A Random Email From Afghanistan
This is the true story of how terrorism is directly connected to scamming, and how it is used to derive a large portion of its revenue from scams.
This story begins before the attacks on September 11, 2001.
In early 2001, approximately in May, an email was received by one of our SCARS Directors from someone in Afghanistan, named Princess Kalifat Saikal.
That email is below.
Because this was different than the typical Nigerian Prince emails, he responded and began a dialog that lasted for several months.
Over the course of the next few months, there were many emails back and forth, and even phone calls from Afghanistan (confirmed to be from Afghanistan) and even calls he placed to the Kabul phone number he was given. Remember that this is before 9/11.
There was a strong sympathy play that was centered around the Princess and her daughters. Remember that it was in this period of time that the Taliban ruled the country, and would regularly execute young girls for doing things like reading books. When speaking to the Afghan Princess on the phone, there was “genuine” fear in her voice on this topic.
Her story was that she wanted to escape to America and needed help to find out how to do this. All the pieces fit to make a realistic picture. Wealthy foreigners can migrate to most countries if they have the cash to make an investment and pay the legal fees for the residency. She said she did or would have the money to do this, by selling precious stones mined in Afghanistan and shipping them to Europe to sell.
The Nature of the Scam was Two-fold
The Afghanis were interested in (supposedly) getting a business/investor residency in the United States, and to fund it, they were going to ship a crate of Lapis Lazuli – a real mineral mined in Afghanistan – to the Netherlands for sale.
By July, the shipment was supposedly on its way to Holland.
It arrived and our director was notified that he would have to pay a couple of thousands of dollars to remove the crate from Dutch Customs.
He spoke with the Afghanis in Rotterdam, Holland, and asked for copies of the shipping documents, but they did not provide them. He had extensive business relationships in the Netherlands and believed he could lower the fees.
During August 2001, our Director waited and had several terse calls and emails with the people in Holland who were supposed to get the stones, once the customs fees were paid, to a buyer to convert them into cash. Once the stones were sold the money would be deposited into an account in the United States. This all had the ring of truth and was all really possible. Except …
Over and over the Netherlands contacts were asked to provide the documents but did not. Emails sent from the Afghanis and even the woman called begging for the money so they could get the shipment out of customs. But our Director refused until he could try to reduce the fees. This was not so much that he smelled a rat, but something was clearly not right.
In the end, he refused until he was given the customs documents. This went back and forth until the end of August 2001. Then the communications ended. His last response was do not contact him again until you have the customs papers.
Like most of us, he saw the attack on September 11, 2001, on the news, and like much of the world was also in shock over the events that morning.
A couple of days later, the news started to come out that the terrorists were connected to Afghanistan. Needless to say, he panicked with the realization that he had spent months talking with Afghanistan was of concern. He did not want men in black showing up at his door at 3 am to arrest him on suspicion of terrorist or connection to terrorists, even though at that time he did not know they were. He immediately contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and reported the situation.
The next day, he met with an FBI Special Agent and provided copies of all of the documents, emails, everything he had. Unfortunately, there was no follow up from the FBI.
By the beginning of November (two months after 9/11) he still had not heard anything from the FBI, and since this had a significant nexus in Holland, he contacted a business associate in the Netherlands for contact information with their national police (then called the “BVD”).
He called them the next day and explained the history in detail and gave all of the information about the Rotterdam group he had been talking to. He sent copies of the emails to the agency as well.
Once again, he heard nothing back. He called them (in Holland) in mid-December, and their reply was “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” He let the matter rest at that point and continued on with his own business.
The Story Concludes
At the beginning of February, he receives a call out of the blue on his cell phone while in his car. This made it impossible to take notes.
The caller identified himself as being with a different Netherlands government agency (the caller said it was their equivalent to the CIA). He made it clear that he was not calling and this call never happened but wanted to thank him for the information which allowed them to prevent a serious terrorist attack against the Queen of Holland at Christmas. There had been arrests in September of one cell, but they did not know about the additional group engaged in the scam. Because they were able to arrest that cell in the Netherlands, it led to others and they and other governments in Europe were able to stop other major incidents as well. In total, there were 12 terrorists arrested in Holland – 4 in September, and 8 more in December.
The Dutch agent explained in detail about the connections between African crime gangs and Al Qaeda, especially at that time. There were very close connections to gangs in Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria. In each of these countries, they were engaged in terrorist fundraising using online crime, drugs, and human trafficking (and other means, from piracy to hijacking.) He told him that as much as 40% of Al Qaeda’s revenue (at that time) was from scamming & fraud.
These incidents and arrests are confirmed here: 2001 bomb plot in Europe – Wikipedia
In a U.S. report to Congress in October 2002:
The Dutch Internal Security Agency reported in May 2002 that steppedup investigations had uncovered suspected terrorist cells in the Netherlands, along with evidence that extremist groups had been actively recruiting within the country’s large (5% of the population) Islamic community.
From a U.S. Air Force Intelligence Research Documents from 2008
In light of significant efforts to combat global terrorisms, terrorist organizations and their related smaller satellite cells have proven quite resilient. They constantly adapt to antiterrorism efforts through the use of technology and innovation, even to the point where it can be argued they are actually thriving in the cyber domain. They have already successfully leveraged the Internet to manipulate public opinion and gain sympathy for their cause. They have also found ways to translate this cyber success into ways of generating revenue in support of real world operations.
The Moral of this Story!
The point of all of this is not that a scam happened, but that it was a terrorist organization behind the scam. The scam was perpetrated to help fund their activities. We will never know how much more extensive it would have been if the money was paid, and our director traveled to Holland as was asked of him.
But it is very clear that this was part of a larger advanced organization using scamming to fund Al Qaeda.
By reporting it, even though the FBI or the BVD provided no feedback, the information was used to stop something terrible. In this case, one agent took it upon himself to convey their gratitude, but that is a rare exception – most scam victims never hear the outcomes. It makes the point of how incredibly important reporting really is.
Reporting scams helps governments understand the total scope of the crime, and these scams specifically, and also empowers the victim by allowing them to take meaningful action. It does not matter if the police provide feedback, but it is a duty that every victim has to do the right thing.
Remember just one thing, every crime should be reported because criminals are not always apprehended from your report, but when they are, your report becomes part of the charges that can put them away. Today only about 3% of victims report these crimes. Just imagine how much more could be done if 100% were reported.