‘Us or them’

‘Us or them’

Avi Jorisch
Avi Jorisch

How do terrorist groups raise and move their money, and what can the United States do to stop it? For most of the last five years, Avi Jorisch has been working on those questions, and he thinks he’s close to finding answers.

Jorisch, founder of Red Cell Intelligence Group, is fine-tuning and patenting a method that he claims uses a variety of common economic instruments to identify and isolate terrorist-friendly banks.

He developed it while researching Iranian banking in 2009, and spoke about his work last Tuesday evening at a Pittsburgh Israel Public Affairs Committee-sponsored event in the William Pitt Union on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.

“There are three ways terrorists raise money. One is through crime, another is through legitimate donations and the third is through state sponsorship. Iran is economically exposed in two areas: energy and banking,” Jorisch said. “I focus my efforts on economic and financial space in going after Iran.”

In the fall of 2009, Jorisch, who also serves as a senior fellow for counterterrorism at the American Foreign Policy Institute and previously worked as a policy adviser in the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, set out to crack the Iranian banking code through analyzing its correspondent banking network.

Jorisch determined that there were 30 Iranian banks in existence. The United Nations designated four of those banks as blacklisted for aiding in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Treasury Department blacklisted an additional 16 banks. A separate Treasury Department list names all 30 as being involved in money laundering.

“Then, I sat for five months in my pajamas at my kitchen table and created a very robust spreadsheet of payment files and extracted their correspondent banking relationships around the globe,” said Jorisch, who used commonly available banking resources to map out the entire flow of money between Iranian banks and banks in other countries that also do business in the United States. “I mapped out all their correspondence — their currencies, their slip codes, their routing numbers.”

He found a list of 59 international banks, which, as of spring 2010, were conducting business both in the United States and Iran. It included Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and a host of Japanese banks. Then, he self-published an e-book detailing his findings and sent copies of it to every member of Congress.

His book came out May 20, 2010. By July 1, President Barack Obama had signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act into law.

Within a few months, the number of banks doing business with both Iran and the United States went from nearly 60 to just over a dozen.

“Lots of banks got out of the way,” he said. “It really had a tremendous impact. If you want to continue to do business with Iran, you’ve got to choose us or them. When you’re outed for that kind of thing, people back away from you.”

(Matthew Wein can be reached at wein.matthew@gmail.com.)