Can financial intelligence assist in anticipating security threats?
High price when missing the money trail – Nick Kochan
How can financial intelligence assist security executives in anticipating a threat or interdicting a crime? That is an increasingly pressing question for police and security services faced with an ongoing terrorist threat.
Money presents a number of problems as a form of intelligence. Firstly, it moves very fast and the speed gets only faster with technology. Secondly, its owners can hide behind body armour called anonymous companies and never come out the shadows. Third, the key guardian and repository of financial intelligence tends to be banks and other institutions, that can be bureaucratic and unhelpful.
Yet the money trail can also be powerful when hunting for terrorists, not to mention organised criminals. This works in two ways. Criminals need money to buy their materiel for perpetrating their outrages and they also need money for daily expenses prior to the act. If you can intercept the funds before it reaches them, the outrage itself may be disrupted. Money is the oxygen of the crime gang.
Even if the criminal event goes ahead, money can provide a trail to the perpetrators. Credit cards were found on the person of the 7/7 bombers enabling police to see how and where goods used by the terrorists were bought.
Government and banks present a united front when it comes to acquiring, checking, sifting and analysing financial data that may have a terrorist link. Indeed, banks stepped up to the plate as never before when the US authorities sought to understand 9/11. Banks can baulk at the intrusion of the state in their affairs—citing customer confidentiality and the like—but the basic fact is that banks have to say yes, when state agencies demand information. Banks dislike not being told why the information is needed and there is ingrained suspicion at the motives of state intelligence, but no bank wants to found or suspected of handling terrorist or terrorist linked funds.
Banks who are caught out handling black terrorist money, most likely through negligence rather than knowledge will have their reputations shredded.
The challenge for the security services is making sense of the reports that banks send them about suspicious transactions of money or other goods. Money is a massively complex source of intelligence for the reasons cited above. The skills required to follow money flows and to get behind the criminally-created companies are likewise demanding. How hard it is to distinguish the small time tax cheat or low-level launderer from the terrorist group that is moving funds to get them to an overseas operative.
Yet, seeing the distinctions between the financial conman and the murderous terrorist can save lives. The price for missing the money connection is high indeed.