Following the money trail: drug money and terror
- Following the money trail:
Drug Money and Terror
by Laura Mansfield
I've heard the question asked repeatedly. How is Al Qaeda, which is supposedly relegated to living in caves in stone-age conditions able to create state of the art video documentaries that rival those produced by TV networks and news channels?
In other words, where is the money coming from?
In the past much of the seed money used to finance Bin Laden's operations came from his personal fortune. But with all of the money controls slammed into place six years ago after the 9/11 attacks, that money has been for all intents and purposes untouchable.
Yet this year Al Qaeda's video production is at an all time high, not just in terms of the quality of the videos they are releasing, but in terms of sheer numbers. Until the last few weeks, Al Qaeda has been releasing a video every 2-3 days on average this year.
Some of the videos are sophisticated, utilizing Chroma-Key technology which allows them to merge the video with a background imaging and give the viewer the illusion of a fancy background, when in fact they are simply shooting in front of a "green screen". In many of these videos, especially of Al Qaeda leaders, you end up with the perception that they are being filmed in a state-of-the-art television studio, when in fact they are probably being shot in a bare room with a high quality camera and a good set of lights.
We've seen crystal clear footage clearly taken using image stabilizing video cameras of field operations (terrorist attacks for those less inclined to be politically correct).
We've seen video footage of graduation ceremonies, taken by "contract" cameramen from Pakistan.
Clearly there remains a free flow of cash to fund the video operation at the very least. Few doubt that funds are also readily accessible for Al Qaeda to use on terrorist operations as well.
So where's the money coming from to fund Al Qaeda's multinational terror conglomerate?
A major portion of the funding is coming from Afghanistan's most famous cash crop, the opium poppy, and it's byproducts, which supply drug traffickers and users worldwide.
A UN report shows an 18% increase in poppy production throughout Afghanistan. And in areas controlled by the Taliban, specifically the Helmand province, poppy production is up 45% in the last year alone.
There is a direct correlation between the increase in poppy production, and its resulting income, and the reconstitution of Al Qaeda since 2001.
Let's use the video production of Al Qaeda as an indicator of its growing strength. When mapped against poppy cultivation for each year since 2001, we see a direct correlation between poppy cultivation and video output. (Note: 2007 video output is to-date.)
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 Hectares planted 4,210 74,000 80,000 131,000 104,000 165,000 193,000 Al Qaeda videos 6 11 13 16 58 67*
. to date
Poppy production did drop in 2005, but still exceeded pre-2001 records.
It is clear that a great deal of the funding for Al Qaeda is coming from the sale of narcotics produced from the poppy crop. In fact, a look at pre-2001 production levels strongly suggests that Bin Laden's growing network may have been heavily funded by narcotics even before the September 11 attacks.
In fact, it is clear from looking at the graphs provided by the United Nations Office on Drug Control and Crime, the lion's share of the world's supply of heroin comes from Afghanistan.
With poppy production, and subsequent opium and heroin production at an all-time high for Afghanistan, it is clear that Al Qaeda cannot be controlled or defeated as long as it is able to draw upon the funding from the poppy harvest and narcotics sales.
As a matter of fact, the only good news here comes from basic laws of supply and demand. Some speculate that the production increases have led to a glut of poppies, and market is becoming flooded with high quality Afghan opium. According to an official with the United States Agency for International Development, this is forcing prices down on the market. Since labor costs are up, the profit margin is shrinking.
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