We draw inspiration for our stories from all sorts of different places. This week’s Killer Nashville guest blogger, Albert Ashforth, discusses what led to the writing of his latest novel, On Edge.
Within days of my arrival in Kabul in 2010, I knew that I wanted my next Alex Klear adventure to be set in the Afghan capital. Unbelievably, the largest bank fraud in history, the looting of the Kabul bank by 22 of the bank’s employees, was unfolding before my eyes.
Part of the problem of my writing about the fraud, though, was the fact that very few American news outlets were pursuing the story. Was this because the looting of the bank was an embarrassment for our government? The Kabul Bank had been established by the American government in 2004 as a financial conduit to pay for the war against the Taliban and to rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure.
The story of the bank’s failure had begun coming out in dribs and drabs in 2009, when property values in Dubai, one of the Emirates, began to fall. Why had the bank been making heavy investments in Dubai? The following year there was a run on the bank by Afghan depositors. By the time the smoke cleared, the Kabul Bank had officially lost 935 million dollars. Unofficially, the figure was believed to be well over a billion dollars.
The bank had a strange history. When it was established, our government, in an obvious quandary regarding who might run the institution, asked President Hamid Karzai for some names. Unsurprisingly, he supplied the names of two of his closest cronies, Khalilullah Ferozi and Sherkhan Farnood, neither of whom had any financial experience. Looking back, one can say the American government could have done a better job of oversight where taxpayer money was concerned.
Because I wanted to write a story which involved the bank scandal, I had to involve retired intelligence officer Alex Klear, my hero, in the looting of the bank. I did this by moving the story forward chronologically, to 2013, when the trial of the bank officials was taking place in the Afghan courts. Since Afghan judges take bribes as a matter of course, Alex, who is in Kabul to find the murderer of an American colonel, wonders whether or not the accused bank officials will be found guilty. Although the American authorities have identified a young Afghan soldier as the killer, Alex isn’t so sure. Almost immediately, he senses that his investigation is being thwarted at every turn by both the Afghan and American governments.
Another factor involved in my wanting to write this story has to do with theatmosphere of Kabul itself, which is a fascinating city and which in some ways resembles Berlin in the years after World War Two, when it was under Four Power rule. In Kabul there are three powers intriguing for control – the elected Afghan government, the NATO nations among which the United States is the most prominent, and the Taliban.
It is the Taliban’s campaign of terrorism which makes Kabul such a dangerous city. The danger is constant in the story, and Alex, anytime he’s away from an American base, spends a good deal of time looking over his shoulder.
Specifically, what Alex has to worry about is becoming the victim of a “green-on-blue” attack. A green-on-blue occurs when an Afghan soldier or policeman – someone who has been trained and gained the trust of the American military – turns his weapon on an American soldier. When Alex hears of the cruel manner in which the murdered colonel has died, he becomes more determined than ever to find the suspected killer.
The more I learned about the bank scandal, the more fascinating it became. Immediately after the appointment of Farnood and Ferozi, the Kabul bank gave undocumented loans to 207 borrowers, all of whom were members of the country’s elite. None of the borrowers ever made any repayments. Nor were they required to pay interest. It was as if these individuals had been given million-dollar gifts by the American government. When I learned that much of this money went to buy villas in Dubai, I knew why the first rumblings of the bank scandal had been set off by the news of falling property values in Dubai.
Yet another reason for my wanting to write about the bank scandal had to do with the fact that American newspapers carried very little news of the fraud. In fact I’d gotten most of my information from British publications rather than American. There’s no question that the loss of so much tax money must have been something of an embarrassment for our government and would not have gone down well with American readers. Because our news outlets as a rule carry so little about such matters, I believe that some of the best informed American citizens are those who read thrillers, and I am hoping that readers of On Edge will learn a great deal about the looting of the Kabul Bank, now believed to be the largest bank fraud in the history of the world.
After serving with the U.S. Army overseas, Albert Ashforth earned a B.A. from Brooklyn College and a M.A. and a Ph.D. from New York University. He worked for two New York newspapers before returning to Europe as an instructor for the University of Maryland’s Overseas Program. He also served at the German Military Academy training NATO officers and as an instructor at the 10th Group Special Forces headquarters in Bad Tolz. As a military contractor, he has done tours in Bosnia, Macedonia, Germany, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. He is the author of three novels and numerous articles and short stories. His novel The Rendition won the Military Writers of America Bronze Medal. His follow-up novel, On Edge, was released in 2016. Ashforth is on the faculty at the State University of New York and lives in New York City.
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