HONEY TRAIL - To AQ's finances sniffed out by CIAgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread
CIA sniffs out the honey trail to al-Qa'eda's treasure chest By Ben Fenton in Washington (Filed: 12/10/2001)
THE CIA has identified a chain of shops selling top grade Yemeni honey as the bizarre fountainhead of funding and illicit supplies for Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'eda network, it was reported yesterday.
The agency has also determined that bin Laden has provided $100 million (about £69 million) in money and materiel to the Taliban in the past five years, prompting one source to say that the Saudi multimillionaire "owns and operates" the Afghan regime.
Both Yemen, where bin Laden's family comes from, and Afghanistan, where he is now believed to be in hiding, are famed in the Islamic world for the quality of their honey, a food that plays an important role in the culture of the region.
The CIA believes that through a chain of shops across the Middle East selling mostly Yemeni honey, bin Laden is not only able to raise money for al-Qa'eda but can also use the distribution network to smuggle cash, drugs and arms to his followers.
The Egyptian Islamic Jihad, run by Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's main lieutenant, was already known to have used honey-trading as a source of income and distribution.
"The smell and consistency of the honey makes it easy to hide weapons and drugs in the shipments," one government official told the New York Times. "Inspectors don't want to inspect that product. It's too messy."
Bin Laden first started to get involved in the honey business in the early 1990s when he was living in Sudan.
There are believed to be at least two honey companies in Yemen with ties to al-Qa'eda. They and other companies the CIA has linked to bin Laden are under consideration to be included on the list of companies that America is targeting for financial sanctions.
The honey companies are just part of a network of businesses, both legal and illegal, that have allowed al-Qa'eda to buy the loyalty of the Taliban, and before them the Sudanese government, without having to tap bin Laden's personal wealth.
The Washington Post said that bin Laden gave about £2 million to the Taliban shortly after he arrived in Afghanistan in 1996, allowing them to buy arms and supplies at a crucial time in the country's civil war.
Another major source of income for bin Laden is a form of tribute exacted from Middle Eastern states that he promises not to operate in, a system akin to the Danegeld paid by Anglo-Saxon kings to Viking warriors to leave them alone.
The CIA is hoping that action by the world's banks against bin Laden's sources of money will impede his ability to supply the Taliban and make it more attractive to moderate members of the movement to hand him over to America.
The newspaper reported that so far the CIA has been unable to find bin Laden, who changes his location often and lives in deep caves.
One intelligence official said: "One Afghanistan mountain looks like every other Afghanistan mountain."
It is thought that the American intelligence officials have had some success in discovering where bin Laden, who travels in a small convoy with 25 or fewer people, has been, but not where he is going.
They believe that he sometimes uses an ambulance for cover. The CIA has sent an increased number of spies, known in the agency as a "surge" to the region in the hope of obtaining better intelligence on al-Qa'eda through bribes and interrogations.
-- Anonymous, October 12, 2001