The Finance of Terror: Recognizing and derailing the terrorist gravy train (Part II)

“Terrorists cannot terrorize without money, without resources.  Training costs money, planning costs money,explosives cost money, plane tickets cost money.”

-Attorney General John Ashcroft, October 25, 2002

Part one of this two part discussion focused on the methods that terrorists utilize to finance their activities. Part two is a follow up on the available resources that can help identify and derail the terrorist funding process.

photo of a machine gunWhat legislation assists in this effort?

A number of legislative measureshave been enacted to mitigate money laundering perpetrated by criminal enterprises. These same laws are utilized to counter terrorist financiers. Some of these laws include The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, which requires financial institutions to report cash transactions in excess of $10,000, via the Currency Transaction Report (CTR), and The Annuzio-Wylie Anti-Money Laundering Act of 1992, which requires financial institutions to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR).

Who is involved in this effort?

A collaborative approach involving the public and private sector is necessary for success. There are a number of regulatory and law enforcement agencies involved in the effort to identify terrorist financing. A few of the public agencies involved in this effort are outlined below.

The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) acts as the designated administrator of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). It was established in 1990 as a bureau within the Treasury Department. FinCen collects financial intelligence and distributes this information to law enforcement in an effort to stop illegal activities within the financial system.

The Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) was established by the United States Department of the Treasury following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The purpose of this program is to identify, track, and pursue terrorist networks. Leads identified through TFTP are forwarded to governmental agencies tasked with the investigation of terrorist activities.

The Terrorist Financing Operations Section (TFOS) of the FBI was also established following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and is tasked with “following the money.” The financial intelligence identified through the work of TFOS helps paint a global picture of previously unidentified terrorist groups and recognize likely terrorist activity/planning.

What success has been realized?

The United States has achieved some success in identifying terrorist financing activities. However, the difficulty in detection increases as terror networks adapt to our capabilities. Different methods are used in an effort to counter identification, including a shift outside of traditional financial institutions. Below are a few success stories.

Faisal Shahzad’s attempted bombing at Times Square was funded by a co-conspirator in Pakistan via money received from an unlicensed money transmitting business through hawala activity.  Mohammad Younis pled guilty in August 2011 to the charge of operating unlicensed money transmitting business.

Hor and Amera Akl pled guilty in May 2011 to conspiracy to provide material support to Hezbollah for charges related to the attempted concealment of $200,000 in a vehicle that was to be shipped overseas.

Abdul Tawala Ibn Ali Alishtari pled guilty in September 2009 to the charge of terrorism financing for facilitating the transfer of $152,000 destined to fund terrorist training.

What does this mean?

“Monograph on Terrorist Financing” completed by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States outlines that the measures currently in place assist “in preventing open and notorious fund-raising and forces terrorists and their sympathizers to raise and move money clandestinely, thereby raising the costs and risks involved. The deterrent value in such activity is significant and, while it cannot be measured in any meaningful way, ought not to be discounted.”

While current legislation provides tools for agencies involved in detecting and preventing terrorist activity, nothing can guarantee 100 percent success. An international effort involving all stakeholders is required to manage the terrorist threat.


John Albanese is an Associate Faculty member of the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Program at Post University.  John is a retired Connecticut State Police Lieutenant, currently managing the Special Investigations Unit in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region for a Fortune 200 Financial Services Company.  He has over 23 years of public safety, emergency management, and fraud investigation experience.  


Comments are closed