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The Fraud-Terror Link:

Terrorists are Committing Fraud to Fund Their Activities



July-August 2010


2010-JulyAugust-Fraud Terror Link 
"A society that applauds innovation in the world of business can hardly expect to escape innovation in the world of crime." Criminologist Leon Radzinowicz1

The threat of terrorism has become the principal security concern in the United States since 9/11. Some might perceive that fraud isn’t linked to terrorism because white-collar crime issues are more the province of organized crime, but that perception is misguided. Terrorists derive funding from a variety of criminal activities ranging in scale and sophistication – from low-level crime to organized narcotics smuggling and fraud. CFEs need to know the latest links between fraud and terror.

Credit card fraud, wire fraud, mortgage fraud, charitable donation fraud, insurance fraud, identity theft, money laundering, immigration fraud, and tax evasion are just some of the types of fraud commonly used to fund terrorist cells. Such groups will also use shell companies to receive and distribute illicit funds. On the surface, these companies might engage in legitimate activities to establish a positive reputation in the business community.

Financing is required not just to fund specific terrorist operations but to meet the broader organizational costs of developing and maintaining a terrorist organization and to create an enabling environment necessary to sustain their activities. The direct costs of mounting individual attacks have been relatively low considering the damage they can yield.

“Part of the problem is that it takes so little to finance an operation,” said Gary LaFree, director of the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.2 For example, the 2005 London bombings cost about $15,600.3 The 2000 bombing of the USS Cole is estimated to have cost between $5,000 and $10,000.4 Al-Qaida’s entire 9/11 operation cost between $400,000 and $500,000, according to the final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.5

Terrorist groups require significant funds to create and maintain an infrastructure of organizational support, sustain an ideology of terrorism through propaganda, and finance the ostensibly legitimate activities needed to provide a veil of legitimacy for their shell companies.6 However, don’t think that only large operations are needed for terrorists to carry out attacks; small semi-autonomous cells in many countries are often just as capable of conducting disruptive activities without extensive outside financial help – they just conduct smaller-scale frauds.7

Even though the nexus between fraud and terrorism is undisputed, there’s concern at state and local levels that law enforcement professionals lack specialized knowledge on how to detect the fraud-terror link because they’re more apt to investigate and prosecute violent crimes.8

A critical lack of awareness about terrorists’ links to fraud schemes is undermining the fight against terrorism. Fraud analysis must be central, not peripheral, in understanding the patterns of terrorist behavior.9  


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