Retired CIA agent involved in Liberia diamonds-for-arms scandal
By Joseph Fitsanakis* | intelNews | 02.23.2009
LIBERIA’S TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION has heard allegations that a retired agent of the CIA was instrumental in facilitating a vast diamonds-for-arms smuggling operation on behalf of Liberian warlord Charles Taylor. Taylor, who headed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), became the country’s President in 1997. He is currently held by the United Nations in The Hague, pending trial for crimes against humanity.
The allegations were made at the recent Economic Crimes Hearing of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Monrovia by Imants Liepiņš, an ivestigator with the Public Investigation Bureau, a business intelligence firm based in Riga, Latvia. Mr. Liepiņš, who is a recent nominee for UNESCO’s 2009 World Press Freedom Prize, presented his findings during an official hearing titled “Economic Crimes, Corruption and the Conflict in Liberia: Policy Options for an Emerging Democracy and Sustainable Peace”.
AN INTRICATE NETWORK
Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which aims to unearth human rights violations and the exploitation of the country’s natural or public resources to perpetuate war, heard last Thursday that Roger D’Onofrio Ruggiero, an Italian-American 40-year veteran of the CIA, worked with Charles Taylor and others to channel diamonds into Europe through a number of front-companies. According to the allegations, D’Onofrio, who at the time lived outside Naples, Italy, helped organize the smuggling operation with Ibrahim Bah. Bah is a Senegalese with Libyan connections, who at that time was a member of Liberia’s Revolutionary United Front, a guerilla group that fought unsuccessfully against the government throughout the 1990s. According to Douglas Farah’s book Blood from Stones (Broadway Books, 2004), Bah was connected with D’Onofrio in the 1970s, when the former was funded by the CIA to join the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the war against the Soviet Red Army. In the early 1990s, Bah, who by then had established al-Qaeda connections, became Charles Taylor’s “Minister for Mineral Resources”, a post that enabled him to handle the majority of NPFL’s diamonds-for-arms deals.
SLOVENIANS, AMERICANS AND OTHERS
Bah is alleged to have also drawn on his Libyan connections to involve in the smuggling operation representatives of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. The smuggling was conducted through a front-company, International Business Consultant Ltd, and Kintex, a Bulgarian import-export company with offices in Switzerland. Kintex “supplied weapons and bullets to [International Business Consultant Ltd] and sold diamonds in return, camouflaged as oranges and olives”. This was allegedly done with the help of a Swiss lawyer, Rudolf Meroni.
During last Thursday’s presentation in Monrovia, Imants Liepiņš recounted D’Onofrio’s 1995 testimony before Italian prosecutors, in which the former CIA agent admitted he owned shares in International Business Consultant Ltd, as did Charles Taylor, Ibrahim Bah, and others. Interestingly, Liepiņš revealed that among the shareholders was Nill Taylor (no relation to Charles Taylor), an American who claimed to be “a representative of the US Government” (though not apparently connected with the US Embassy in Monrovia, which in the 1990s was headed by a series of interim chargés d’affaires). Nill Taylor, who met with D’Onofrio in Liberia on at least one occasion, was an associate of Nicolas Oman, a notorious Slovenian weapons smuggler who was rewarded for his services to Charles Taylor by being named Liberia’s honorary consul in Slovenia. Oman’s son, who lives in Australia, was appointed Liberia’s honorary consul in the county until 2006, when his family’s weapons smuggling ventures became the subject of a diplomatic row between Slovenia and Australia.
A RENEGADE AGENT?
Mr. Liepiņš’ allegations have made headlines throughout Liberia, but have yet to appear in any mainstream Western media outlet. This is extremely disappointing in light of the fact that these allegations about D’Onofrio are not new. In 1995, the former CIA agent was arrested by Italian police officers investigating a money laundering and arms smuggling operation into the former Yugoslavia. Italian authorities charged D’Onofrio, whom the local press dubbed “Specter’, “after James Bond’s arch-enemy”, with using CIA “contacts [he] made during the 40 years he worked for the US intelligence agency to organize illegal financial deals and arms shipments”. These reportedly included a foiled attempt to supply Slovenian arms smugglers with osmium, a chemical element used to manufacture nuclear detonators.
There is no doubt that Roger D’Onofrio Ruggiero is what the CIA often terms “a renegade agent”. After his retirement from the Agency, he set up an intricate money laundering and smuggling network that helped sustain brutal wars from Bosnia and Kosovo to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Yet D’Onofrio’s case is also a stark reminder of the extremely thin line that separates CIA covert activities –especially those involving front-companies and illicit transportation of people and goods– from the actions of transnational criminal networks. Both actors employ essentially identical methods and behavior to achieve different objectives. It is therefore not surprising –though certainly disappointing– that a CIA operative, trained in the craft of running covert activities, would be so destructively efficient in international smuggling activities that cost numerous lives in West Africa and beyond.
* Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis has been writing and teaching on the politics of intelligence for over ten years. His areas of academic expertise include the institutional analysis of the intelligence community; the interception of communications; and the history of intelligence with particular reference to international espionage during the Cold War. He is co-founder and Senior Editor of intelNews.org. His latest writings for intelNews.org are available here.