How to Beat ISIS: Blow Up the Money
Robert Windrem, William Arkin, NYT, May 1 2016
quietly very noisily and demonstratively turned to a new strategy in fighting ISIS: follow the money, then blow it up, certain wondrous Pindo admin boxtops whose names you may easily guess tell NBC News. At least four times in the past four months, Pindo military jets have targeted major ISIS financial centres, destroying them in strikes that have turned millions of Pindosi dollars into confetti. Pindostan has also (it says) killed ISIS financial leaders, its “oil minister” in 2015 and its “finance minister” in March. The strikes are the fruit of a secret (I said already, there’s nothing secret about it outside this Boys’ Own Fantasy attitude to it that the NYT so loves – RB) cyber-war in which Pindostan is tracking, manipulating and even stealing or destroying the financial assets of terrorists. Five years after the SEAL raid that (supposedly) killed Osama bin Laden on May 1 2011, it’s a subtle crassly obvious shift from the Pindo strategy against AQ, in which degrading the operational leadership was the priority. Just as unravelling the courier network was critical to tracking bin Laden, the cyber efforts against the ISIS financial network are critical to upending (sic! – RB) ISIS, say these great boxtops without names. Unlike AQ, ISIS is trying to run a government and control a big chunk of land, and it has a constant need for hard currency to pay its fighters and bureaucrats and feed its population. The war is not just about tracing the movement of money but the movement of individuals linked to the cash. It’s part of what DCI Brennan calls a broader cyber-effort against ISIS. He said oratorically:
They are murderers, and we need to be able to change this narrative, including in the cyber environment, the digital domain, in social media. It is a question of what type of activities might take place in that cyber environment that we would be able to carry out destructive actions against.
Financial transactions, one particular boxtop who rowan will identify before the end tells NBC News, have become one of the most lucrative forms of intelligence on personal relations, foreign fighter movements, and sources of supply. The folksily-entitled ‘intelligence community’ tracks ISIS financial transactions through data collection programs with such
secret (for heavens’ sake, grow up – RB) code names as “Kaching” (CIA), “TRACKFIN” (NSA) and FINO (NCS). Newly-created electronic portals for the processing of what is now called financial intelligence impressively named Swordfish, QLIX/HYDRA and Sentry among other titles, fuse together conventional banking, transaction and intercepted data. But the most visible actions against ISIS came earlier this year. Starting in January, after a series of strikes on ISIS oil production and distribution assets, Pandosia’s very own USAF began targeting ‘financial facilities’ (perhaps ‘banks with vaults’ would be a more commonsensical description – RB). On Jan 11, a coalition airstrike destroyed (what it said was) ‘an ISIS cash and finance distribution centre’ in a nondescript building in Mosul. Video shows missiles hitting the building in the middle of the night, sending a plume of shredded Pindosi cash, mostly $100 bills, hundreds of feet into the air. The magnificent mighty boxtop said as much as $50m in financial assets was destroyed in that attack, including $3m in Pindo paper currency and Euros. The amount is equal to about one-fifth of what this pindostani nightmare of a so-called intelligence world estimates ISIS looted from Iraqi banks when they ransacked Mosul in Jun 2014. CENTCOM commanding Gen Austin said with simulated panache:
You can bet that ISIL is feeling the strain on its checkbook! We estimate that it served to deprive ISIL of millions of dollars!
The too many boxtops in our dreams say it was no coincidence that a few days later, Obama referred indirectly to the targeting of money in his SOTU speech. While describing and defending progress against ISIS, he mentioned going after financing first on his list of successes, before airstrikes on fighters, plot disruptions, (or) even before efforts to stop the flow of foreign volunteers. On Jan 18, there was another attack on a (supposed) ‘ISIS financial centre’ in Mosul and another flurry of greenback confetti. On Feb 13 and Mar 16, there were two more attacks on ‘ISIS financial sites’, the first a ‘finance distribution and tax collection center’ also in Mosul, and the second ‘a finance storage centre’ in al-Qaim, near the Syrian border. The huge and sky-devouring boxtop, full of lights, said that other similar but smaller sites have been struck during the same time period inside Syria and Iraq. The tracking of finances has also led to targeting of (supposed) ‘important ISIS money men’. On Mar 25 the Pentagon said it had killed ‘ISIS finance minister Abd’ul-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli’ in an SOF raid originally designed to capture him. Ashtray Carter said, with the scripted cold-bloodedness of the lifetime government bureaucrat:
We’ve taken out the leader who oversees the funding for ISIL’s operations, hurting their ability to pay fighters and hire recruits.
