News / USA

US Succeeding in Efforts to Disrupt Terrorist Financing

The United States continues to fight the war on terror - not with blood, but with zeroes and bytes and bank accounts.  

The attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 launched a new kind of war, one waged with surveillance cameras and computer databases.  

After 9/11, it became clear the terrorists needed more than ideology to launch their attacks.  U.S. intelligence started combing through data - watching travel patterns, electronic communications, and the movement of money.

Fighting financing

State sponsors of terrorism

Counterterrorism expert Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says, it turns out that fighting the financing of transnational threats is an effective way of disrupting the activities of the enemy.

"If you send me money, that means something," Levitt explains. "It might not mean that you're important or I'm important, but that we are middlemen in something that is more  important.”

And Levitt notes that finding the middlemen can lead to finding the major players in terrorist plots.

To do that, the U.S. created a new agency within the Treasury Department.  Stuart Levey of the Council on Foreign Relations says it’s the only finance ministry in the world with a full-fledged intelligence office. “But,” he adds, “it reflects an important insight - which is that financial intelligence is highly reliable."

The agency has learned that about a half-million dollars used to carry out the 9/11 attacks was funneled through banks in Europe and the Middle East to the hijackers waiting in the United States.

Terrorism sponsors

US Succeeding in Efforts to Disrupt Terrorist Financing
US Succeeding in Efforts to Disrupt Terrorist Financing

The 9/11 Commission found that al-Qaida received most of its cash donations from a network of charities, mosques, websites, Islamic banks and from wealthy donors from the Gulf countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Some of that information came from databases owned by a Brussels-based banking consortium.

Using those databases, the U.S. government ordered a freeze on the assets of groups and individuals with known ties to terrorist groups. But the government's ability to tap such financial information provoked concerns about privacy and the potential for abuse.

"People thought we were kind of combing through the information and doing all sorts of just looking at it however we wanted," Levey says. "And in fact, we had put in place very strict controls."


The biggest breakthrough in the war on terror came this past May, when U.S. commandos killed Osama bin Laden at a private compound in Pakistan.  U.S. officials say information seized during the raid confirms al-Qaida is under financial stress.

Prior to 9/11, the CIA estimated al Qaida’s annual operating budget to be about $30 million, raised primarily through donations.

Some terror groups are turning to criminal pursuits - drug smuggling and kidnappings - to fund operations.  And as the money dries up, the trend is shifting to smaller, less expensive  attacks.

Regardless of the size, Matt Levitt says it pays to follow the money. Even if it’s not a lot of money. "If you need $5,000, but you can't get $5,000 - we win."

As donations dry up, experts say terror groups are increasingly turning to criminal sources such as smuggling, drugs and kidnapping to fund their operations.

It doesn't mean terror attacks will cease. Experts say a multi-pronged approach that stops the flow of money - while confronting an ideology bent on indiscriminate killing - is going to require continued vigilance, commitment and the world's cooperation for years to come.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs