By Dag Walker
Ian Fleming, died 1964, is the author of the James Bond spy novels. Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1952. He eventually wrote eleven James Bond novels. So far, James Bond novels have sold over 100 million copies. On top of that, there have been 26 James Bond movies. Less well known is that Fleming wrote two non-fiction books, one of which, published in 1957, is about diamond smuggling in Liberia: The Diamond Smugglers.
The book is based on two weeks of interviews Fleming undertook with John Collard, a member of the International Diamond Security Organization. Fleming met Sir Percy Sillitoe, former head of MI5, who was working for De Beers and investigating the illicit diamond trade through the International Diamond Security Organisation. This book came about as a result of that novel’s publication.1. It is often written that Fleming met Sillitoe and used much of the research as background material for his fictional Bond novel, Diamonds Are Forever. This is untrue. Fleming published his book on diamond smuggling after he wrote the novel.
Fleming was a birdwatcher living in Jamaica. While working on his first spy novel he was carrying a copy of Birds of the West Indies. He wanted his main character to have an ordinary, unassuming name, and when he was trying to drum one up, he remembered the author of the book he turned to so often. “It struck me that this name, brief, unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed and so James Bond II was born,” Fleming later called “James Bond” the “dullest name I’ve ever heard.”3.
Fleming’s James Bond novels are thrilling, and more especially are the movies. One cannot say the same of the book, The Diamond Smugglers. It has a useful place in the annals of written works about Liberia as background to the problems that arose in later years. Better to know too much than too little.
Fleming wrote the book from a short period in Tangiers where he interviewed an agent for an ant-smuggling International Diamond Security Organization, a front for the De Beers diamond monopoly. Fleming wrote up his notes, naming his source “John Blaze.”
Fleming writes that there was a “security breach in Sierra Leone and Liberia” in the collection of raw diamonds. “Smugglers illegally mined diamonds in Sierra Leone (British) and took them across the border to Liberia (free) where they obtained a legitimate export license and became legal.”
No one in the book questions the legitimacy of the De Beers monopoly on the mining of diamonds in Africa. Right or wrong, it pays to know. “In a brilliant maneuver, he [Blaze] used a shady diamond dealer in Liberia to buy smuggled diamonds at higher prices to freeze out the other smugglers in Liberia. The odious aspect of the sting was that the British government supplied one million pounds.” There is more to the story than corporate greed and the usual human evil. This smuggling occurred during the Cold War, an existential struggle between the West and the expansionist Soviet Union. “A great many smuggled stones wounded up in the Soviet Union for use in industry and munitions.” In statecraft, politics is paramount; people matter not at all.
Though this book is the work of a massively successful popular writer known for James Bond novels, it is mostly of limited academic interest, with the exception of one bizarre anecdote that a bird watcher is unlikely to appreciate, one would think.
“Piet Willers … was CDM’s [Consolidated Diamond Mines of South-West Africa:] Chief Security Officer. He was an efficient and likeable chap. Although it’s nothing to do with the story, he got the job by an extraordinary fluke. The previous Security Chief had been killed by an ostrich. He’d been driving through the desert when one of a flock of ostriches panicked and rushed blindly at his Land Rover. One of the bird’s feet went through the open window, and the central claw stabbed the man in the heart.” This unlucky, and unnamed, officer would be avenged three decades later by an ex-girlfriend when she hit a pigeon with her car while driving home from East Lansing High School. Instead of hitting it with the grill or the windshield, or simply running it over, like a normal person, she hit the pigeon with the radio antenna of her Honda Civic, cutting the poor thing in half.4.
Visiting a diamond exchange is a cool way to spend an afternoon. Seeing cut and polished diamonds sparkling in rows of black velvet-lined trays, the shine of each facet of each stone, is a pretty sight. One must gasp at the beauty of the Koh-i-Noor Diamond in the Tower of London. And then? Out for afternoon tea. It is only fun to look at gems for a few hours. Better is to see industrial diamonds used to drill for other materials, mineral ores and oil, for example. The esthetics of gems is undeniable; but the use-value of diamonds is supreme.
First discovered in 1930, the diamonds of Sierra Leone are known today as “blood diamonds.” Nearly one hundred years later, knowledge of the history of Liberia requires study of the diamond smuggling industry in both nations and an in-depth understanding of the international machinations of the diamond smuggling chain. Two relatively recent books cover these stories comprehensively. Douglas Farah’s Blood From Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror. 2004 is a deep introduction for the lay reader. The second, journalist Greg Campbell’s Blood Stones, is also informative.
