On Target: The Financial Fight against Terrorist Organizations

By Boucek, Christopher | Harvard International Review, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

On Target: The Financial Fight against Terrorist Organizations


Boucek, Christopher, Harvard International Review


Targeting Terrorist Financing: International Cooperation and New Regimes is by Araninda Acharya (Routledge, 2009).

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the US government moved swiftly in an attempt to curtail terror financing. Less than two weeks after the attacks, one of Washington's first responses was to attack the financial foundations of al Qaeda through Executive Order 13224, blocking terrorist property and prohibiting transactions between active and suspected terrorists and their allies. Arabinda Acharya asserts in his new book, Targeting Terorist Financing: International Cooperation and New Regimes, that this at first "initiated an unprecedented effort to identify, confiscate, and block the assets of terrorist groups and their associates." This was followed by the rapid creation of a global financial coalition with input from the United Nations, the European Union, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, G7, G8, G20, and the Egmont Group of financial intelligence unions. New international and domestic organizations such as the Financial Action Task Force (EATF) were created to target terror financing. The importance attached to fighting terror financing is underscored by the fact that President George Bush's announcement of EO 13224 predated most other US responses, including the use of military force in Afghanistan. The question, then, is what has happened since? Arabinda Acharya--Head of the Terrorist Financing Response Project at the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore--has written a welcome addition to the growing body of scholarly terrorism studies. 'Targeting Terrorist Financing adds thoroughly documented research to the important issue of terror finance. Acharya astutely examines the essential role money and fund-raising play to terrorist organizations, and assesses the progress since September 11th in the systematic attack on the ability of terrorists to use, raise, and move money. He deftly argues that it is not institutions that have come up short in the struggle to combat terror financing, but rather it is states that have thus far failed to comprehensively work with international institutions.

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Acharya observes that international efforts against terror financing have nearly ceased, despite the continued efforts of terrorist groups to seek new ways to raise and move funds. Early steps generated sizable gains: the value of assets seized in the immediate months after September 11th rose some 300 percent in just four months to over US$300 million. Yet since that initial rise, the targeting of terrorist finances has lost its effectiveness. Acharya attributes this to less international cooperation, a lack of consensus of what works, an absence of ownership of the problem, and a failure of collective action. This inefficacy has been further augmented by the fact that the true dynamics of terror financing are rather poorly understood.

As he notes, at the beginning of what was once termed the global war on terror, US officials often spoke of attacking terror finances as a way to cripple al Qaeda. The early focus on financial matters may have been a result of how al Qaeda was seen at the time--as an organization rather than a movement. Such assertions are less frequent these days, as al Qaeda and transnational terrorism are not the same as international drug cartels and other criminal networks. The financial war on terrorism is important, and it remains a key component in counter-terrorism today. …

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