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Readings: ‘Funding Terror’

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Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 1:42 PM

Financial resources for terrorist groups probably should get more attention here at Lawfare than we give it.  We know that interdiction of terrorist financing has been utterly crucial as a tool of counterterrorism since 9/11, but the ins and outs of this can be hard to follow without a background in law of finance, financial intermediaries, international financial institutions, etc.  One of the basic problems is that for purposes of business efficiency, we would like to reduce the barriers to business formation, capital mobility, etc., across borders.  At the same time, many of those features also make interdiction of terrorist financing much more difficult.  There has not been that much attention to the issue of interdiction of terrorist financing in American legal academic literature in recent years – my impression, anyway.  So I very much welcome this new article forthcoming in University of Pennsylvania Law Review, “Funding Terror,” by Shima Baradaran, Michael Findley, Daniel Nielsen, and JC Sharman.  It’s an excellent treatment of the difficulties of international financial interdiction.  Here is the abstract on SSRN:

The events of September 11 forever changed the political and legal response to terrorism. After more than ten years, two wars, several targeted military strikes, and significantly increased surveillance, we still have not succeeded in stopping the growth of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. The war on terror has not just been a military one. To stop terrorism, it is imperative to cut off the flow of terrorism financing. To this end, a number of nations have created financial laws that prohibit the formation of anonymous companies and monitor suspicious bank transfers. These laws have been touted as evidence that we are winning the war on terrorism. This Article questions their efficacy. In particular, this Article proves how easy it is to form a terrorist finance network and exploits the impotence of both international and domestic financial regulations that have been passed in this area. The Article presents findings from the largest global randomized controlled trial to date. In our experiment, we acted as customers seeking to form anonymous shell companies in a variety of scenarios resulting in either greater risk or greater reward. On the whole, forming an anonymous shell company is as easy as ever, despite increased regulations following 9/11. The results are disconcerting and demonstrate that we are much too far from a world that is safe from terror.