Jean Charles Brisard: "At the strategic level, little has been achieved"
- Since the attacks on the twin towers almost a decade ago, there was intense effort by international authorities to curb the flow of funds directed towards terrorist organizations. Do you assess that we can call the results positive so far or is there a long way to go, until durable results can be achieved?
Almost a decade after 9/11, let's be honest. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, we've experienced a lot of declarations of intent with regard to the war against terror financing. A lot of tools have been developed and a lot of money has been spent for this purpose. At the operational level, this has led to a new focus in investigations. Most of the countries are now taking into account the financial dimension to analyze a terrorist attack or to disrupt a terrorist threat.
Meanwhile, at the strategic level, only little has been achieved. 10 years later, we remain in almost the same situation with the same obstacles, whether political or economic obstacles in addressing and fighting this issue. The most recent example is the decision of the UN sanctions committee to remove so-called "moderate Taliban" from the sanction list for purely political motives, while all experts still view these individuals as real threats to the global security. We have certainly made the terrorists change the way they were financing their operations, but no one can claim a victory in disrupting terror financing. In almost 10 years, the UN sanction mechanism has only been able to freeze a little more than 100 million dollars in Al Qaeda's assets, when the annual budget of the organization is valued at more than 50 million dollars a years until 9/11.
-In general what are the main sources of funding for the terrorists, whether of Islamist nature or ethnically originated?
Basically, the major sources of funding remain the same as before 9/11: donations through fake or associated charities, donations from wealthy individuals, and increased part of funds derived from fraud and criminal activities, including drug-related profits. We've also noticed the persistent use of trade-based terrorism financing, especially from organizations such as Hezbollah and Al Qaeda.
-Have the international authorities and especially the UN, been able to set frameworks so as the international community adheres into common practices, regarding the issue of terrorism financing?
The UN has devoted a great deal of time and money, with some real successes, in harmonizing national antiterrorism financing regulations, including through international treaties and regional conventions.
But the UN lacked and still lacks the proper mandate and tools to enforce these regulations and sanction the un-cooperative countries. For example, a lot of countries have not yet criminalized terrorism financing, and others have not yet ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.
- In your view, do you believe that state-sponsored terrorism poses a great peril regarding international counterterrorism policy? What exactly constitutes the term "state-sponsored" and how widespread is it nowadays?
A State-sponsored of terrorism is a state that support terrorist activities, whether directly or indirectly, or a state that provides safe-heaven, financial or logistical support to terrorists. State-sponsored terrorism has gradually disappeared, with the exception of Iran. Rather, we now experience countries that are complacent or tolerant toward radical Islam, including Pakistan and Yemen; or states that are unable to tackle this threat, especially in the Horn of Africa.
-About Europe, is the threat of future terrorist acts visible? What constitutes as the best approach so as the European states could coordinate their capabilities against such threats?
The threat of terrorist attacks inside Europe remains high, and recent information suggest a terrorist attack is only a matter of time given the willingness, training and expertise gained by several Al Qaeda associates in Pakistan, Yemen and Africa.
Since years, I'm a vibrant advocate of common European tools to identify and prevent these threats. A lot has been done by the European Union on the criminal side, with the creation of finger prints databases or DNA databases, but we still lack a European database, open to every single European country, to share information on individuals and groups we believe could pose a threat to Europe.
After the Madrid bombings, on the basis of the database on Islamic terrorism built for the 9/11 victims' investigation on Al Qaeda, I've been able in only two days to identify the perpetrators and their connections with foreign terrorist groups, and inform the Spanish authorities. Until now, public authorities usually share information on a bilateral basis, but what is vital is to have a multilateral and common vision of the threats in order to prevent them and take mutual and appropriate measures.
-In Europe, how well can the public sector cooperate with the private one, in order to face the issues of money laundering and the finance of terrorists?
Terrorism financing is the best field where public and private understanding and cooperation could result in accurate targeting and timely sanctions. I'm speaking of cooperation between government bodies, banks and experts. For cultural reasons in Europe, this is not yet the case. Banks are seen, at best, as intermediaries to enforce certain measures, rather than cooperative organizations that could help the public sector in better understanding terrorist practices and make the appropriate reforms to adapt the regulations.
-Do you think that the current world financial crisis will affect negatively the efforts of the authorities? Moreover, countries in Europe that are facing economic hurdles, do you believe that they will be able to confront with the issue of money laundering or will they become "weak links" to the contemporary globalized environment?
We've seen the European countries and G7 mobilizing against financial safe-heavens, with some real successes, but indeed, the crisis has impacted our assessment of terrorism financing and money laundering, in the sense that less attention is today dedicated to these issues, compared to financial fraud and tax fraud.
- How well is the cooperation between the USA-Europe and other countries progressing as relating to the combat of terrorism financing?
Again, cooperation on this issue is essentially bilateral, with the U.S. playing a leading role since 9/11. If the cooperation works well with big and traditional partners in Europe, other countries have been reluctant or cautious with the former U.S. administration. Things are changing with a much more reasonable and diplomatic administration.
-For the short and mid-term, do you assess that the mass movement of population, mainly from the East to the West and the liberalization of finance and telecommunication networks globally; affects negatively any efforts by the security authorities to stop the flow of capital to extremists and terrorists?
Terrorists have always shown a great tactical adaptability to any legal, security of financial measure to fight them. This was again demonstrated at the operational level with the Christmas terrorist plot, and will be again in the future.
This is proven at the financial level with the increased use of alternative funding methods, such as the use of cash money and the development of criminal activities, in order to avoid the traditional financial system. The trends you mention certainly negatively impact our ability to fight terrorism.
But we should never forget that the essential to succeed in our war against the terrorists will come from our ability to fight them at their roots, and in the case of Islamic terrorism, to fight their vicious and corrupt ideology and those who still propagate it in Europe in order to recruit future terrorist. This is a much more effective way to disrupt them than trying to adapt our security to each new tactic developed by the terrorists, where we're almost sure to always remain one step behind them.