- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

When I read about the arrests in Canada of Islamist terrorists and their travels from continent to continent, from coast to coast, from one capital city to another I ask myself: Where do these killers get the money to finance their travels, their living expenses, their payoffs? Tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars must be involved. Who is the paymaster and where is he located? What is the source of the paymaster’s funds? Do Osama bin Laden aides have numbered Swiss bank accounts? Money makes the terrorist world go round. No money, no weapons, no fertilizer explosives, no terrorism.

When the Nixon scandals were brewing in the 1970s, the driving investigative slogan was: “Follow the money.” Are we following or can we even follow the money?

Terrorism is a form of warfare without rules. But it still takes money. Terrorism cannot function without money, available on demand. Safe houses need money. Air travel needs money. Car rentals, restaurant and hotel bills, recruiting and training — all this takes money and preferably cash. The 17 Islamist men arrested last week in Canada were buying tons of chemical fertilizer for bomb manufacture. Purchases of this magnitude need cash on the barrel head. Or are terrorists buying on credit cards?

Recently, Lord Robertson, former head of NATO, described how easy it was to have $500,000 wired from a bank in, say, Dubai, for anonymous use in ATMs, automatic teller machines, in Florida and Maine and how difficult it has been, even with the backing of U.N. resolutions and 150 nations, to find out who raised or sent those dollars. At some point, finance ministers in the democracies must prepare some way to check on large deposits and withdrawals especially in U.S. $100 bills, the currency and denomination of choice for terrorists as well as other criminals operating internationally.

Terrorism cannot function without money any more than the state the terrorists are trying to destroy can function without a treasury. The state can prosecute a war by levying taxes and seeking other sources of revenue. The terrorist, as a nonstate actor, is powerless unless he has access to money.

But he doesn’t need very much money any more than he needs a howitzer or a fighter jet to wreak death and destruction on the innocent. The Oklahoma terror bombing April 19, 1995, killed more than 160 people and didn’t take a big investment. Anyway Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist who blew up the Oklahoma building financed his adventure by robbing a few banks. Money is the ultimate key to terrorism.

It is a truth almost universally acknowledged, according to Niall Ferguson. Nervos belli, pecuniam infinitam: “The sinews of war [are] unlimited money,” declared Cicero in his Fifth Philippic, a view echoed by Rabelais in “Gargantua”: “The strength of a war waged without monetary reserves is as fleeting as a breath.” “What Your Majesty needs,” Marshal Tribulzio told Louis XII before his invasion of Italy in 1499, “is money, more money, money all the time.” The early 16th-century writer Robert de Balsac agreed: “Most important of all, success in war depends on having enough money to provide whatever the enterprise needs.” “Your Majesty is the greatest prince in Christendom,” the Emperor Charles V was told by his sister Mary, “but you cannot undertake a war in the name of all Christendom until you have the means to carry it through to certain victory.” Writing a century later, Cardinal Richelieu echoed her words: “Gold and money are among the chief and most necessary sources of the state’s power … a poor prince would not be able to undertake glorious action.”

Is it possible to build an impenetrable dike to keep money out of the hands of terrorists and thus leave them unable to purchase nuclear devices from rogue states like Iran and North Korea? Here President Bush must take the lead and convene a world conference of nuclear powers to ensure global safety against the suicidal destroyers.

There is no time to lose.

Arnold Beichman is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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