The Criminal Underpinnings
is hawala…and how is it used to move
terrorist monies around? Which petty crimes
have terrorists gravitated toward in recent
years to finance their attacks? And why does
any of it matter to our nation’s law
You’ll find the answers—and
more telling details on the ins and outs
of terrorist financing—in two feature
articles in a recent issue of our FBI
Law Enforcement Bulletin.
As the articles make clear—and recent
experience has shown—terrorists are
willing to go to just about any criminal
length to raise money: from hawking pirated
software to smuggling cigarettes…from
burglarizing hotel rooms to robbing gas stations…from
engaging in garden variety frauds to trafficking
in illegal drugs. The idea is to stay under
the radar using relatively low-risk crimes.
For law enforcement, this propensity
is troubling for two interrelated reasons:
- Terrorist cells here and abroad still
look to al Qaeda for inspiration, but less
for direct funding. The more decentralized
al Qaeda becomes, the more cells need to
find their own revenue streams—legal
- We’ve seen again and again that
terrorist attacks can be planned and executed
on the cheap. A few dollars—criminally
generated—can go a long way.
On the lookout. For the
gamut of law enforcement—from local
police to state troopers to FBI and other
federal agents—these realities underscore
the importance of staying alert to the possibilities
of terrorist linkages in criminal cases.
- Just one example: Investigations
both before and after 9/11 reveal how members
of terrorist organizations in the U.S.
have stolen, repackaged, and bootlegged
baby formula for cash. In one post-9/11
case, a Texas state trooper pulled over
the driver of a rental van and found a
large stash of stolen formula inside. The
man was linked to a terrorist-based theft
ring that operated across the nation, wiring
profits back to the Middle East.
On Hawala. Though it’s
an ancient, informal way of transferring
money akin to wiring funds, hawala does leave
clues that can tip investigators off to illegal
activities and possible terrorist dealings.
For example, hawala brokers—or hawaladars—often
do keep records, which are needed to settle
accounts. One of the articles suggests investigators
look for large transactions involving alternate
forms of currency such as food stamps, phone
cards, and even lottery tickets, since hawaladars
typically barter without using cash. A detailed
list of items common to illegal hawala operations—from
a suspiciously high number of phone lines
to multiple IDs—can be found on page
4 of the Bulletin.
We encourage you to read both articles
in full. As one of the authors points out, “The
more familiar officers are with the criminal
enterprises used by these groups to raise
money, the more effective they will be in
finding ways to counter such activities.” And
more to the point, in stopping terrorist
bombs before they ever go off.
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin | FBI