At the beginning of the summer, Tracfin published its activity report. The intelligence service announces a significant increase in its activity in the fight against the financing of terrorism. Cooperation with financial institutions is not always obvious.
Among the French intelligence services, Tracfin is probably the most unknown. Attached to the Ministry of Action and Public Accounts (former Ministry of the Budget), it is responsible for fighting against "clandestine financial circuits". Of these, terrorist financing remains an important topic and in 2018, Tracfin is showing rising numbers: 1,038 intelligence notes were written, an increase of 51% in one year.
What is it concretely? " These notes are intended for magistrates or other intelligence services , translated Jean-Charles Brisard, consultant and analyst specialized in terrorism. Since Tracfin has access to police files, they can request information from specific institutions on identified individuals. "
Terrorism diversifies its funding
To cope with a diversification of the financing of terrorism, Tracfin had to sensitize all the actors of the sector. If we think very quickly of major banks, some terrorists go through more original schemes, such as crowdfunding platforms, cryptocurrencies or the use of consumer loans.
" Until 2012-2015, the financing of terrorism is the business of the United Nations and the United States , summarizes a former French intelligence service, which has monitored the financial flows of terrorist groups. At the time, register Osama Bin Laden on a list and forbid him to open a current account, it is not very complicated. Then it became difficult : we had to find people we did not know and identify transactions that were not irregular in themselves. "
Some jihad candidates, before the big wave of attacks that affects France from 2012, simply go to their bank to empty their account. " I'm going to the Cham, " they happily announce to mischievous advisers who do not yet know what's going on in Syria. " The banking system was blind, like the intelligence services at that time ," recalls our former French intelligence service.
Today, the various services have caught up and the terrorist apprentices are obliged to be more discreet. In most cases, when Tracfin identifies suspicious financial movements, the information is transmitted to other services, including the General Directorate of Internal Security (DGSI), which is often better equipped to bring cases to court. In 2018, out of the 1,038 notes produced by Tracfin on this subject, 139 were submitted directly to the courts and 899, the vast majority to domestic and foreign colleagues. The financial maneuvers are then added to a multitude of clues and evidence: human knowledge, communications intercepted and why not flagrant offenses.
To circumvent the surveillance, jihad candidates now avoid major banks, whose cooperation with Tracfin is known. They prefer "neo-banks" or online payment systems like Paypal or Facebook. But behind all these platforms, we still find large international financial groups inclined to monitor. More complex cryptocurrencies and fixtures remain for the moment organized by highly organized terrorist groups. The Lebanese Hezbollah is moving into this area for a reference, with funding camouflaged behind a multitude of front companies and collaborators infiltrated into certain banking institutions.
Tracfin and banks, complex relationship
Financial institutions, of all types, have the obligation to report to Tracfin any suspicious transaction of one of their customers. The problem is that these actors sometimes feel that too much collaboration would be a risk for them. This is what RFI explains to a specialist in the search for terrorist financing in a large French bank: " If we are insightful, we find things to declare. But the more you declare, the more you reveal potential flaws in the device. And the more we risk imposing new surveillance requirements. "
This was the message conveyed by Tracfin's outgoing director, Bruno Dalles, at a conference organized by the ACPR-Banque de France last June: banks are bombarding the service with numerous reports of suspicions. A phenomenon that makes it possible to inflate the statistics but which does not always imply a gain of efficiency. Worse, this volume of data not analyzed by financial institutions may "drown" Tracfin.
Finally, there is a risk of a psychological brake for smaller players. If the big banks can declare suspicious financial flows without worrying about the impact on their business, for a small local notary, it's more complicated: if his client has problems, justified or not, it's all his professional balance and image that may end up in danger.
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