Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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State Actors in Criminal/Terrorist Pipelines
Stateless regions and/or failed states have become a hot, if often-shoddily- investigated topic in the counter-terrorism world. In my conception of the criminal/terrorist pipelines, there are important holes in general literature.

One of the primary ones is the limited ability to disaggregate truly failed or stateless regions from states that are not failed, but rather function as criminal enterprises. These states, in some ways, are more valuable to terrorist and criminal organizations than true, stateless regions.

The reason is demonstrated by the benefits that accrue to these groups from state actors, such as the ability to acquire legal passports.

Victor Bout and many others used states to secure End User Certificates to purchase weapons, obtain diplomatic passports, aircraft registries and countless other benefits that only a state can confer, despite the overall weakening of the nation-state structure.

This is one of my main concerns in the emerging Latin American alliances between the FARC in Colombia and Chavez, Chavez and Iran, and Iran and Venezuela with Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

One of the most impressive memories I have of my decade covering Central America is the tremendous explosion in Nicaragua in mid-1993, that blew up a secret underground bunker the Sandinistas had built to store weapons and false identifications. (I find references to my front page story in the Washington Post on July 14, 1993, but cannot a direct link to the complete story).

The bunker was huge, and filled with blank personal identification cards, cameras to take pictures, real and original blank passports, birth certificate forms-in short, a one-stop shop for those the Sandinista regime wanted to hide.

As I wrote at the time, a diplomat familiar with the case said that "The vault 'looked like a one-stop shopping center for terrorist activities, where you could get guns and documents. You would have to be extraordinarily naive to think this was not under the aegis of some part of the intelligence operation of the Sandinistas.'"

It turned out, of course, that the Sandinstas had given passports to Basque ETA terrorists, Italy's Red Brigade members and others. Daniel Ortega was in charge of the clandestine structure then, and it is hard to believe he would not be involved now if it suited his interests.

The Bosnia case, linked above, is another example. In the end, cyperspace has made life easier for terrorists and criminals, but they still do need to travel to different parts of the world, not just the stateless regions. To do that, they need to have clean documents.

States, like Venezuela has done with FARC leaders, and the Sandinistas, can provide those documents that are impossible to detect because they are not false. They are the real deal, and that is invaluable.

So, while stateless areas are important, the actors in those regions need to be able to safely interact with state actors as well. Cutting that nexus is key.
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