Until the al-Qaeda attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 very few Americans gave thought to the diamond smuggling in Sierra Leone or Liberia. The C.I.A., if aware of the depths of the situation, did little to nothing to end or even curtail it. Later, they found out that al Qaeda had bought illicit diamonds from Liberia to circumvent open financial restrictions imposed on terrorists after President Bush froze jihadi assets.
“Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups have long followed a diversification strategy that has rendered the crackdown by the U.S. and other governments almost useless. Blood from Stones is the first book to uncover, through on-the-ground reporting, the interlocking web of commodities, underground transfer systems, charities, and sympathetic bankers that support terrorist activities throughout the world.
As a foreign correspondent and investigative reporter for The Washington Post, Douglas Farah ventured into the dangerous and uncharted world of terrorist financing—a journey that took him across four continents. The information he gathered was far ahead of what U.S. intelligence agencies knew as they scrambled to understand the 9/11 attacks. In unprecedented detail, Farah traces the movement of money from the traffickers of “blood diamonds” in West Africa to the world diamond exchange in Belgium and homegrown money merchants in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Karachi, and Lahore who turn cash into commodities and commodities into cash. He probes charities that siphon off money to pay for such essentials as false identification cards and safe passage for operatives. And he reveals how the funding of terrorist activities is integrated into the age-old hawala network, a trust-based system that has operated for generations across Arabia and Southeast Asia.”5.
Unlike Fleming’s brief stay in Tangiers to interview a British investigator in the 1950s, this work is serious and detailed.
“Farah details the sequence of events that led to the… alliance between al-Qaeda and Liberia’s notorious former president Charles Taylor, and the summary rape and ruin of West Africa while Taylor orchestrated the inequitable trade of diamonds for uniforms, weapons and cars to perpetuate the nightmarish strife. However, this is not where the book ends “it’s where a new unsettling story begins. After Farah’s article ran in the Post, he and his family were forced to leave Africa for their own safety. On arriving home, Farah says, he was met by a bitter and embarrassed CIA determined to discredit him in order to cover the fact that they knew nothing about al-Qaeda’s involvement in West Africa. Over time, the CIA’s behavior led to the revelation of damning information about the United States’s entire network of intelligence agencies, rife with infighting, disorganization and lack of central control. Farah’s drum-tight presentation of evidence to substantiate his allegations will be difficult to dispute, and his stark and straightforward writing style makes this book hard to put down.”5.
The second book is by another journalist, Greg Campbell, Blood Diamonds.
“Campbell here writes about the cost of diamonds not in dollars to the consumer but in blood, torture, and death for the unfortunate residents of contested mining areas in Sierra Leone.” This side-steps the problems faced by Liberia, as the main focus is on the immediacy of the problems in Sierra Leone. However, this is as much a Liberian concern as it is of others in neighboring nations.
For centuries, diamonds themselves have been highly prized luxury items, making them sought after, and fought over, for reasons that go beyond their immediate use-value or aesthetic value. Interestingly, diamonds are, after a fashion, like mathematics insofar as both have a use value and an aesthetic value, diamonds having a high utility value in, for example, construction, mining, and petroleum industries. Mathematics is also valuable in those same areas and others. Both diamonds and mathematics have what one might call a “higher” value than the practical. That value is beauty.
Whereas the average movie star or fashion model might appreciate the beauty of diamonds, one finds in mathematicians the same love of beauty they find in math formulae and equations. Diamonds and mathematics present intense aesthetic experience to their respective admirers. The vast, unbridgeable difference between a diamond collector and a mathematician is that the latter is highly unlikely to kill anyone for the sake of a math formula. They are free. Everyone on earth “owns” Einstein’s theory, E=MC2. No one has to pay for it. The problem for most is understanding the value of the equation. Not so with a diamond, which most people admire intuitively, pretty, shiny stones that become objects of mayhem and murder.
What should be a boon to the peoples of Central West Africa are instead a source of evil. Of course, it is not diamonds themselves that are the source of conflict and misery among man. The real story of diamonds is not diamonds at all: it is the story of humanness, of greed, envy, and vanity. That story is truly eternal.
Main Photo: The Telegraph