November 12, 2004
The number of failed and failing states is growing, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Long viewed as being of little strategic import to the United States, these regions in fact pose a tier-one threat to our security. Many of these states are states in name only, and are, in fact, functioning criminal enterprises. As such, these states and regions are vital for the survival and expansion of non-state armed groups, including terrorists and transnational criminal syndicates. Liberia under Charles Taylor is a case study of this, affording terrorists and criminals a safe-haven, training facilities and access to financial gain. While in office, he opened his doors to Russian organized crime, Ukrainian arms traffickers, al Qaeda financial operatives and South African mercenaries. The al Qaeda connection enabled that organization to move many of its financial assets into diamonds and out of traceable financial institutions, preserving the financial architecture even as bin Laden suffered a military defeat. The weapons traffickers not only armed murderous regimes in Africa, but also supplied the narco-guerrillas of Colombia and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yet, despite the growing threat of these regions and groups, there is little understanding in the intelligence community of this phenomenon and few resources spent on combating it.
Douglas Farah is a consultant and analyst on terror finance and armed groups. He holds degrees in journalism and Latin American Studies from the University of Kansas. He has spent 20 years as a foreign correspondent and investigative reporter for the Washington Post and other national publications. He covered the conflicts in Central America; drug trafficking and organized crime in the Andean region; the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Caribbean; the U.S. occupation of Haiti; the changing nature of the Cuban revolution, visiting the island more than a dozen times; West Africa, including the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone and the ties of the "blood diamond" trade to al Qaeda; and terror finance. He has won numerous awards for his work, and is the author of Blood From Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror, (Broadway Books, New York, 2004). Mr. Farah has testified before Congress, been a guest on many national TV and radio programs, and written articles for: The Washington Post Magazine; Mother Jones; American Journalism Review; The Journal of International Security Affairs; The Financial Times; Royal United Services Institute (RUSI); and the U.S. Air Force Institute for National Security Studies.