Following Bin Laden's Money Trail

With so many leads to follow, the investigators may feel they are tracking an octopus. But in Beirut, an editor who has followed bin Laden's rise, cautioned ABCNEWS not to give him too much credit.

"He's like a 'phantom'," said Faisal Salman, managing editor of the newspaper as-Safir. "And maybe we help him to be a phantom. Ah, [he] is not a phantom."

Back in Washington, Gurule says bin Laden's image is not what should be important to people.

Asked if Americans should not consider bin Laden some brilliant, maniacal mastermind, Gurule said, "He's a man, he's gonna be brought to justice, he's gonna be punished."

Difficult to Track

Phantom or not, U.S. authorities face a difficult process of tracking transactions and trying to disrupt his terrorist network. There is an Old World practice that may frustrate the treasury detectives. Hawala is a term meaning trust. It is said to be the method by which money holders on one continent transfer funds to money holders on another continent. There is no electronic trail and almost nothing physical to track.

With a wink and a nod, so to speak, bin Laden's associates can send couriers with scraps of paper or a playing card marked in a certain way. Associates in the second location disburse the funds, and computer searches and electronic data collection may not be a match for scraps of paper and decks of playing cards.

Bin Laden's associates and couriers do have to use telephones and travel to make these transactions work, but based on their success so far, that won't make it much easier for America's electronic detectives.

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