Home News Testimony Terrorism Financing: Origination, Organization, and Prevention
  • John S. Pistole
  • Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, FBI
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
  • Washington DC
  • July 31, 2003

Good morning Madam Chair Collins, Senator Lieberman, and other distinguished members of the committee. It is an honor to testify before this committee regarding the FBI's efforts in identifying, tracking and dismantling the financial structure supporting terrorist groups.

Prior to the events of September 11, 2001 (9/11), the FBI had no mechanism to provide a comprehensive, centralized, focused and pro-active approach to terrorist financial matters. While the FBI examined financial records at the time of previous terrorist attacks, as part of the investigation into each of the attacks, the events of 9/11 identified a critical need for a more comprehensive, centralized approach to financial matters. The Terrorist Financing Operations Section (TFOS) of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division was formed, after 9/11, in response to this critical need. The mission of the TFOS has since evolved into a broader strategy to identify, investigate, prosecute, disrupt and dismantle incrementally, all terrorist related financial and fund-raising activities.

Identifying, tracking and dismantling the financial structure supporting terrorist groups is critical to successfully dismantling the organizations and preventing future terrorist attacks. As is the case in most investigations, locating and "following the money" plays a critical role in identifying those involved in the criminal activity, establishing links among them, and developing evidence of their involvement in the activity.

Terrorists, their networks and support structures, require funding in some form to exist and operate. Whether the funding and financial support is minimal or substantial, it usually leaves a financial trail that can be traced, tracked, and exploited for pro-active and reactive purposes. Being able to identify and track financial transactions and links after a terrorist act has occurred or terrorist activity has been identified, represents only a small portion of the mission; the key lies in exploiting financial information in efforts to identify previously unknown terrorist cells, recognize potential terrorist activity/planning, and predict and prevent potential terrorist acts.

In forming the TFOS, the FBI built upon its traditional expertise in conducting complex criminal financial investigations and long established relationships with the financial services communities in the United States and abroad. Integrating these skills and resources with the Counterterrorism Division, allows the FBI to bring its full assets to bear in the financial war on terrorism.

The TFOS is both an operational and coordinating entity with pro-active and reactive responsibilities. As a coordinating entity, the TFOS is responsible for ensuring that a unified approach is pursued in investigating terrorist financing networks. The TFOS achieves this directive by: 1) coordinating the financial aspects of FBI Field Office and Legat terrorism investigations; 2) establishing overall initiatives, policy and guidance on terrorist financing matters; 3) participating in the National Security Council's Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC) on Terrorist Financing; 4) coordinating national liaison with the financial services sector; 5) cooperating in and coordinating criminal terrorist financing investigations with the Department of Justice; and 5) providing support and training to Field Offices to include the designated Terrorism Financing Coordinator (TFC) .

It is critical that the financial aspects of terrorism investigations be adequately addressed and that a concerted, coordinated effort is made to investigate terrorist finance issues by experienced financial investigators. Rarely will a terrorist financing investigation be confined to the territory of one field office, rather they normally span not only multiple field office jurisdictions, but the globe; i.e., these types of investigations will frequently be linked to investigations and/or issues in other jurisdictions and other countries. It is imperative that these investigative efforts be effectively coordinated, placed into perspective with other counterterrorism efforts, prioritized in accordance with national and global strategies, and addressed in concert rather than in a disjointed, inefficient manner. Prior to the establishment of the TFOS, there did not exist within the FBI a mechanism to ensure appropriate focus on terrorist finance issues and provide the necessary expertise and overall coordination to comprehensively address these matters.

