrorists alike. The dollars terrorists use, like dollars used in business, are cleared through the U.S. banking system. Most often it is not done directly, but rather by international banks anywhere in the world that have dollar accounts. Needless to say, to track the money back to the terrorists is mostly an impossible endeavor. However, the more information we are able to obtain about terrorists, their supporters, and the various businesses that they employ to launder the money, the easier it will be to stop the money flow.
FP: You are now working on a new project, putting together an independent group of international experts on terrorist funding. Tell us a bit about it.
Ehrenfeld: International terrorist organizations and transnational organized crime groups have developed an alternative new economy, estimated at $2 trillion per year. Such huge amounts of money are more than enough to recruit, train and launch terror operations at will.
The goal of Islamist organizations and totalitarian states hostile to the U.S., as stated by bin Laden after 9/11, is not only to kill "infidels" but also to destroy the US economy.
The scope of international terrorism and its impact on the U.S. economy does not seem well understood even after 9/11. According to the General Accounting Office report on December 12, 2003, U.S. government agencies are failing to track down the many ways terrorists use to finance their activities.
It is clear that the establishment of a Program to Combat Terror Financing is urgently needed to further U.S. national security. To this end, the American Center for Democracy put together an independent group of international experts on money laundering and terrorist financing. However, our efforts to call attention to the need to establish such an independent, non-governmental investigative group has gotten very positive feedback and encouragement. But we have yet to obtain the necessary funding.
FP: Why do you think the U.S. government is doing so poorly in stopping the funds for terrorism?
Ehrenfeld: There are many reasons why the government is doing so poorly, as the General Accounting Office’s (GAO) report late last year pointed out. But first and foremost, I think that the inability to gather Intelligence about individuals, businesses and organizations, is the most serious obstacle to succeed in this effort. Then, of course, we have very little cooperation from other countries, even those considered our allies.
FP: So what must be done to improve intelligence gathering? And why are other countries, including some considered our allies, so uncooperative? Is it, in part, because they pioritize anti-Americanism over fighting real enemies?
Ehrenfeld: That is part of the problem. Both the European Union and Osama Bin Laden are interested in devastating the U.S. economy. Therefore, helping the U.S. to identify the elements that work to undermine it, is against their interests.
FP: Well, then, although a lot of people don’t want to admit it, we have to recognize that the Cold War is over at that, while some European nations were allies against communism, those same nations are no longer our friends. We must recognize that they might very well be our enemies in many contexts. And if they are in the way to us fighting the bin Ladens of this world, then we must punish them for that. Correct? What do you say about this?
Ehrenfeld: There is no need to take matters out of context. We cannot live and prosper in a world where we fight everybody. We are the only superpower and we should do everything in order to stay in that position. To do that, we must utilize our political and economic power in the best possible way. However, this does not mean that we should ignore our best interests or make empty threats. To continue to be a superpower despite the world’s efforts to undermine us, we need a very wise leadership, and also much better PR.
FP: Let’s switch over to the Middle East for a moment. Why does the Bush administration continue to treat Arafat and the Palestinians, as well as Assad and Syria, with kid gloves?
Ehrenfeld: That is because despite the President’s vows to fight terrorism (and very few can dispute that Arafat, the various Palestinian groups and Syria’s Assad are not terrorists) the Arabists at the State Department, and the many current, highly paid, lobbyists who served as Ambassadors in Arab countries, are setting the policies. It is truly mind boggling how the State Department is pushing more of our tax money to aid the Palestinians – who by the way now condition the acceptance of the money on the U.S. putting more pressure on Israel – and have only issued warnings to Syria, which have made no difference whatsoever in their terrorist activities.
FP: It seems that the State Department is almost always more concerned with hurting American interests than actually helping them. What is the State Department’s problem? And why would there even be aid to the Palestinians if suicide bombings have not been terminated and the terrorist infrastructure within the Palestinian Authority has not been annihilated?
Ehrenfeld: It seems that the State Department’s agenda is different than that of the President. Although had the President really opposed it, it would have changed. Giving money to terrorists who are committed to the continuation of homicide bombing and threats against not only Israel, but also the U.S., which they claim control Israel, doesn’t make much sense to most people. Not to mention that supporting the Palestinian terrorists and Yasser Arafat stands directly opposite many of the President’s statements in this regard.
Earlier this week, most Palestinian NGO’s declared that they will not accept USAID grants because they are not willing to sign a declaration stating that they are committed to fight terrorism.
The left-leaning EU and the European media’s support of the Palestinians, which also stems, as I understand it, from deep seated anti-Semitism, has and continues to help Arafat and his terror leadership to blame the victim of their terrorism – Israel for the problems in the region. Despite their ongoing terrorism and rejection of any peace overtures by Israel, the Palestinians continue to receive large donations from the Europeans.
FP: The U.S. government pays lip service to eliminating heroin and cocaine where they grow, but it doesn’t really go all out to do it. Why?
Ehrenfeld: That is a very good question, which I’d like to answer with an analogy my friend Walton Cook uses: If there were a scourge of disease, for example, an outbreak that was killing tens of thousands worldwide, we would have every resource geared up to combat it. The Centers for Disease Control would be working 24/7, as would every scientist knowledgeable enough to help.
Let's add to this scenario, that a breakthrough occurs, and the culprits are positively identified as plants, that when eaten by rats, causes them the rats to become ill and spread disease. Since we can't find where all the rats are, we do what we can, and eliminate the plants, because we know where they are. Almost as if by magic, the disease is dramatically reduced. In fact, the base cause is removed.
I wanted to create an analogy regarding the supply reduction outcome I propose for mycoherbicides. We know what causes the scourge we are fighting. (Some have even labelled narcotics use as a disease, but I'll leave that for another day, another argument.) We know where the narcotics producing plants grow. We also have a way to eliminate the noxious plants economically. We can get rid of the source of the biggest part of the trouble without treating any infected individuals, merely by getting rid of the plant sources. That is supply reduction. Getting rid of the part of the trouble caused by the rats (other mind-altering narcotics not so easily found and eliminated) will take longer. We must get rid of the rats that spread disease and also convince the populace to stay away from rats. That is demand reduction.
The question is, why would we not use every tool at our command to combat a scourge? That is what we are asking from the center for disease control. (In the illegal drugs case, the US government).
FP: So why do you think we are not using every tool at our command to combat a scourge? What prevents the U.S. government from getting rid of the source of the biggest part of the trouble? What is your theory?
Ehrenfeld: That is truly unclear to me. However, I think that the fear that the international pro-drug legalization movement, which is mostly funded by George Soros, will start yet another campaign against the U.S., blaming it for launching “biological warfare,” may be a concern. But basically I think that the issue did not get the serious attention it deserves from the government.
FP: Tomorrow you are called to the White House. You meet with President Bush and he tells you he wants you to become his main advisor on how to fight Narco-terror, as well as on how to slow down the financing of terror in general. He asks you for some clear-cut preliminary steps that he should start taking right away. What do you tell him?
Ehrenfeld: I’ll tell him to follow up on his own very good and important statements regarding what we need to do in order to win this war. As he said many times, this is not easy and it will take a long time. But if we continue to make false distinctions between Palestinian terrorists and al Qaeda, for example, or between Syria and Hizballah, or neglect to use all our know-how to eradicate opium and coca at the source - thus cutting off this major source of funding – it will be that much harder and it will take much longer.
FP: Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, thank you for your time. We encourage you in all of your vital and important work. And we are very grateful for the crucial role you are playing in fighting terrorism. Take care for now.
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John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr