UF Professor: Terrorists & Organized Crime Share Profit Motive
GAINESVILLE, Fla.–* When it comes to finances, terrorists of al Qaeda and other such organizations are more like members of organized crime than the holy warriors they claim to be.
That’s the message Fletcher Baldwin Jr., University of Florida Chesterfield Smith Professor of Law, will deliver here Monday (April 22) to participants of the third annual “Legal & Policy Issues in the Americas”conference.
Baldwin’s remarks, entitled “Organized Crime, Terrorism and Money Laundering,” will come at the 8 a.m. opening session at the Sheraton Hotel. Organized by the law school’s Center for Governmental Responsibility, the one- day conference annually attracts key government, academic and business leaders from the United States and Latin America.
Baldwin also contends “there are banks and financial institutions that for the most part unwittingly are being used as links and intermediaries for the transfer or deposit of funds to be employed in exporting terrorism in all of its obscene forms.”
“We give terrorists too much credit,” says Baldwin, director of the UF Center for International Financial Crimes Studies. “Those who blow themselves up think they’re doing it for religious purposes they will never come to realize, but the rest of them * such as bin Laden * who encourage others to die appear to be on the same power trip and in the same business as leaders of organized crime.”
Like members of the Yakuza in Japan, Triad in China, the Russian Mafia in the U. S., and drug cartels in Colombia, Baldwin says, terrorists to achieve their goals use such illegal sources of financing as the drug trade, prostitution, extortion and exploitation.
“Organized crime and organized terrorists operate in similar borderless environments, both pose similar threats to the stability and security of international and national communities, both profit from their illicit acts and both impact negatively upon nations’ financial markets,” Baldwin says.
And just like members of other organized crime rings, terrorists store their money in U.S. banks and those of other major economic centers.
“I have no doubt terrorist funds are still going through Western banks,” he says. “Some banks and financial institutions are for the most part still unwittingly being used as links and intermediaries for transfer or deposit of funds to be used to export terrorism in all of its obscene forms.”
Because the USA Patriot Act adopted on Oct. 26, 2001, demands it, Baldwin notes banks in the U.S. in particular have to make some changes.
“I think our financial institutions were a bit lax in knowing who their customers were and where their money came from,” Baldwin says. “If governments can squeeze and freeze the terrorists’ assets, they will have made an excellent start because privatized terrorists and their activities will lose a major source of income and will no longer be able to act with impunity.”
Baldwin points out that because actions of terrorists are similar to those of organized criminals, authorities are able to target terrorists and their sources of financing in much the same way they’ve targeted criminal syndicates for decades.
“Authorities can use the very same avenues they use to go after organized crime,” he says. “Terrorists are not idealists; they are organized and now privatized criminals. Laws impacting organized crime are equally available to fight terrorism.”
Baldwin reports one tool the U.S. has used effectively to fight terrorism on economic fronts is the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center, an interagency governmental group devoted to disrupting terrorist fund-raising. Launched immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, it was further empowered by the Patriot Act to broaden governmental agencies power.
“From where I sit, they’re initially doing a decent job,” Baldwin says. “But another big problem every government is going to have is the underground banking system, which is a marvelous way of hiding money. It’s next to impossible to discover, but the U.S. finally has legislation now to go after terrorists if they’re using this system.”
However, these efforts may not be enough, Baldwin warns.
“There still appear to be products being sold in stores and on television with profits that get back to al Qaeda,” Baldwin says. “It has been suggested the mineral tanzanite is under control of al Qaeda, and there appear to be diamond mines under its control as well. In other countries, the story is the same: certain products are under al Qaeda control, and banks are holding terrorist funds.”
Baldwin closes by noting he is optimistic “the USA Patriot Act of 2001 demonstrates this entire country’s political will to fight back strongly, and for as long as it takes.”