So how far have we come in the war on terrorist financing since 9/11? There currently exists a much better understanding of terrorist financing methods. More sophisticated and effective processes and mechanisms to address and target terrorist financing continue to develop and evolve. Pro-active approaches are increasingly being utilized. The awareness around the world on the part of law enforcement, government agencies, regulators and policy makers, and the private sector of terrorist financing methods, suspicious financial activity and vulnerabilities is much higher since 9/11. International cooperation has reached unparalleled levels. Outreach with, and cooperation from, the private sector has been outstanding and continues to develop, particularly the level of two-way interaction between law enforcement and the private sector. The ability to access and obtain this type of information immediately has significantly enhanced the FBI's ability to identify, investigate, and resolve immediate threat situations involving potential terrorist activity. For example, the ability to conduct real-time monitoring of specifically identified financial activity has been invaluable to not only investigations ongoing in the US, but to foreign law enforcement and intelligence agencies in related investigations. Another example of not only more pro-active measures but also of increased cooperation and coordination with the international community.

Extensive training and support of international investigations by TFOS has led to Agent visits/exchanges and training programs involving a variety of countries from Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, South America, etc. In support of specific high profile joint terrorist financial investigative matters, a number of countries and agencies, including the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada and Europol, have detailed investigators to TFOS on a TDY basis. TFOS has engaged in extensive coordination with authorities of numerous foreign governments in terrorist financing matters, leading to joint investigative efforts throughout the world. These joint investigations have successfully targeted the financing of several overseas al-Qa'ida cells, including those located in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Spain, and Italy. Furthermore, with the assistance of relationships established with the central banks of several strategic countries, successful disruptions of al-Qa'ida financing have been accomplished in counties such as the UAE, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Indonesia.

TFOS has developed a specific terrorist financing/money laundering crimes curriculum for international training which includes topics such as: acquiring and handling evidence in document intensive financial investigations, major case management techniques, forensic examination tools, and methods of terrorist financing. At the request of the US Department of State, TFOS has led an interagency team to provide this curriculum to a number of countries (and is scheduled to provide to approximately 38 countries) identified as needing law enforcement training on conducting terrorist financing investigations.

TFOS has cultivated and maintains a contact database of private industry and government sources/persons who can provide financial data, including real-time monitoring of financial transactions. Many of these contacts can be reached or accessed on 24 hour/7 days a week emergency allowing TFOS to respond rapidly to critical incidents.

Through these contacts the TFOS has access to data and information from a variety of entities including: Banking, Credit/Debit Card Sector, Money Services Businesses, Securities/Brokerages Sector, Insurance, Travel, Internet Service Providers, Telecommunications Industry, Law Enforcement, State/Federal Regulatory Agencies, Public and Open Source Data Providers, the Intelligence Community, and International Law Enforcement and Intelligence Contacts. The timeliness and accessibility of the data is contingent on a variety of factors including whether the acquisition of the information requires legal process, the search capabilities of the data provider, and the size and depth of the data request. The ability to access and obtain this type of information in a time sensitive and urgent manner has significantly enhanced the FBI's ability to identify, investigate and resolve immediate threat situations involving potential terrorist activity. For example, the ability to conduct real-time monitoring of specifically identified financial activity has been invaluable to not only investigations ongoing in the US, but to foreign law enforcement and intelligence agencies in related investigations.

Being able to identify and track financial transactions and links after a terrorist act has occurred or terrorist activity has been identified represents only a small portion of the mission; the key lies in exploiting financial information in efforts to identify previously unknown terrorist cells, recognize potential terrorist activity/planning, and predict and prevent potential terrorist acts. Prior to 9/11, there was not enough emphasis placed on addressing the mechanisms and systems associated with terrorist financing and disrupting them before they could be utilized to further terrorist activities. Since September 11, TFOS, together with the Counter-Terrorism Section (CTS), Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), have begun a number of pro-active link analysis initiatives to identify potential terrorists and terrorist related financing activities.

The overriding goal of these projects is to pro-actively identify potential terrorists and terrorist related individuals/entities, mechanisms or schemes through the digital exploitation of data. To accomplish this, TFOS seeks to 1) identify potential electronic data sources within domestic and foreign government and private industry providers; 2) create pathways and protocols to acquire and analyze the data; and 3) provide both reactive and proactive operational, predictive and educational support to investigators and prosecutors.

