Follow the Money: Study Analyzes Al-Qa'ida's Finances

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BY ALLISON SCHIFF

According to a new RAND study [2]analyzing captured al-Qa'ida financial records tracing daily transactions within Anbar province, throwing a wrench into the terror organization's "financial flows could disrupt the pace of their attacks."

In its study, the nonprofit global policy think tank emphasized the usefulness of these types of documents "as a source of strategic intelligence on militant groups."

Though in theory targeted forensic accounting of this nature could, in the words of the RAND study authors, reveal "information about how [a] group was organized, how it made decisions, how it raised money, and what its financial vulnerabilities were," Jeffrey Sklar, who sits on the Society's Anti-Money Laundering & Counter Terrorist Financing Committee [3], is not sure how realistic that really is.

"Terror financiers and money launderers spend a tremendous amount of time looking at ways to perform the money laundering act, and I'm venturing a guess here, but I'd say al-Qa'ida and its operatives aren't paying taxes," said Sklar.

"They hire people to develop systems to step around the law and every time law enforcement finds one thing - although I think they're making tremendous headway, don't get me wrong -- the terrorists just develop another system," he said. "Though we are making them have to go more and more underground."

The manpower and attention to detail needed to "catch everyone," said Sklar, would "require every bank and business to look at every transaction no matter what the dollar amount."

"And that's not humanly possible," he said. "Ultimately, tracking finances is the sort of thing that tightens the noose a little, but it's definitely an uphill battle."