Blood From Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror is nonfiction, but it reads like a wild, fast-paced thriller and has you turning page after page in fascination and awe. This highly intriguing and utterly disturbing account of the highly secretive financial network behind al Qaeda and Hamas and other terrorist organizations is an eye-opener and will no doubt have a few Bush officials and CIA spokespeople running for cover.
Award-winning Washington Post foreign correspondent Douglas Farah, who was stationed in West Africa as bureau chief during the years of this book’s inquiry, takes us on a breathtaking and often perilous journey through the diamond fields of West Africa, where the black market trade in rough diamonds and other precious gems served to create a powerful financial base for such terrorist groups as Hezbollah and, later, al Qaeda, right under the noses of the unsuspecting and often unbelieving CIA. This diamond trade, centered in the brutal dictatorships of Sierra Leone and Liberia, funded many of the key figures in the later attacks on the World Trade Center, 9-11 and U.S. Embassies in Africa.
Farah documents with brilliant detail and stunning courage the rise to power of several major Islamic terrorist groups with financial backing so difficult to track, the author had to rely on an inside source for much of his information. This source was later sold out by the CIA, but not until he first revealed documented information about the awesome infrastructure of money, power and secrecy that fueled these terrorists, much of it with the assistance of the most brutal regimes on earth – ALL of it untraceable due to the nature of globalization and the growing ability of money-handlers to move huge amounts of cash from country to country with no more than a phone call or email.
We are taken deep inside the most horrendous conditions in West African diamond-mining villages, where the locals are nothing more than brutalized slaves, often victims of unspeakable torture from roving bands of rebels and warmongering tribes under the rule of politicians so corrupt it is almost cartoonish. We watch as diamonds are bought, sold and traded in dimly lit rooms in less-than-legal manners, many of which end up in money-drenched countries such as Dubai, with direct ties to Saudi supporters of state-sponsored terrorism. We shake our heads in frustration along with the author at first the Republican Congress and then the Bush Administration’s consistent ignorance of Clinton’s pleas for more attention towards terrorism and the financial networks that backed them. We feel our stomachs tighten in despair at the CIA’s complete inability to keep their finger on the pulse of the diamond trade and its blatant ties to terrorism. Most of all, we cringe in disgust at the CIA’s complete and total intelligence failure, often due to sheer ego, that allowed the terrorist attacks of 9-11 to occur unchecked, despite the growing pile of evidence in the years just prior of the men involved and who was funding them.
We also come to understand the powerful business alliance between two of the world’s most vicious and evil human beings, Liberian dictator Charles Taylor and Osama bin Laden, an alliance that would eventually create a network of terrorist cells with the ability to get whatever money they needed when they needed it, with no record of where it came from.
Farah, angered by the CIA’s refusal to consider his own information about the diamond trade, and disgusted by their decision to instead call him a liar and a fabricator rather than admit their own awful shortcomings in intelligence-gathering, risked his own life and continued to get himself into dangerous situations in order to prove the link he and his fellow reporters knew existed. Often, his entire family was at risk of violence and retribution. Much of it fell on deaf ears at first, but after 9-11, everything changed, according to Farah, who represents a dying breed of real journalists devoted to the truth (few exist today, thanks to a media almost fully, and shamefully, controlled by the White House and Pentagon). The CIA finally took notice of the relationship between the diamond trade and Islamic terrorist groups, and has even begun to investigate some of the other bizarre forms of financial backing this book exposes, such as stolen baby formula, charitable organizations and counterfeit designer clothes.
The book also features quotes and stories about important players in the fight to put terrorism at the top of the incoming Bush administration priority list - like Dick Clarke, whose own book is a revelation of the failures of the Bush administration and the CIA to protect America from terrorists; Clinton administration NSC chief Sandy Berger, who tried to warn incoming Condoleeza Rice of the importance of terrorism and particularly al Qaeda; and Rand Beers, top White House counter-terrorism adviser who quit his post in disgust with the Bush team’s refusal to face the terrorism threats brewing in the Middle East region. This book is both heartbreaking in its chronicle of mass inhumanity, greed, widespread slaughter, corruption and sheer ignorance, all of which has created a terrorism network with unlimited financial support. But Blood From Stones is also hopeful in its revelation of major breakthroughs in charting the movements of money from country to country, and from terrorist backers to the terrorists themselves, revelations that, if followed up on properly and aggressively, could finally lead to the dismantling of the terrorism money machine.
Had our government and intelligence officials payed attention to these discoveries years ago, when Farah and his fellow journalists and a few key intelligence players were desperately trying to bring attention to them, we may have avoided 9-11 and other recent terrorist attacks both on and off of American soil. Unfortunately, our “war on terrorism” got started way too late, with way too few resources behind it. Even now, Farah states, many top administration figures and members of Congress lament over the lack of proper funding and attention to intelligence gathering and financial tracking, and many are also angered by the Bush administration’s refusal to look more closely at the apparent source of much terrorist funding – Saudi Arabia.
This book is not only a page-turner; it’s a wake-up call to all of us. Either we start tracing the money to its source, and make the source pay, or we face another 9-11 soon.