Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School – or the Economics of Terrorism. Loretta Napoleoni in interview.

There’s a terrible paradox, that while the terror economy is actually growing, fostered by instability in so many areas in the world, these so called state shells, at the same time the operational costs for Al-Qaeda are reducing. Like a lean capitalist corporation. it’s benefiting from the brand name, outsourcing to cheap locations, and becoming a sponsor rather than a producer. It’s an important reality to grasp, as Napoleoni stresses:“There isn’t a true map of where the money comes from and goes in this illegal economy. The majority of this money isn’t terror money, it’s criminal money. Terror money is only one third of this illegal economy, and today Al-Qaeda needs only one third of what it once needed, because, first of all, it doesn’t have to pay the $20million that it used to pay to the Taliban Government. It has reconverted itself so it doesn’t need to run its training camps because now they run virtual training camps, where this publication appears for a couple of hours on the net and is downloaded by its followers and then disappears, a ‘self help’ of the future Mujahadeen. On top of that, Al-Qaeda doesn’t even need to do the attacks, or finance these attacks any more. We have these different groups that are either trying to emulate Al-Qaeda, or were activated by the success of 9/11. These are often self-funded groups: the March 11th attacks in Madrid for example were completely self-funded. The last attack that Al-Qaeda planned, funded, and executed itself was 9/11″.

Another unwelcome, but vital, point for the West to realise is that, while we talk about huge amounts of money and financial infrastructures, in reality, the operations carried out by organisations like Al-Qaeda, or Hamas, while devastatingly effective, are also low budget operations. While no-one can rule out the possibility of terrorist organisations seeking, and having the money to pay for, biological, chemical or even nuclear weapons, the obvious truth is different. From an economic and propaganda point of view, the tactic of suicide bombing has worked chillingly well. One of Napoleoni’s innovative approaches to analysing terrorist organisations has been to examine their balance of payments, i.e. she has analysed the various possible incomings, through sources as varied as charitable institutions, legal businesses, kidnappings, drugs, and foreign exchange trading, through to the outgoings, which include the costs for their operations. In a stark section entitled “A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Suicide Bombers”, we’re shown that 9/11 cost as little as $500,000, while its impact in financial terms will be in excess of $135 billion dollars. One of the strengths of the book is that it doesn’t shy away from presenting these unpalatable figures. Re-assuring moments are few and far between, and one can see, in part, the hesitation of publishers to handle such material.

Saudi Arabia and the Clash of Civilizations

As we write it looks as if the tone of the Presidential campaign in the United States is set to change, from a discussion of who’s the most qualified chief of staff, to the economy, but not in the sense that Napoleoni desperately urges, but rather an examination of the domestic US economy, with no reference to terrorism. She’s not hopeful that even with a change in the White House that there’ll be a significant change in policy in regards to the ‘war’ or indeed to clamping down on funding arising from nations like Saudi Arabia. “John Kerry probably doesn’t have a direct business relationship with them [the Saudis], but neither did Bill Clinton and yet Bill Clinton pursued a policy of protection in relation to this. Let’s not forget that 9/11 was prepared, and plotted during the Clinton administration. It was executed during the Bush administration, and, as I’ve pointed out in the book, the Clinton administration put a lot of blocks on investigations, for example into WAMY[World Assembly of Muslim Youth], that still exists in the United States, which clearly had links and was funding Islamic insurgency in different parts of the world, and then the Bush administration simply ended the investigations. There isn’t such a big difference. I think John Kerry will do exactly the same thing, because there are no alternatives. I think though that there are alternatives. I think what they should have done, and the longer we wait the less feasible this becomes, is to actually talk or begin a dialogue with those real economic forces that are backing Bin Laden. Let’s talk to those merchants, those bankers, let’s talk to the people who are actually funding this, and try to negotiate new agreements, whereby we still receive the benefits of their resources. The longer we leave this, the more difficult this approach will be. Eventually though it will be impossible because there’ll be so much anti-American sentiment”.

Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 has put the Saudi question on the table – to what extent have politicians in the West, particularly in America, turned a blind eye to the funding of Islamic insurgency, due to business relations with the oil rich kingdom? It’s a theme that Napoleoni, who has yet to see the film, has approached both in her book and in a number of published articles. “Saudi Arabia is really the core of the issue. Until September 11th, Saudi Arabia was definitely the place where most of the funding came from, and the supporters of Al-Qaeda, were primarily in Saudi Arabia. We’re talking about bankers, businessmen, and merchants. If you read Bin Laden’s writings in the 1990s he often refers to the merchants, and to how the merchants are suffering because of the Saudi Royal family and the US. After 9/11 this phenomena has spread and they’re raising money all over the world. This is where the United States has a responsibility, because it hasn’t predicted the evolution of this organisation. Had they actually tackled Saudi Arabia financiers in the 1980s, and they knew who these people were, we wouldn’t be where we are today”.

And while Fahrenheit 9/11 has highlighted the personal connections that may well colour George W. Bush’s reactions to Saudi Arabia, Napoleoni is far from convinced that John Kerry, with his lack of direct connections, will be prepared to undertake investigation where needed. His record certainly doesn’t suggest it: “All I know about Kerry for example is that he was the President of the Commission investigating the BCCI [Editor’s note:: Bank of Credit and Commerce International – bank with reputed links to terrorism and drug cartels], in fact the report was called the Kerry Report, and he stopped the investigation when it reached a certain level. BCCI was the biggest scandal in the western world, and the eastern world. So, why did he stop the investigation? I don’t know, but I think it’s interesting”.

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