On August 10, 2010, President Obama signed into law the SPEECH Act (the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage) to guard American authors and publishers from enforcement of frivolous foreign libel judgments that undermine the First Amendment and American due process standards.
The frontrunner in the fight for passage of the Act was Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, Director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy. In 2005, Dr. Ehrenfeld was sued for libel in the United Kingdom by Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz.
In her 2003 book, Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, Dr. Ehrenfeld alleged that Mahfouz had financed al-Qaeda through his bank and charitable organization. She chose not to defend herself in London, but instead led the fight for the rights of American writers to remain “judgment proof” in America.
After the New York State legislature unanimously passed the Libel Terrorism Protection Act (also known as “Rachel’s Law”), the author further lobbied and fought for the SPEECH Act which passed the Senate on July 19, 2010.
Dr. Ehrenfeld was a visiting scholar at the Columbia University Institute of War and Peace Studies, a research scholar at New York University School of Law, and a fellow at Johns Hopkins SAIS. Her Ph.D. in Criminology is from the Hebrew University School of Law.
The terror financing, economic warfare expert’s articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Newsweek, Huffington Post, The Jerusalem Post, and the Los Angeles Times. She has appeared as a commentator on television and radio programs and has written three books: Narco-Terrorism,Evil Money, and Funding Evil.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : Dr. Ehrenfeld, you were instrumental in getting the SPEECH Act enacted into law.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : Yes, well, my actions led me to initiating this law that I have promoted over the last two years after Khalid bin Mahfouz sued me for libel. This is of monumental importance to national security and the protection of free speech. It protects all Americans in the manner that the First Amendment was designed to guarantee.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : Wasn’t Mahfouz accused of financing terrorism many times? There were claims in Craig Unger’s book House of Bush, House of Saud that Mahfouz donated over $270,000 to Osama bin Laden’s Islamist organization.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : Yes. There were plenty of public documents attesting to his involvement in funding terrorism so it was not exactly a secret. But, Bin Mahfouz sued more than 45 people for “libeling” him.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : Do you know what the reaction was to the law in the United Kingdom?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : Yes, there was already a movement in the UK for libel reform, so when the legislation in New York passed it encouraged the reform-oriented people, especially the media, to start asking for changes in their laws. The more legislation that is passed in this country, the more it will encourage the British people interested in reform.
In the last election it was on the agenda of all three parties. There is a law pending now before Parliament. How much will change? I don’t know. I hope a lot will change for the sake of the British. When the SPEECH Act was signed into law the reaction in England was … there was much more media attention about it there, even more than here.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : The law includes all foreign countries?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : Absolutely. The law isn’t against anybody. The law is to protect Americans from foreign libel laws that do not provide protection under the First Amendment. It’s not aimed at anybody or against anybody.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : If an American is sued and they lose …
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : It’s not if you lose actually. I did not lose because there was a trial and I couldn’t prove my case. I lost by default. I refused to acknowledge the British jurisdiction over me because I’m not a British citizen. I don’t live there.
I didn’t see any reason why I should go to court there or pay huge financial expenses. I went to court here to protect myself from the British judgment.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : This law also gives Americans the right to block judgments if they lose a libel suit.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : Yes, and if somebody tries to enforce it they can also ask for the legal fees that they have paid out in order to protect themselves.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : When you were going through the lawsuit, did you ever receive death threats?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : I had some threats, not death threats, but I had some threats from friends of Mahfouz here in the United States via email and in person. That was not very encouraging. Well, it didn’t discourage me, but it was not exactly very pleasant.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : There were people in the United States who knew Mahfouz?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : People who worked for him, people who received money from him.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : New York Times writer Joe Sharkey was sued by Brazil, correct?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : Yes, his case is completely crazy. He traveled to Brazil on an executive plane with a few other Americans. They crashed over the Amazon because a Brazilian airline crashed into them. About 150 passengers on the Brazilian airline died, the Americans survived on Sharkey’s plane, and they somehow managed to get out.
Sharkey wrote that the Brazilian airliner and Brazilian air traffic control were at fault, so he was sued for offending Brazil by one of the widows of the passengers because he defamed the name of the country. In Brazil it can not only be a civil action but it can also be a criminal action. The new SPEECH Act actually protects Sharkey from the defamation suit but he may not be able to go to Brazil ever again.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : The SPEECH Act covers writers on the Internet also?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : Absolutely, especially these days when everything is published on the Internet. It also covers producers of motion pictures and video games, script writers … really everybody who writes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : Dr. Ehrenfeld, would most Americans be surprised where and how terrorism is being funded?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : I would think so because the government is not apparently making it public. We read sometimes in newspapers where somebody was arrested, but you don’t often read about it in the national press and very rarely about the people in other countries.
Funding terrorism with a big network or support system behind it, for some reason, is not being banned. As I said, Mahfouz sued more than 45 people before he died last year so he really silenced the media from writing anything about it. I think that most people don’t really know how terrorism is financed and where it is coming from.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : Your book, Funding Evil, discusses a cigarette operation in North Carolina.
Dr. Rachel Ahrenfeld : Yes, and that is not the only case. I use only examples to explain to the public so that everybody reading the book doesn’t have to be financial consultants in order to understand. These are very simple basic examples of how this is being done. Cigarette smuggling, alcohol smuggling across state borders is very common.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : According to your book,Funding Evil, a large amount of terrorism is also funded by laundered U.S. dollars.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : Right, but not only dirty money. A lot of terrorism funding for the bases to recruit terrorists is being funded with legitimate money. If you study what the Saudi Arabians are preaching for, they are preaching for the destruction of the United States.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : Do you think President Obama will work harder to stop terrorism funding than his predecessor did?
