"it's another huge intel screw-up."...Surely
U.S. probes shady W. African diamond trade
April 29, 2004
By Shaun Waterman
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
U.S. counterterrorism agents have visited war-torn Liberia to investigate accusations of terrorist involvement in the West African diamond trade, the FBI reports.
Paul Cariker of the FBI told a Howard University symposium this month that the small team of financial specialists from the FBI's counterterrorism division left late last year to investigate the shadowy trade in so-called conflict diamonds.
The outcome of that probe has not been made public.
"The investigation is continuing," another counterterrorism official told UPI. "To my knowledge, there's no smoking gun yet, no proof one way or the other."
Karl Wycoff of the State Department told a congressional panel recently that he was not aware of any evidence to support contentions that there was an al Qaeda presence in West Africa.
The counterterrorism official cautioned that the story will be difficult to confirm. "The whole reason these guys might want to use diamonds is because it is hard to follow the trail. This stuff is fungible. There's lot of shady characters involved."
But in November, a report by congressional investigators said the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies weren't even trying to gauge the size of the problem, if any.
"U.S. law enforcement agencies, and specifically the FBI which leads terrorist financing investigations, do not systematically collect and analyze data on alternative financing mechanisms," such as cigarette smuggling, counterfeiting and illegal drugs, said a report of the General Accounting Office.
Last month, the investigators told a congressional committee that it was still not clear whether the government has a strategy for addressing the issue, or what it might be.
Accusations that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups were using diamonds to help finance their activities and move money below the radar of law-enforcement agencies on the lookout for suspect banking transactions first surfaced shortly after the September 11 attacks.
Neglecting the prospect of terrorist involvement in the diamond trade is just one way in which the United States is ignoring Africa, which some fear could become the next theater in the global war on terrorism, said Vance Serchuk, a researcher who tracks U.S. foreign policy at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
"It's one of the parts of the world where the United States is uncomfortable," Mr. Serchuk said, "the kind of place Foreign Service officials get posted before they get the job they really want.
"We just don't have the resources we need on the ground there," he said.
Mr. Serchuk said one reason that officials seem reluctant to give credence to the diamond story could be that "it's another huge intel screw-up."http://www.washtimes.com/world/20040428-092451-6824r.htm