Information sharing is critical to all of our efforts. The intelligence community, including the FBI, produces and obtains tremendous amounts of classified intelligence information. While much of the information can be of significant value in terrorist finance investigations, the value will not be realized nor maximized absent the ability to filter the information, analyze it, and disseminate it in an appropriate manner to those who can make the best use of the information. Toward this end, the TFOS participates in joint endeavors involving the CIA, FBI, Treasury Department, Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security involving potential terrorist related financial transactions, in addition to other joint participation between TFOS and the intelligence agencies. TFOS has personnel detailed to the CIA/CTC/FINO and personnel from there work directly with TFOS on financial intelligence matters.

The National Security Council formalized the Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC) on Terrorist Financing at the end of 2001. Treasury chairs the PCC and representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Council and the State Department attend meetings.

The PCC generally meets at least once a month to coordinate the United States government's campaign against terrorist financing. The meeting generally focuses on ensuring that all relevant components of the federal government are acting in a coordinated and effective manner to combat terrorist financing.

Terrorist Financing Successes

In addition, the FBI, working in coordination with other entities of the US government, has participated in the following successes:

  • An FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in Charlotte used racketeering statutes to obtain convictions which disrupted and dismantled a Hizballah procurement and fund-raising cell. Twenty-six individuals were arrested for crimes including immigration fraud, visa fraud, cigarette smuggling, interstate transportation of stolen property, fraud, bank fraud, bribery, money laundering, racketeering, and providing material support to a terrorist organization.
  • The FBI coordinated with the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) to justify the blocking of Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) assets and the closing of its US offices, shutting down HAMAS' largest fund-raising entity in the US. The HLF had been linked to the funding of HAMAS terrorist activities, and in 2000, HLF raised $13 million.
  • Offices of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), a US based charity, were shut down and its assets and records blocked following an OFAC and FBI investigation which determined that the charity was being used to funnel money to Al Qa'ida. In February 2003, Enaam Arnaout, the head of BIF, pled guilty to racketeering conspiracy, admitting he fraudulently obtained charitable donations in order to provide financial assistance to persons engaged in violent activities overseas.
  • As a result of information developed by the FBI, a foreign security service, in conjunction with US Intelligence Community agencies, apprehended one of the most significant money launderers associated with Usama Bin Laden, for funneling $67 million through international accounts to al-Qa'ida and the Taliban.
  • A criminal case against Sami Al Arian, the alleged US leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the World Islamic Studies Enterprise has forced the closure of several front companies suspected of funneling money to support PIJ operations against Israel. In August 2002, the investigation led to the deportation of Mazen Al-Najjar, the brother-in-law of Sami Al Arian and a known PIJ member. In February, following a 50-count indictment for RICO and Material Support of terrorism violations, the FBI arrested Al-Arian and three other U.S.-based members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, including Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatim Naji Fariz, and Ghassan Ballout. The FBI also executed seven search warrants associated with this action.
  • TFOS has provided operational support to FBI Field Divisions across the United States to enhance the intelligence/criminal investigations of individuals and groups, associated with or providing material support to, terrorist organizations and activities. This assistance is provided in the form of conducting intelligence/criminal financial investigations, financial analytical support, major case management, financial link analysis, and the deployment of teams of experts to develop investigative plans to analyze large volumes of documents and data. TFOS has provided this operational support in the Al Qa'ida sleeper cell cases in Buffalo and Portland, as well as in the Richard Reid, John Walker Lindh, Jose Padilla, Al Haramain, PIJ, and Mohamed Almoayad cases, among many others. This type of operational support has also been provided to Divisions investigating NGOs, such as the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Benevolence International Foundation and the Global Relief Foundation.
  • TFOS has engaged in extensive coordination with authorities of numerous foreign governments in terrorist financing matters, leading to joint investigative efforts throughout the world. These joint investigations have successfully targeted the financing of several overseas Al Qa'ida cells, including those located in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Spain, and Italy. Furthermore, with the assistance of relationships established with the central banks of several strategic countries, successful disruptions of Al Qa'ida financing have been accomplished in counties such as the UAE, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Indonesia.
  • The FBI conducted a detailed financial investigation/analysis of the 19 hijackers and their support network, following the September 11th attacks. This investigation initially identified the Al Qa'ida funding sources of the 19 hijackers in the UAE and Germany. The financial investigation also provided the first links between Ramzi Binalshibh and the 9/11 operation. A continuing investigation, in coordination with the PENTTBOMB Team, has traced the origin of the funding of 9/11 back to financial accounts in Pakistan, where high-ranking and well-known Al Qa'ida operatives played a major role in moving the money forward, eventually into the hands of the hijackers located in the U.S. As part of the 9/11 financial investigation, thousands of individuals and organizations were investigated in the U.S. and abroad to determine whether they played any part in supporting the hijackers or the operation. Although the vast majority of these individuals and organizations were cleared, this process of elimination resulted in numerous other quality terrorism investigations being initiated, as well as criminal charges against hundreds of individuals for fraud and other criminal activity.
  • At the request of a foreign liaison service, TFOS traced financial transactions in a near real-time manner which led to the location of a terrorist cell and prevention of a terrorist act.
  • Since 9/11, the United States has frozen $36.3 million in terrorist assets while other countries have frozen an estimated $97 million, for a total of over $133 million.
  • U.S. authorities issued blocking orders on the assets of 281 terrorists, terrorist organizations, and terrorist supporters, effectively denying them access to the U.S. financial system.
  • Federal law enforcement officials have arrested over 61 individuals, indicted 43 and convicted 12 in connection with terrorist financing investigations.
  • U.S. Government agencies, to include the FBI's TFOS, deployed trainers and advisers on missions to countries around the world to assist with the drafting of legislation to combat terrorist financing, strengthen bank supervision in identifying suspicious transactions, and address other financial crimes and corruption.