Dr. Rachel Ahrenfeld : No. Countries that support terrorism and major supporters of terrorism are considered allies because we depend on their oil. As long as other political situations are in place, I don’t think that we can stop it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : Is the drug industry the major funding source?
Dr. Rachel Ahrenfeld : The drug industry is the major illegal source. There are trillions of dollars there, but there are ways and possibilities to stop it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : It must be political.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : It’s not only political but financial also. Not all the money goes to fund terrorism. There are people benefitting financially from it including bankers, accountants, lawyers, and politicians. This is very corruptive.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : Interesting. Dr. Ehrenfeld, what are the major responsibilities of the American Center for Democracy (ACD)?
Dr. Rachel Ahrenfeld : The ACD’s able team works to expose and monitor threats to the security and integrity of the United States and other Western democracies. Our mission is to identify and expose our enemies’ financial and other activities that, if successful, may pose a serious economic, political, and even physical threat to the U.S.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : I noticed on the ACD website there is a note that says, “Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is not a signatory of the 911Truth.org. She has asked several times to have her name removed from the list, but the organization failed to comply.”
Dr. Rachel Enrenfeld : Yes, they put my signature there and I did not sign up. I’m certainly not part of that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : That is the organization that believes the U.S. government was involved in 9/11 or was involved in a cover up?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : Yes and I certainly do not believe that. That’s absolutely wrong and we shouldn’t take away the blame from the people who did it and the countries that supported it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : Do you think Saddam Hussein was involved in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : There were reports on al-Qaeda training camps in Iraq. It is reasonable to assume that since other radical Muslim terrorist groups trained in Iraq for years, with Saddam’s blessing, he also accommodated al-Qaeda.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : What else can be done to find Osama bin Laden?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : Successive U.S. Administrations have had several opportunities to capture and kill bin Laden years before the 9/11 attacks, but had chosen not to. His capture and public trial would have embarrassed many of America’s so-called “allies” and possibly their well paid supporters in the U.S. Over the years al-Qaeda evolved into many groups with the same murderous ideology and agenda. It will be impossible to curtail his followers’ expansion and reach as long as bin Laden is rumored to be alive.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : What are your feelings about President Obama’s troop withdrawal plan?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : The U.S. much heralded withdrawal puts America, the coalition forces, and their collaborates in unnecessary and mortal danger. Since the President announced his plans, the Taliban got more powerful and collaboration with the U.S. became more dangerous.
This withdrawal, like other “Land for Peace” policies the Administration attempted to enforce elsewhere, have done little to increase the security of the given areas, or strengthened the U.S. national security. In fact, such withdrawal policies helped withdraw the U.S. influence and diminished the U.S. stature in the world.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : Were you in New York when those events took place?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : Yes, at 8:45 AM on September 11, I was on the phone with Mike Gonzales, editor of the European Wall Street Journal. We were discussing the op-ed about financing terrorism I had written for the paper, which was to run the next day.
The TV’s regular morning chatter in the background suddenly changed and an anxious voice announced that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I rushed to my window and saw smoke rising in the distance. From my window I have a clear view of Manhattan and could see the World Trade Center. After the smoke, the sky turned black and the buildings disappeared altogether.
I called Mike back and suggested a new lead for the op-ed after describing the horrors outside my window. I knew instinctively that this was no accident, but a terror attack.
This is how my op-ed the following day began: “The murderous terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan and damaged the Pentagon delivered a very clear and sobering message yesterday: the leader of the free world is vulnerable.”
That is when the idea for my book, Funding Evil, emerged. It is my belief that the perpetrators of crimes of such magnitude are only the expendable foot soldiers; the true blame must lie with those who make their activities possible – the paymasters.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : Do you think that the United States will be attacked again similar to 9/11?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : The U. S. is vulnerable to attacks worse than the 9/11 attacks. There should be real cooperation between our many intelligence agencies. The education of the general public about potential hazards and for more awareness is missing mainly because the Administration takes political correctness more seriously than our national integrity and safety.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : In your opinion, what additional security measures need to be in place to prevent another attack from happening?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : As long as the U.S. goes along with the myth that radical Muslim states and groups are our allies, or that we can appease them and let them contribute funds to covert terrorists and radicalize young Americans and corrupt politicians, the danger to our democracy and safety will continue to escalate.
It is time for the U.S. to truly identify the enemies and their agenda and reveal that information to the public. Alas, I do not see it happening anytime soon. But, how can we defend ourselves when we are misinformed as to the identity and the nature of those who seek to harm us?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : Dr. Ehrenfeld, have you always been a writer?
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : I was a researcher and wrote first on issues related to drug addiction. At the beginning I was interested in what makes people want to use drugs and why they would want to become drug addicts. Drugs were marketed very well and I started looking at who was interested in it and then I moved to the political aspects.
I first called attention to the intimate relationship between drug trafficking and terrorism in my first book, Narco-Terrorism: How Governments Around the World Have Used the Drug Trade to Finance and Further Terrorist Activities. I was teaching at the time on terrorism at Columbia University. When you write about it, you not only look at the political issues, but you look at the money. Then I wrote Evil Money: The Inside Story of Money Laundering & Corruption in Government, Banks & Business.
Finally I moved to the question, who is using it more? The answer is – terrorists who are trying to undermine democracy. That brought me to write Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, which was written after 9/11. After that I was busy with lawsuits and litigation and it’s very difficult to obtain a new publisher when you have a libel lawsuit hanging over your head. The financial impact from the lawsuit was pretty bad.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine) : I imagine there was quite an emotional impact also.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld : Yes. That was something that I really do not wish on anybody.