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."

Breakthrough

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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs