All too often a new day brings news of yet another tragic terror attack, with images of the aftermath filling our screens and newspapers. Viewers are left feeling shocked, vulnerable and confused, as well as concerned about when and where the next terrorist attack will happen. Such incidents clearly pose a significant threat to human life.
To make matters worse, these attacks are becoming increasingly low-tech, with extremists often favoring vehicles as the weapon of choice. This makes terrorist cell identification difficult using conventional methods, as these attacks require minimal organization and produce a scant evidence trail. It’s therefore vital that efforts to identify extremists focus on the elements of their behaviors that are still possible to detect.
Although authorities report doing all they can to identify individuals involved in terrorism, continuing attacks suggest that current strategies are falling short of the mark. Are the agencies responsible for protecting us looking in the right places? How can we improve the flow and quality of intelligence?
Social Media and Counterterrorism
Social media provides a wealth of information about the relationships and activities of people. This video gives on overview on how this data can fuel investigation analytics and intelligent case management.
Financial institutions: The first line of defense
Financial information has informed a number of previous counterterrorism investigations by providing a better understanding of people’s movements and activities, as well as highlighting vital links between individual extremists. This information is often the key to agencies identifying and arresting additional members of a terror cell post-attack, after quickly revealing to investigators that they’re dealing with more than just an individual terrorist. Financial data relating to individuals and their transactions, if used properly, can significantly increase the intelligence landscape, and as such should be regarded as a highly valuable commodity in the fight against terror.
But if you think the task of identifying terrorist activity is the sole responsibility of the government or security services, think again. Banking organizations have a huge role to play because unlike law enforcement and security services, they have direct access to a rich data set for a large portion of the population. Financial institutions should understand the power of their data to help identify terrorist cells and extremists and use it wherever possible.
The status quo
Despite facing increasing pressure from regulators to report suspected links to terrorism, financial institutions are focusing much of their current efforts on counterterrorism financing (CTF) and other approaches that dominate anti-money laundering discussions, such as transaction monitoring and sanctions screening. While these efforts can help to identify certain risks, they tend to be reactive in nature and therefore offer little in the way of prevention. They are also limited to only finding individuals who are either on sanctions lists or whose transactional activity hits certain markers or thresholds. What about those who don’t appear on the lists or pass the transactional activity thresholds?
Despite wanting to improve detection, many investigative teams are understaffed, with little understanding of where to look or exactly what to look for. Even if they do find something of interest, interpreting it correctly is not always straightforward. Although data is key to threat identification, poor data quality and complex data silos often hinder organizations, making detection time-consuming, confusing and perhaps even unachievable.
Banking organizations have a huge role to play because unlike law enforcement and security services, they have direct access to a rich data set for a large portion of the population. Financial institutions should understand the power of their data to help identify terrorist cells and extremists and use it wherever possible. Nick Feast Fraud and Financial Crime Specialist, Fraud and Security Intelligence EMEA & AP SAS
The time has come for a new approach
It’s time for investigative teams to discover what they can do with the data they already have – just by applying a slightly different approach or a fresh perspective. Your organization can take several steps to quickly change how it approaches terrorist cell identification:
- Train investigators. Investigators must know how to identify signs of increasing individual risk levels. Changing risk profile indications are clear – you just need to know what to look for.
- Broaden the focus. Organizations must widen efforts to look at individual terrorists rather than purely concentrating on CTF and the movement of money in and out of high-risk countries or jurisdictions. You can’t link all extremists to a flow of money, and the task of identifying these individuals cannot be ignored.
- Improve access to data. Invest in a system that helps investigators access and combine data from disparate sources into a single platform. One that facilitates analysis and provides powerful visualizations for better understanding the links between different individuals and their transactional activities.
- Increase the potential for detection. Couple advanced analytics with deep domain knowledge and automated alerts to become more efficient at identifying threats while also having more time for actual investigation. Organizations already have access to the relevant information, but are weighed down by manual processes, so implementing a solution that finds the threats for you would be the logical next step.
As the attacks and fatalities continue to mount, it’s inevitable that governments will increase regulations and ask financial institutions to do more with their data to fight terrorism. Fortunately, some organizations already understand that they hold valuable information that can help authorities to better understand the current threat level. After all, this data could provide the vital piece of missing intelligence that identifies and prevents the next attack – and saves innocent lives.
About the Author
Nick Feast develops and delivers fraud and financial crime presales activities and subject-matter expertise across the retail banking and financial services industry in the UK, EMEA and AP regions. He has a sound understanding of key fraud methods and knowledge of a wide variety of fraud and compliance trends, including internal fraud, application and first-party fraud, insurance fraud, AML, counterterrorist financing, and terrorist cell identification. Feast also has a keen interest in advanced fraud detection methods, particularly in the area of social network analysis. He has BA and master’s degrees in criminology from Middlesex University in London, where he specialized in organized crime.