How We Got the Story:
Interviews with Author Marilyn Berlin Snell
and Whistleblower Allan Laird
Sierra Magazine: Why did Allan Laird come to the Sierra Club with his information?
Marilyn Berlin Snell: Before Allan Laird came to the Sierra Club, he went to both his Colorado Congressman, Tom Tancredo, and Homeland Security. Tancredo didn't even bother to respond. Homeland Security, after a cursory interview and no follow up (including getting the documentation that Mr. Laird had offered to provide), told him via email: "The local U.S. Attorney's Office is not interested in prosecuting this matter. Please feel free to do with it as you see fit."
Marilyn Berlin Snell
Mr. Laird says he turned to the Sierra Club because he wasn't getting any help from the government and because he thought that we "would take action." We did.
How did you get involved in the story?
I am the staff writer/editor for Sierra magazine. My usual beat is profiles, in which I focus on individuals not usually associated with the environmental movement (ranchers in New Mexico, hunters in Wyoming, dairy farmers in Mississippi) who, because of circumstances directly affecting their lives and livelihoods, have taken a stand to protect the environment. They aren't household names, but they're heroes in their own way. The same can be said of Mr. Laird. I got involved because, when I heard the story Mr. Laird was willing to tell, I thought it was worth pursuing. I got all the documentation and began untangling the threads. I also got some help from family members who just happened to be either private investigators or lawyers and could give me good advice about the veracity of what I was looking at.
Why do you think the Justice Department failed to investigate the charges brought by Allan Laird?
The reason given by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver for why it declined to pursue an investigation was because the statute of limitations had run on the crimes. My research, including a statement by a spokesman from Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, found otherwise. But the Patriot Act, which extends the statute of limitations for financial crimes including "material support for terrorists," is a controversial, complicated work in progress. It's possible that the Attorney's Office in Denver just got it wrong and when it is pointed out they will reopen the investigation.
Another reason might be that financial crimes cases are exceedingly hard to prove. The Denver office has to make choices every day about what to take on and what cases to decline. This may have been a reason as well. Who knows? The point is that it should have been investigated, and hopefully it will be now.
Do you think other multinationals operating in Southeast Asia may be making payments to terrorists?
To answer this definitively I would have to have evidence, and I don't. But in the course of my investigation knowledgeable sources told me that making such payments is the way things are done in Southeast Asia. It's common knowledge. The real question is why there isn't more pressure for corporate accountability and transparency in financial dealings. If the government required more accountability and transparency, we might not have these problems. And if our trade agreements with these countries included stricter labor and environmental standards, they might not be such attractive destinations for extractive industries.
More: Interview with Whistleblower Allan Laird
Sierra Magazine: Why did you decide to come forward with your story about Echo Bay Mines now?
Allan Laird: I sought legal advice shortly after returning from the Philippines in 1997 and the attorney said for me to "stick with the job," so I did. Toward the end of my employment with Echo Bay, in 2003, I consulted another attorney and it was he who recommended that I should notify the Department of Homeland Security, which I did. While employed by Echo Bay, both before and after 9/11, I urged Echo Bay executives to release information to the U.S. Government concerning its knowledge of terror groups operating in the Philippines. Echo Bay declined this option.
Why did you turn to the Sierra Club?
Because no one else listened.
What do you hope will result from going public with this story?
I hope it provides an opportunity for people affected by Echo Bay's actions to be compensated for their suffering. It also puts international companies on notice that they should not tolerate such acts under the pretense of security. Finally, I believe it is important for the Federal Government to understand how funds are flowing to terror groups.
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Photo above from Sierra Club collection; all rights reserved.
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