Liberia: Secret Police to Clear Passport Applicants

Liberians now wishing to acquire passports must receive clearance from the country's notorious secret police, the National Security Agency (NSA), an executive order from President Charles decreed this week.

Sources in Monrovia, speaking to The Perspective, said that Mr. Taylor believes the new decree is in the interest of "national security".

"But we believe it's more than that. It is meant to punish the government's internal and external opponents. You cannot travel without a passport and all opponents, real or imagined, have been blacklisted at the NSA", said a worried political party leader. "On the other hand, it may just be another avenue to expand the circle of greed and graft. NSA officials, including Taylor's former brother-in-law [Freddie Taylor] who is director of the agency, will have an extra area of theft in view of the depressed nature of the economy in which officials hardly get paid. Life is getting harder by the minute", he added.

However, Liberian passports and diplomatic status have become important factors in international crime, according to reports which link Liberian diplomats to international criminal syndicates, particularly those operating from Eastern Europe. In Poland, authorities have shutdown the Liberian embassy on claims of criminal activities. The Polish paper, NIE, in a story headlined "Phony Embassy Mercedes", linked the gang-style shooting of a notorious gangster Petera Steihubela to his alleged ties with the Liberian Embassy. The known gangster, Polish media reported, had links with a Liberian diplomat, Henry Williamson who, one paper said, was engaged in selling diplomatic passports, consular-ships, and other criminal activities. Mr. Williamson has close ties to President Taylor.

Since the former warlord became President, Liberian passports have been made available to the highest bidder. An Internet site located in Britain advertises second citizenship and "business" opportunities for anyone with the requested amount. "The country is now deeply sinking in money laundering and other criminal activities", said a former banker now based in the US.

The Washington Post reported in 1999 that international criminals from Eastern Europe, South American death squad leaders and South African neo-Nazis now find Liberia an attractive operational base. "With Sierra Leone's diamonds next door, you can imagine the attraction", said a former security officials. The Duct daily, Het Parool, similarly reported in 1998 that a criminal drug syndicate was operating from Monrovia with US and Europe.

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