PW: How easy is it for terror networks to use commodities, like the African diamonds you write about in Blood from Stones, and convert them to cash?
Douglas Farah: There is a more formal legal structure in place now, but in reality the market is still incredibly porous. It is very easy to take diamonds to Antwerp and sell them, or to have your gold transferred around the world in untraceable ways. I can do it with no training, so imagine what someone who actually knows what they're doing can do.
PW: Are we doing a better job in disrupting the financial networks that fund terror?
DF: I think we're doing a better job than we were prior to 9/11. But there is still a staggering ignorance over the amount of money that can be moved and the ways it can be moved. As I've outlined in my book, the cultural differences are huge, and the intelligence community is still resistant to looking at other cultures in ways that would allow them to understand things better. There is also still resistance to receiving information that isn't developed within the intelligence community itself, such as with the diamond story. We do have pockets of people who are better informed and willing to act, but the overall level of ignorance is still pretty deep.
PW: Since the war in Iraq , the CIA has been under a lot of scrutiny. Is the agency succeeding in keeping us safe?
DF: I think what you see now is probably the deepest questioning of the CIA's functions and abilities since the end of the Cold War. There is a lot of talk about reform. But change seems to be very slow to come to this institution. The more they are under pressure, the more they feel the need to dig in and defend themselves. There are not a lot of self-critical abilities.
PW: You had some interesting interactions with the CIA. How was that experience for you?
DF: There was an interest, in small groups in the intelligence community, to discredit me in personal ways, which they weren't able to do. It was a little unnerving that I found them not only talking about the story, but that it became a very personal thing with them against me. I found that unnerving both as a journalist and as a citizen.
PW: Reading the book, I was startled by what goes on in rogue nations in Africa. Should we be paying more attention to the Charles Taylors of the world?
DF: In retrospect, one of the huge holes in both our policy and intelligence strategies after the Cold War is toward places like Liberia. As I've argued, nations like Liberia are a perfect model that terrorists will continue to seek out. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, two-thirds of the country is out of government control. We, the United States, have no idea what goes on there. Yet they have uranium, diamonds, gold, all kinds of things that can be exploited for pure greed or for more nefarious ends. So, yes, I think those types of countries, especially those located in Africa, because that's where most of the world's failed states seem to be, are incredibly important to our national security. It is one of the great unacknowledged areas we need to deal with, both with policy and intelligence.