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Choking Off the Flow of Money to Terrorists Will Choke Off Terrorism

Reviewing: Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters (Hachette Books 978-0316399050), 352 pages, November 2017.

For those that want to know about the cloak-and-dagger exploits of the Mossad, books such as “Gideon’s Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad” and “Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service” are fascinating reads. These books detail the spellbinding story of the Mossad, and how they’ve ensured Israel’s security, in addition to that of other countries around the world.

But one of the Mossad’s greatest successes occurred not with guns, spies or international intrigue, but via politicians, lawyers, bankers, CPAs and a few spies too.

In “Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters,” authors Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Samuel M. Katz tell the fascinating story of how the Mossad was able to stop the banking networks that were used to finance terrorism. The Mossad (in addition to the US Government), saw that it could be more effective to hit the terrorists in their wallets, rather than with bullets.

The father of Operation Harpoon was Meir Dagan, former Israel Defense Forces Major General and Mossad director. Dagan had the revelation that it would be easier and safer for Israel to try to disarm its enemies not by engaging them in battle, but by cutting off their funds so they could not launch terror attacks in the first place.

The post-9/11 global war on terror focused on firepower, dropping soldiers and bombs into enemy territory and more. But the cost in that approach was not only massive financially; many lives were lost in the process.

The Harpoon task force was established in 2001, as Dagan knew quite well that large terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas had money as their lifeblood. Dagan saw that if the cash did not flow, there would be a halt in their terror efforts. Dagan knew if he could stop the money pipelines via pressure on the financial institutions that served them, it would be a potent method in the war on terror.

In “The New Terrorism: Myths and Reality,” author Thomas Mockaitis notes that suicide bombers were thought to be a poor man’s cruise missile. But Dagan understood how fallacious that notion was. Every suicide bomber or terrorist needed a large network of suppliers, handlers, scouts, smugglers, bomb makers, safe houses and more for them to achieve their end-goals. The suicide-bombing network campaigns were quite expensive and required a constant flow of cash. That network was also highly dependent on money to keep its supply line going. If Israel and the United States could stop those supply chains, they could stop the suicide bombers and other terrorist attacks.

Harpoon revolutionized the concept of lawfare, a form of asymmetric warfare that consists of using the legal system against an enemy. In this case, it was a concerted effort of the Mossad and various attorneys. As founder of the Shurat HaDin Israeli Law Center, Darshan-Leitner brings a firsthand account of her legal fight against terror financing to every chapter in this compelling book.

Before Operation Harpoon, the banks were delighted to profit off terror. Once the lawsuits started, the banks realized that the legal fees and extended and expensive litigation, in addition to the negative PR, made it no longer profitable to be the terrorists’ bank of choice.

Since the terrorists killed Americans also, many of these lawsuits were filed in the United States. In addition, the US legal system has much more power at its disposal to ensure the financial institutions actually stop.

While the book is about how the Mossad stopped the finance networks, the authors don’t deal with that in depth, and the book is quite light in that area. Forensic accountants, CPAs, investigators and others looking to use those techniques won’t find the answers here.

The book goes into detail in an area I had no idea about—that many of these terrorist groups, in the Mideast, North Korea and more, are heavily involved in the drug trade. It’s not just the Colombians that are involved in worldwide cocaine trade.

The novel idea of Harpoon was that it was a non-lethal way to stop the terrorist network. Choke off the money, and the bloodshed will end.

Harpoon has had many successes and has undoubtedly saved countless lives. Terrorist networks are often changing their methods of attack. In “Harpoon: Inside the Covert War Against Terrorism’s Money Masters,” Darshan-Leitner and Katz have written a fascinating account that shows that when governments are motivated and creative, they can stop the terrorists in their tracks.

 By Ben Rothke


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