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

Blood from Stones

Visit Douglas Farah's
author page at

Press Releases Review

Breakdown in Understanding Financing of Terrorists , June 12, 2004

Disturbing is an understatement when I try to come to grips with the American intelligence community's failure to understand the complex financial workings of al Qaeda pre and post 9/11.

Award-wining investigative reporter for the Washington Post as well as other publications, Douglas Farah delivers an outstanding exposé in his book Blood From Stones of just how extensive this financial network spreads itself throughout the world, something akin to an octopus with its multitude tentacles.

In 2000 Farah was named as the Post's West African chief. It is little wonder that he had to flee for his life from the Ivory Coast, where he had been stationed, if the information he uncovered and revealed in Blood For Stones is any indication of his findings.

Prior to 9/11, tracking down the financial networks of terrorist groups was given very low priority within the western intelligence agencies. In fact, when it finally began to show up on their radar screens indicating how vital financing was to the lifeblood of these groups, many in the intelligence community were caught in a state of disarray. It also depicted just how uncreative these intelligence agencies were when its members failed to understand the mentality and culture of these various groups.

Farah's findings divide itself into nine chapters, each of which deals with different aspects of the intricate architecture of the financing of terrorists organizations. Using historical narrative peppered with hard investigative facts, the author effectively succeeds in divulging just how far and deep the system has extended.

Beginning with the terrorists' forays into the diamond fields of Liberia and Sierra Leone, and how money is exchanged for diamonds in order to escape the conventional banking system, readers are subsequently apprised of other avenues of creative terrorist financing.

We learn how charitable organizations, individuals, and businesses funnel millions of dollars to the coffers of al Qaeda as well as other terrorist organizations as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, who incidentally, contrary to some wide held belief, do in fact collaborate with one another. How small-time scams and petty crimes committed by terrorist sympathizers in the United States help their cause. These crimes include skimming the profits from drug sales, stealing and reselling baby formula, illegally redeeming large quantities of grocery coupons, stealing credit card numbers, and many more.

Farah also explains to the reader that one of the vital ingredients of the system of financing of terrorists is the 'hawala." One built on trust, family relationships and regional affiliations - a concept foreign and little known to the intelligence community. According to the author, "hawala" means to change or transform, and also carries a connotation of trust. The money that flows through it often actually does not move at all.

The author's superb investigative skills do not shy away from the difficult realities exposing the incompetence of the American intelligence services, although he does attribute part of the blame for the extensive cutbacks that had occurred after the end of the cold war. No doubt, had the intelligence services followed up on the many leads presented to it from various sources including the author, a different picture and understanding of al Qaeda and its collaborators would have emerged. In part, it may be that pre 9/11's principal focus was on stamping out illegal drugs, rather than bothering about the smuggling activities in West African countries or the petty crimes in the USA. There was also a general philosophy within the intelligence services that "thinking out of the box" or creativity on the part of their personnel was unacceptable. In fact, there was a kind of self-denial that such an intricate financial system would be possible.

Farah gets top marks for his crisp and intelligent writing avoiding quick generalizations, and many of his findings are corroborated with concrete evidence found in the "notes" section at the end of the book. Definitely, this is a must read for anyone wishing to know more about the intricate workings of these terrorist groups.

Norm Goldman Editor of