10 years after 9/11: Cops follow the money in the fight against terrorists

In their latest book, On the Trail of Terror Finance: What Law Enforcement and Intelligence Officers Need to Know, co-authors John Cassara and Avi Jorisch discuss how to uncover terrorists’ money laundering fronts

As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, I thought it might be good to share my thoughts on a book related to law enforcement’s effort to combat terrorism. I am not in the habit of doing book reviews — PoliceOne Editor Doug Wyllie insists that this is really a column and not actually a ‘review’ — and although I’m usually writing in this space about police liability, management, or legal issues, it’s nice to go off the beaten path and try something different every once in a while. Besides, my police background is that of an investigator.

The majority of my career with the New York State Police was spent in the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and it is these investigative skills which assist my lawyering abilities. As a result, I am always interested in the investigative aspects of police work and the means by which law enforcement can enhance those skills. This background, inevitably, led me to write this column.

One of the benefits of teaching at a university is the ability to avail oneself of the many events on campus. There are lectures by outside speakers, plays, debates, and every now and then some political activism — all of which make for a very interesting environment. One of my faculty duties is belonging to the Executive Committee for the Center for Financial Forensics and Information Security (CFFIS) at Western Connecticut State University. The mission of CFFIS is to provide a clearinghouse for information, research and training in the field of fraud, security breaches and information systems. Each year CFFIS sponsors a seminar for accounting, auditing and information security specialists.

On the Trail of Terror Finance
This past November, CFFIS Director Professor Thomas Monks pulled together a one-day seminar of exceptionally high caliber which began with a morning session presentation by John Cassara, co-author of On the Trail of Terror Finance: What Law Enforcement and Intelligence Officers Need to Know. I had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Cassara prior to his presentation — we discussed post-retirement careers while fondly reflecting on our law enforcement experiences. It took only a few minutes of speaking to Mr. Cassara to appreciate his enthusiasm for sharing his experience and knowledge with law enforcement. To fulfill his need to instruct. Mr. Cassara authored his first book in 2006 — Hide & Seek: Intelligence, Law Enforcement and the Stalled War on Terrorism Finance — which, by his own admission was more cathartic than anything else. Yet, he indicated Hide & Seek was also written to try to give insight into the culture of the bureaucracies in the intelligence and law enforcement communities that in many ways facilitated its shortcomings.

This is why in his latest work, On the Trail of Terror Finance, co-authored with Avi Jorisch, another individual with extensive international anti-terrorist experience, Cassara seeks to provide a basic lesson plan for street level cops, investigators and federal agents in learning “to follow the money.”

However, the authors provide more than merely offering the axiomatic approach taken in regular criminal organization investigations and instead practically apply it to terrorist networks that may lurk in our midst. They show law enforcement where to find the money and what to be aware of in attempts to uncover money laundering fronts.

Patrol Officers Making a Difference
The importance of the police officer on the beat has never been as critical in the United States as it is today. Officers are highly trained, more educated and better than they have ever been. They are also being asked to do more on a daily basis. The events of 9/11 forever changed the role of policing in America and put law enforcement in a front line position in the war on terror. In many respects police are the additional eyes and ears of the national security agencies and federal investigative bodies tasked with anti-terrorism enforcement. No one can replace the officer on patrol and the intimate knowledge he or she possesses within their patrol sector.

Cassara, a career federal Treasury agent and former CIA clandestine case officer, recognizes this all too well and readily admits to wanting to put this new base of knowledge in the hands of the people who may not have any experience in the area but who could benefit from it. During his time at Western Connecticut State University we spoke about how sometimes the most seemingly benign information or local events can lead to investigations of international proportions. We both agreed that a little natural curiosity and some basic financial investigative leads could uncover terrorist based financial activity in our various locales. Cassara and Jorisch provide a wealth of information to aid the street cop in looking beyond the obvious. They give a condensed but comprehensive education in money laundering and other financial crimes aimed at supporting terrorism.

The bulk of the book’s substantive information comes in Part II, which contains seven chapters, the last of which (Chapter 9: Crime in Support of Terrorism), I found to be most helpful to the patrol officer. The information within this book is useful in giving officers an extra basis for developing probable cause in their daily encounters.

In the complex world of law enforcement this book is a handy and valuable resource for line officers and investigators. As the authors indicate in their last chapter, “[E]xperience has shown that the most successful investigations are initiated at the street level, at border crossings or at ports.”

They emphasize that officers need to be aware of and utilize the financial tools and resources at their disposal because the ultimate question in any investigation should be “what about the money?”

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