James Adams, The Financing of Terror, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986.)


I don’t care what anyone says: I liked Claire Sterling’s 1981 classic, The Terror Network. Sure, the plot was weak and the characterization a bit sketchy — but what imagination! Soviet-supplied attack helicopters in the service of the Irish Republican Army! A Palestine “floating on oil”! A KGB terrorist conspiracy to subvert the free world! Ronald Reagan must have liked it too, because he reportedly asked the United States Information Agency to make copies available worldwide.

Since 1981 Claire Sterling has had many competitors but few rivals. Until now. Now we have James Adams’ The Financing of Terror.

Adams’ advantage is a new plot twist. Lurking behind all political violence is not the tired old KGB but a new villain: the terrorist multinational corporation. We’re not talking bush-league operators like ITT in Chile or the Guatemalan adventures of United Fruit. No, we’re talking real “terrorist alliance” here — the IRA, Red Brigades, M19 and “the headquarters of the multinational,” the “true godfather of international terrorism,” the Palestine Liberation Organization. The dust-jacket notes sinisterly that “International terrorism spends $1 billion a year to wreak havoc…. James Adams, Defense Correspondent at the London Sunday Times has penetrated the sources of this money supply…he has investigated the origins of the funds that pay for guns and bombs around the world.”

One feature of this genre of creative writing is, of course, the flexibility it offers its writers. Dates inconvenient? Why not have Yasir Arafat conducting PLO business four years before he actually joined the organization (p. 41), open the ninth session of the Palestine National Council two days early (p. 56), start the Lebanese civil war a week and a half ahead of schedule (p. 101), and create the Islamic Conference Organization two years late (p. 58)? At the same time, Arafat’s evacuation from Tripoli can be moved back a year to December 1982 (p. 59), and the indefatigable Abu Musa can be made to launch two revolts against Arafat, in 1982 (pp. 60,103,125) and 1983 (p. 123).

In similar fashion, the truly ingenious author can craft a scene worthy of the plot. Background not Red enough? Make Kuwait “left wing” (p. 57) and render the Gulf states (especially those Marxist-Leninist sheikhs of the United Arab Emirates) fervent supporters of George Habash and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (pp. 117, 262). If Britain is a “PLO sympathiser” (p. 9), surely anything is possible. Too many Palestinian groups cluttering up Damascus? The PFLP can always be moved to South Yemen (p. 262) and the (pro-Syrian) Popular Struggle Front to Baghdad (p. 263).

Adams is not one to let mere facts deter his fearless expose. Take for example the amount of $20-$50 million reported for the 1976 robbery of the British Bank of the Middle East in Beirut. In the past, bank officials have characterized these Guinness Book of World Records figures as “nonsensical” overestimates. Adams courageously doubles the higher of the two estimates to a round $100 million (p. 94). Elsewhere the PLO’s Moscow embassy is downgraded to “unofficial” status (p. 43), Soviet claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Even physical geography and the laws of nature are not allowed to stand in this author’s way: if Acre (Akka?) can be relocated from Palestine to Lebanon (p. 120), the invention of a fiberglass which fools airport X-ray machines (p. 76) must have been a comparatively simple task. Even the political will of 4.5 million Palestinians counts for nothing, as Adams ignores repeated surveys and other hard data showing over 90 percent allegiance to the PLO and flatly asserts that the PLO lacks popular Palestinian support.

All of this in just the few chapters on the Middle East. Northern Ireland, Italy and Columbia get the Adams treatment, too! Not an “accurate picture” or a “dispassionate analysis,” but for fantasy thrills, it makes for a ripping good yarn.

How to cite this article:

Rex Brynen "Adams, The Financing of Terror," Middle East Report 151 (March/April 1988).

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