Counter-Terrorism: March 28, 2005



The war on terror has made smuggling a major target of counter-terrorism efforts. Smuggling is an ancient enterprise, and exists because countries impose taxes on what is imported. Smugglers also move illegal merchandise. Heroin and cocaine, for example, as well as weapons and explosives. Smugglers have also been caught moving terrorists themselves. Anti-smuggling efforts have usually been left to police organizations, often outfits associated with cracking down on other forms of tax evasion. But with the terrorism angle, the military and intelligence agencies are getting involved. This has scared away a lot of the independent, small time, smugglers, and made the state sponsored ones the targets of more attention. As an example, take Al-Fahel Shipping. This is a Syrian company ( with a reputation for shady dealing. That made it worth keeping an eye on. They were formed in the 1970s and do a lot of ship chartering and broker ships sales, often buying from dubious owners and then reselling to other dubious operators. They own or operate nearly 40 ships (about 18 owned, and about 20 chartered), all dry cargo types and none larger than 10,000 tons (GRT). Since they carry a lot of spices and such, this fleet of unusually small vessels is not in itself suspicious, as there's a lot of trade out of small ports in the Mediterranean, Africa, and the Indian Ocean. Most Al Fahel ships have been arrested or detained for various types of violations regularly, usually pollution or crewmen jumping ship. The are tied into a web of charters and cross-charters to several other companies, some of which are pretty dubious, often just an address and a website that may not work. With government officials as partners, these shippers can go for years without ever getting caught. Technically, they should never get caught, because they can always claim that a ship of theirs that is caught was operating on its own. Thats often the case in the smuggling business, with rogue captains and crews freelancing. But when government officials are involved, you can be sure that freelancing is strongly discouraged. Syrian involvement in seaborne smuggling is one of the reasons it got tagged as part of the Axis of Evil. Get Syria out of the terrorism business, and you might get them out of the smuggling business as well. But for the moment, you have a growing list of the usual suspects.


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