Only two weeks after the attacks of September 11th, President George W. Bush addressed the media in the White House Rose Garden and declared "war" on terrorism financing. "Money is the lifeblood of terrorist operations," he told reporters. "Today, we are asking the world to stop payment." A few weeks later, the Treasury Department—the agency that would become the weapon of choice of the White House in this new economic conflict—boasted in a press release, "The same talent pool and expertise that brought down Al Capone will now be dedicated to investigating Usama bin Laden and his terrorist network."
Human rights and liberal values are under threat in a small, little-known country most people would be hard-pressed to find on a map. Brunei Darussalam, following the radical vision of Usama bin Laden and his followers, became an Islamic state under strict Sharia law this past week, with punishments of death by stoning for adulterers and severing of limbs for thieves. Policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic have yet to focus on the challenges posed by radical Islamic regimes, much less tackle them effectively.
Richard Falk, the current Rapporteur for Palestine of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), is set to step down in the coming days. Falk's primary legacy will be his consistent hounding of Israel, which he has accused, among other things, of engaging in genocide and apartheid against the Palestinians. Unfortunately, Falk never placed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in its proper context, nor did he properly compare Israel's actions to those of the more serious violators of human rights, including Syria, North Korea and Sudan. He has thus made a mockery of the UN and done a disservice to the Palestinian people.
Transnational criminal syndicates, terrorist organizations and Islamic extremists are increasingly turning to wildlife trafficking to bankroll their operations. Specifically, elephant and rhinoceros ivory accounts for an increasing share of the budget of Somali militant groups and al-Qaeda affiliates. So far, the White House and international agencies have failed to effectively address this emerging threat.The United Nations has categorized trafficking in wildlife products as a "serious crime" in order to protect the animals that produce ivory. Nevertheless, their tusks are in demand throughout Africa, Asia and the West.
Starting next Monday, Iran will formally implement an interim agreement with the West. President Rohani has described the accord as the world "bowing to Iran's might, power and resistance." The Islamic Republic has agreed to limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities for six months in return for what has been called "modest" relief from the crippling international sanctions imposed for most of the last decade. But the West, by rolling back the sanctions regime, has given Tehran an opportunity to reinvigorate its economic and diplomatic ties with the rest of the world, and Western countries have eagerly exploited the opening to do business with Iran. Re-legitimizing business as usual before Iran makes any significant concessions on its nuclear program not only sends the wrong message, but impairs the West's ability to negotiate effectively.
UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, is tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees. The films, pictures, slides and prints the organization has collected on the refugees' plight will now be displayed in Jerusalem's Old City in an exhibit entitled "The Long Journey," which will then tour Europe and North America. The images, available online, are heartbreakingly powerful and emotive.
Like all refugee stories, Palestinian stories of displacement and loss needs to be told. The question is what lessons one takes out of it. For Israel, as many prominent Israeli intellectuals, historians and politicians have argued for decades, the Palestinian plight is one that must be confronted and acknowledged with honesty.
What about the rest of the world, and particularly Muslims, Arabs and the Palestinians themselves?
In the deal between Iran and the six world powers, it appears that a rogue regime marching towards nuclearization has outmaneuvered the West. In disarming the sanctions regime so painstakingly put together over the last few years, the Iranians have given almost nothing meaningful in return. Instead, they are employing the same playbook that brought the mullahcracy to power and the very strategy that allowed North Korea to get the bomb. Above all, Iran now has an international mechanism that will allow it to effectively play for time.
Bucolic regions in the south of France represent the newest frontier for law enforcement and intelligence officials searching for dirty funds. Since 2008, thousands of illicit actors have reportedly arrived in southwest France from Eastern Europe, Hong Kong and mainland China and snapped up vineyards to launder their money. European and Asian officials must take steps and curb this trend, including establishing Trade Transparency Units (TTUs) to combat trade fraud.
With civil war raging, Syria, a state sponsor of terror, has attacked its own people with chemical weapons and attempted to skirt international sanctions. The United States, the EU, Russia and the UN must identify the full extent of the threat and eliminate Syria's chemical weapons capacity.
The implications were chilling. In the summer of 2012, as murder and mayhem reigned on both sides of Syria's civil war, someone—likely from the opposition—released a list of 32 names on Facebook. These weren't people invited to a wedding; they weren't members of the Syrian national soccer team; and they weren't guests for a weekend jaunt to a fancy seaside resort in Latakia. These were people someone wanted dead.
"This is a last warning," the list read. "If you don't stop executing your criminal projects against the Syrian people and announce your defection from the regime by July 20, 2012, we'll start giving away specific details on each and every one of you to the FSA [Free Syrian Army]."
The details included names of neighborhoods where people lived and the models of cars they drove. "Janan Lhussein," one entry read. "Resides in Assad's suburb and drives a white Kia Forte."
India has launched a bold initiative to bolster its influence Southeast and Central Asia. The Indian government is investing significant capital in Iran's Chabahar free-trade zone and the surrounding infrastructure to secure its economic interests throughout the region, reduce Pakistan's sphere of influence and compete with China. While this policy seems attractive in the short term, this course of action is fraught with unanticipated dangers. Investing in Chabahar not only allows Iran's rogue regime to fill its coffers with the hard currency it needs to repress its people and facilitate terrorism, but may also harm India's strategic relationship with one of its most important allies, the United States.
In Syria, Go After Banks Before Bombs
As the White House considers taking military action against Syria for its use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians, the president has turned to Congress to authorize airstrikes. Lawmakers weighing their decision on the most consequential policy vote since the 2002 authorization for war in Iraq should encourage the President to also consider using an additional tool to force the Syrian regime to change course: stepping up economic warfare against Syrian banks and institutions that do business with them.
Despite Sanctions, Iran's Money Flow Continues
The United States and Europe are failing to use a tool already in their possession that would deliver a knockout blow to Iran's nuclear program. It isn't a new piece of computer malware or a bomb. The group that would accomplish the mission isn't the Pentagon or the European Union—it's the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift.
From its headquarters in La Hulpe, Belgium, near Brussels, Swift facilitates about a million global financial transactions per day by serving as an interbank messaging system for crediting and debiting accounts. Iranian financial institutions, like nearly every bank in the world, are reliant on Swift to move funds globally.
In mid-April, Washington and Moscow each published blacklists of suspected human rights violators in the other's jurisdiction. The moves were rife with symbolism, and clear signs of a deteriorating bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Russia. But while it is clearly essential to make real efforts to promote human rights, using what appears to be politicized sanctions to secure them might not be the best strategy.
Indonesia's Anti-Terror Arsenal
The swift and near-simultaneous arrests late last month of 11 individuals allegedly preparing to bomb U.S. and other Western targets throughout Java, Indonesia's most populated island, should serve as a wake-up call to Asia's national security establishment, lawmakers and leaders. The foiled plot would have been just the latest in a flurry of terrorist activity by members of Islamist organizations, all of which are registered and legally sanctioned by the Indonesian government.
Money laundering and terrorism financing are global problems that transcend national boundaries, and launderers and terrorists are constantly adapting their techniques to exploit vulnerabilities in the financial system to disguise the movement of funds.
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