I hate stepping into controversy, and I know that this column is going to be really unpopular, but the latest reporting of terrorist funding using cryptocurrencies is seriously biased. This specifically relates to Hamas and Hezbollah in Gaza and Lebanon respectively.
The latest violence taking place between Israel and Palestine is awful. No one can condone the activities of either side, although this friction has been a constant throughout my lifetime and theirs. To be clear, all of the activity of the past week or so is disgusting, and it is terrible that this war continues. My reaction concurs with Banksy, the artist, but there is another dimension to this aggression that few will report or spot. Who is funding this aggression?
It is claimed that it is funded by cryptocurrencies. I’ve heard this regularly through the years, from ISIS in Syria through to any other conflict in the world. Cryptocurrencies are the terrorists preferred payments and monetary system.
Truth is there may be some abuse of the system facilitated by cryptocurrency, but it is small. For example, a headline in the tabloids screams:
Hamas fuelled by cryptocurrency: $41 million in crypto was used by terrorist group to fund activities, including weapons used in the attacks on Israel, while Palestinian Islamic Jihad group took $91 million
Reading the article, it starts by saying:
Hamas and its military wing received around $41 million in digital currencies between around August 2021 and June 2023, according to analysis by BitOK, a Tel Aviv-based firm.
So an Israeli research analysis claims the enemy is funded by crypto?
Another Israeli research firm, Elliptic, reckons that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, linked to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, received $91 million or more through crypto wallets. This was reported in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
The thing is that these reports smear the use of decentralised or alternative currencies all with the same brush. Crypto bad, internet bad, government good, banks good. It is a crude delineation that does not recognise that most terrorist funding actually takes place through the traditional banking system, using nested accounts and money laundering that, even with all of the efforts of governments of the world, is rife.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that between 2% and 5% of global GDP is laundered each year. That’s between €715 billion and €1.87 trillion each year. In this context, a few million here or there on crypto markets seems trivial by comparison.
Equally, as WSJ explain:
Earlier orders this year by the bureau against Hamas and Hezbollah sought to confiscate funds at Binance. The U.S. Justice Department has been conducting a broad investigation into the company’s anti-money-laundering controls, the Journal has reported. A Binance spokesperson said the exchange actively partners with law enforcement agencies, including those in Israel, to combat terror financing. “Over the past few days, our team has been working in real time, around the clock, to support ongoing efforts,” the spokesperson said. Israeli police said Tuesday the new account freezes were carried out with Binance’s assistance.
In other words, exchanges like Binance and Coinbase are extremely keen to become respectable by respecting regulations and rules. That is the core of every start-up market in finance that I deal with. The first thing every Fintech wants is to be a regulated market that can be trusted. The last thing they want is to be viewed as a Wild West of rogues, thieves and terrorists.
So, it would be helpful if the mainstream media could make it clearer that terrorist funding is not just a cryptocurrency market issue, but an issue across all markets.
Meantime, just looking at the headlines reported above by The Wall Street Journal and Daily Mail, I wonder how much funding of Mossad came from cryptocurrencies and through the mainstream financial system?
Just asking for balance in reporting things like this. The balance is both sides of the equation: Israel versus Palestine; cryptocurrencies versus banks and fiat currencies.
#1 Chainalisys just released a report on this subject and found that people were saying Hamas were moving $82 million of crypto to terrorist funding. The actual number ... $450,000.
#2 Hamas learned the hard way what so many criminals have learned before: sending money over the most advanced, transparent payment system ever invented makes it nearly impossible to conceal illegal behavior. Digital footprints left on the blockchain can be used by forensic experts to expose networks of financiers, provide evidence for law enforcement, and create an avenue for authorities to divert funds originally directed towards illicit causes. Hamas knows this now. That’s why it abandoned bitcoin altogether in April of this year.
Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...