In my private consultant capacity since my retirement from the Department of Homeland Security, I have attended a number of “Financial/Anti-Money Laundering” conferences in the United States. At each of these Post-9/11 conferences, there has been at least one “industry” presentation questioning the effectiveness of the USA Patriot Act’s expansion of the Secretary of Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities.
Let us not forget: Money is the driving force when it comes to the War on Terror. Funding is a necessary component of any terrorist operation. And following the money trail is more critical in our efforts to dismantle terrorist networks than we even initially anticipated.
Recent debriefings of captured al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq have provided new insight into the importance of insurgent financial networks. Abu Nawall, a captured 28-year-old al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, was responsible for managing the $6 million plus annual budget of the Mosul branch of the Islamic State of Iraq, an insurgent group formed by al-Qaeda. Abu Nawall arranged payments to the 500 plus al-Qaeda fighters in Mosul, insurgents increasingly motivated more by money than ideology. Abu Nawall readily admitted during his interrogation to have joined al-Qaeda because he was out of work and needed the money. He stated: “How else could I support my family?” As an insurgent leader, he was paid as much as $1300 per month.
Abu Nawall is not unique – U.S. military leaders in Iraq have disclosed that insurgents across the country are increasingly motivated more by money than ideology. “Of course we hate the Americans and want them gone immediately, but the reason I and many others joined the Islamic State of Iraq is to support our families,” Abu Nawall stated. Mosul is considered the primary location in Iraq for wiring money to the insurgency from Syria and other countries, with three of the largest banks in Iraq operating branches in the city.
In response to this development, U.S. military leaders have increased activity to disrupt and dismantle al-Qaeda Iraqi financial networks. In Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh Province, the dismantling of al-Qaeda financial networks is considered to be the primary reason that violent attacks decreased from about 18 a day to about 8 a day.
In conclusion, let us continue to recognize the importance of “funding” to the terrorist cause, whether it be in New York, Syria or Mosul. Each dollar that is eliminated from a terrorist operation or salary is critical to fighting the War on Terror.