Since 9/11, over 120 countries have introduced new terrorist-related legislation and approximately 80 countries established Financial Investigation Units.

Saudi Arabia and the War on Terrorism

Following the 9/11 attacks, it became apparent that the role of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and charitable organizations, as a source of funding for terrorist groups, needed closer scrutiny. This included the role of Saudi Arabia and its citizens in the support of terrorism, both directly and indirectly, through the financial support of these charitable organizations.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken proactive measures to deter global terrorism. In 1995, the bombing of Khobar Towers occurred in Saudi Arabia. In 1996, the Kingdom established a joint Counter-Terrorism Committee with the United States to share information on al-Qa'ida. In the wake of September 11, Saudi Arabia has increased its counterterrorism efforts with the following initiatives:

  • Saudi Arabia has put new laws and regulations in place for all charitable groups, ensuring that they are audited to prevent the flow of funds to entities other than charity.
  • Saudi Arabia has further strengthened its laws and regulations regarding money laundering. These efforts include new rules concerning the verification of customers' identities as well as restrictions on non-residents' ability to open accounts in the country.
  • Saudi Arabia and the United States maintain a Counter-Terrorism Committee comprised of intelligence and law enforcement personnel who meet regularly to share information and resources and develop action plans to root out terrorist networks.
  • In March 2002, Saudi Arabia and the US jointly blocked the accounts of Bosnia and Somalia branches of Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, and in the summer of 2002, jointly froze the assets of the Rabita Trust, and those of its director Wa'el Hamza Julaidan, an associate of Bin Laden who provided financial and logistical support to al-Qa'ida.
  • Saudi Arabia has contributed to the break up of a number of al-Qa'ida cells, the arrests of key al-Qa'ida leaders and capture of al-Qa'ida members in Saudi Arabia.
    Since the May 12, 2003 bombings of the three western compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has improved. The FBI sent an investigative team to the Kingdom and worked with the law enforcement and intelligence services to conduct the appropriate post incident investigation and evidence collection. Cooperation with the Saudi Arabian government continues on this and other terrorism investigations.