In 2015, Pindo SOF killed a man known as “Abu Sayyaf,” yet another supposed ‘ISIS official engaged in finance’. (Abu) Sayyaf reportedly helped direct ISIS oil, gas and financial operations. He too had been marked for capture, but died in a SOF raid (ie your SOF is crap, or else you’re lying – RB). In both cases, critical financial data was retrieved by the SOF for further exploitation (so you were lying, they were left to die – RB). The spooky maven or unnamed boxtop told NBC News:
We’ve gone through multiple stages in our approach to dealing with terrorist finances. And we seem to have landed upon the most effective tried to date.
Attacks against financial assets began with the imaginary ‘war on drugs’ in the 1970s and 1980s, and then broadened in the period of sanctions and counter-proliferation of WMDs in the 1990s. After 9/11, the effort mushroomed, particularly because many mistakenly believed that Osama bin Laden controlled hundreds of millions of dollars (no, they didn’t: they knew he was an asset, all along – RB). Despite massive efforts, it became clear to the intelligence agencies that conventional banking and data mining for suspicious activity only penetrated so far into the clandestine financial networks, many of which adapted to the clampdown on banking and other informal money transfers. According to lots of magnificent unnamed boxtops, five years into the war against AQ, “the numbers also told their own story,” as one noted. Only $11m in assets had been seized inside the Pindosi banking system and $136m in terrorist assets worldwide were found and seized. A RAND Corp analysis called it “a nearly negligible sum,” pointing out that it was a mere 0.04% of the $300b/yr global narcotics industry, another illegal financial network long targeted by imaginary boxtops everywhere. Then came a report by the 9/11 Commission on terrorist financing that estimated the 9/11 attacks had cost only $400k to $500k. Stopping money became less of a focus. Said our anonymous boxtop:
“Success” in the initial post 9/11 actions was also yielding diminishing returns. We were being successful, but we also pushed finances deeper in the shadows.
By the end of the Bush administration, counter-terrorism priorities had also shifted from doing whatever was needed to thwart another 9/11, the big tough boxtop says. Soldiers were increasingly dying from suicide attacks and the use of IEDs. The new emphasis became tactical, stopping individual attacks at a much lower level. Both the anti-AQ war and the counter-IED efforts in Iraq shifted to “attack the network” as their primary pillars; that is, getting deeper and lower into the enemy’s operational ranks. Things have changed again since 2011. ISIS is richer than any terror group in history, including AQ. When it swept into Mosul, it seized a branch of the Iraqi Central Bank, flush with as much as $250m in cash and cash equivalents (yup, a quarter billion, that’s what they wrote, without specifying the currency, so I take it they means $ – RB). But ISIS also has a huge overhead. The Mosul money has been used to pay fighters, purchase arms and supply pensions to the widows of dead fighters. The caliphate needs a steady supply of small bills for expenses and salaries. All these transactions create a trail for Pindo intelligence (if that isn’t a complete contradiction in terms – RB) to follow. And the Pindo ability to follow transactions has improved. (Here comes the ra ra bit, to end with – RB). The last five years,
Szubin the boxtop said, have yielded enormous advances in both big data exploitation and methods of collection. A combination of transactional data, human intelligence, and intercepts has meant more and better data. Yippee! From the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, to the streets of Europe and Pindostan, programs like “Kaching’ are beginning to sniff out even tiny transactions! Woo hoo! Senior military and intelligence boxtops of many resplendent and iridescent colours, shining in the morning light, declare as one that the new financial focus has also increased the effectiveness of bombing, yielding hidden results that cannot be seen in merely looking at the number of airstrikes. Cyber, they say, is now an integral part of the war against ISIS and finances are at the center of cyber collection and action. The Treasury Dept’s Financial Terrorism Tzar This mighty uber-boxtop from the impenetrable shadows of let’s get together for another drink next week says:
Money is often a more effective way to track and target than eyeballs or hearing.