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Financing of International Terrorism
On 18 June 2013, the Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) organized a round table on Financing of International Terrorism. The keynote speaker of the event was Dr. Matthew Levitt, Director, Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of Treasury. Dr. Ognian Shentov, Chairman of CSD, opened the discussion, which is part of a series of events dedicated to the financing of terrorism.

In his elucidating presentation, Dr. Levitt outlined the major changes that terrorist groups have undergone in recent years with regards to their structure and financing methods. While in the past such organizations were strictly hierarchical and had clear levels of authority, today they are mostly characterized by ad-hoc relationships facilitated by the advance in communication technologies. Therefore, understanding the way they fund their operations is much more difficult and requires a wider range of policy tools than ever before to be used on a case-by-case basis. According to Dr. Levitt the option of seizing funds is useful in individual cases, but using intelligence to identify the key financial nodes by tracking cash flows is often more effective in the long run. These operations must be executed in conjunction with diplomatic negotiations and public-private partnership.

Drawing on various examples from his work on organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas and AlQaeda, Dr. Levitt presented some of the main schemes used to finance illicit operations and pointed out that terrorist attacks often don’t require especially large funds. The main sources of funding for terrorist operations are other criminal activities, often spanning across the world, such as charitable organizations acting as a cover to raise funds, credit-card bust-out schemes, money laundering and drug trafficking. Given the variety of schemes used, Dr. Levitt reiterated the importance of using intelligence to identify the sources rather than seizing isolated funds.

Mr. Ruslan Stefanov, Director of the Economic program at CSD, moderated the brief question and answer session in which Dr. Levitt suggested that the OECD’s Financial Action Task Force has been crucial in developing a common language in the field of crime financing. Experts of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, the Intelligence Service, the State Agency National Security, as well as representatives of diplomatic missions were also present at the round table.
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