TFOS Two Years Later
The War Against Terror
Following the Money
On March 4, our head of Counterterrorism operations, Gary Bald, testified before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control on the FBI’s 2-year-old Terrorist Financing Operations Section (TFOS)—and its coordinated efforts with other agencies to use the money trails of terrorists against them.
Why the great interest in money trails? Because that’s one of the most reliable ways to identify and disrupt these groups. Today’s extremist terrorist groups are global…they’re secretive…they're tightly bound by culture and religion…and they sure aren’t going to talk freely to anyone outside their immediate cell. But money—money is different. Money fuels their operations. They have to use it and spend it to communicate, to buy supplies, to fund their plans of destruction. And that leaves a trail we can follow.
So where does the money take us? In fact, it’s not just a matter of identifying and tracking the money trails of known terrorist groups, Mr. Bald said, though that’s important. Even more, it’s following all related transactions, no matter how byzantine, to identify the terrorist cells we don’tknow about—and to get out ahead of their plans to launch terrorist attacks.
As for coordinating plans and sharing information with other agencies, Mr. Bald cited in general terms a recent TFOS case: it had conducted near real-time financial tracking of a terrorist cell, shared its specific findings with a foreign intelligence agency, and that information turned out to prevent six potential deadly terrorist attacks—six!
Partnerships are key. Mr. Bald was joined at the proceedings by a number of experts and partners in the efforts to combat money laundering and financing in support of terrorism: Richard Stana, Director of Homeland Security and Justice General Accounting Office; Loren Yager, Director of International Affairs and Trade General Accounting Office; Raymond Baker, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Juan Zarate, U.S. Department of Treasury; Director of Operations Mike Dougherty, Bureau for Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and Administrator Karen Tandy, Drug Enforcement Administration. All were frank in their assessments of progress made; all brought thoughtful recommendations to the table to improve the coordination of data collection and information sharing.
An FBI strength: investigative skills. Mr. Bald talks at length in his statement about recent FBI cases—some 16 of them—and what they have brought to the larger table of the international crackdown against terrorist financing. He also outlines FBI initiatives with the private sector; our use of information technology in our investigations; and how we are “spreading the wealth” of our investigative expertise in money laundering with law enforcement agencies around the world. This is interesting stuff—we recommend you read it…as well as the statements of other participants in the hearing.