The USA PATRIOT Act and Other Legislation

Our efforts to combat terrorism have been greatly aided by the provisions of the PATRIOT Act. The success in preventing another catastrophic attack on the U.S. homeland would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, without the Act. It has already proved extraordinarily beneficial in the war on terrorism, and our opportunities to use it will only increase. Most importantly, the PATRIOT Act has produced greater collection and sharing of information within the law enforcement and intelligence communities.

Title III of the Act, also known as the International Money Laundering Anti-Terrorist Financing Act of 2001, has armed us with a number of new weapons in our efforts to identify and track the financial structure supporting terrorist groups. Past terrorist financing methods have included the use of informal systems for transferring value in a manner that is difficult to detect and trace. The effectiveness of such methods should be significantly eroded by the Act, which establishes stricter rules for correspondent bank accounts, requires securities brokers and dealers to file Suspicious Activity Reports or SARS, and certain money services to register with FinCEN and file SARS for a wider range of financial transactions.

There are other provisions of the Act that have considerably aided our efforts to address the terrorist threat including: strengthening the existing ban on providing material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations; the authority to seize terrorist assets; and the power to seize money subject to forfeiture in a foreign bank account by authorizing the seizure of a foreign bank's funds held in a U.S. correspondent account.

It is important for the Committee and the American people to know that the FBI is using the PATRIOT Act authorities in a responsible manner. We are making every effort to effectively balance our obligation to protect Americans from terrorism, with our obligation to protect their civil liberties.

Executive Branch Organizational Changes

Organizational changes that have taken place within the Executive Branch with respect to the investigation of terrorism financing include the execution of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concerning terrorist financing investigations. The MOA addresses the importance of waging a seamless, coordinated campaign against terrorist sources of financing. It was signed by Attorney General Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Ridge on May 13, 2003. Prior to this agreement, both the DOJ and DHS had separate terrorist financing task forces. Under DOJ, the FBI had the TFOS, which was discussed earlier. The DHS had the Bureau of Immigration and Customs (ICE) led Operation Green Quest (OGQ).

Pursuant to the MOA, OGQ ceased to exist as a program name as of June 30, 2003. Accordingly, the FBI was designated to lead terrorist financing investigations and operations. It was agreed that DHS would focus its activities on protecting the integrity of U.S. financial infrastructures. To that extent, the DHS implemented the ICE led Operation Cornerstone. Operation Cornerstone will identify vulnerabilities in financial systems through which criminals launder their illicit proceeds, bring the criminals to justice and work to eliminate the vulnerabilities.

The majority of the former OGQ case inventory was criminal cases, with no nexus to terrorism. These cases were converted from OGQ to Operation Cornerstone. Those cases that had a nexus to terrorism that were investigated by the former OGQ are currently being assessed for transition to the appropriate FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). Ongoing and future Operation Cornerstone investigations that develop links to terrorism will be referred to the FBI through the TFOS. The ICE and TFOS are coordinating investigative initiatives that will enable the ICE to identify financial systemic vulnerabilities and which will enable the TFOS to identify ties to terrorism and terrorist financing. In addition, there is a liaison from ICE assigned to TFOS, and investigators from ICE will be represented on the JTTFs.

Terrorism represents a global problem. The solution is grounded in what would have been considered prior to 9/11, unprecedented international cooperation and coordination. The threat it poses must always be considered imminent. In addition to considerable financial investigative expertise, addressing terrorism and the finances that support and propagate it requires the ability to both implement proactive and preventive approaches to disrupt and dismantle as well as the ability to conduct highly reactive immediate response financial investigations to address potential imminent threats. As stated herein and in conjunction with more and more of the international community and other aspects of the US Government, the FBI has made considerable progress toward achieving and implementing these abilities.

Again, I offer my gratitude and appreciation to you, Madam Chair Collins, Senator Specter, and the Governmental Affairs Committee, for dedicating your time and effort to this issue and I would be happy to respond to any questions.

 
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