In light of the recent terrorist attack in Israel orchestrated by Hamas, Chainalysis, a blockchain analysis company, addresses the misconceptions surrounding cryptocurrency’s role in terrorism financing in a blog post dated October 18, 2023. The analysis reveals that terrorism financing represents a minuscule portion of the already marginal illicit cryptocurrency transaction volume. While terrorist groups do utilize cryptocurrencies, they predominantly rely on traditional fiat-based financing channels like financial institutions, hawalas, and shell companies.
Blockchain technology, known for its inherent transparency, renders cryptocurrency less suitable for illicit activities, including terrorism financing. This transparency enables government and private sector entities equipped with blockchain analysis tools to collaboratively identify and impede fund flows, a feat challenging to achieve with traditional value transfer methods. Chainalysis particularly discusses the common pitfalls when analyzing terrorist fund flows on the blockchain, especially concerning service provider identification and tracing.
Two essential aspects form the crux of analyzing terrorism-related fund flows: quantifying the funds directly held by terrorist organizations, and identifying the service providers facilitating fund movements. Instances of terrorism financing often involve service providers like money services businesses, with the recently sanctioned Gaza-based business, Buy Cash, cited as an example. These service providers handle fund volumes larger than a typical individual yet smaller than a standard exchange, resembling over-the-counter (OTC) brokers or street-level money businesses like hawalas to varying extents.
The recent sanctions by the US Treasury Department on October 18, 2023, against nine individuals associated with Hamas and a Gaza-based cryptocurrency exchange are part of a broader effort to staunch the revenue flow to the group. These measures specifically target senior Hamas officials and members managing a clandestine Hamas investment portfolio, alongside the implicated virtual currency exchange. Besides the funds Hamas receives from Iran, its global investment portfolio, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, significantly contributes to its revenue. This portfolio, managed under the guise of legitimate businesses in various countries including Sudan, Algeria, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, forms a crucial part of Hamas’s financial network.
Parallel to the US actions, Israeli authorities have been proactive in clamping down on cryptocurrency channels funding Hamas. On October 10, 2023, the cyber branch of the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 unit froze cryptocurrency accounts belonging to Hamas. Additionally, multiple social media posts over the preceding week soliciting cryptocurrency donations for Hamas-related organizations were noted by Israeli law enforcement.
In a noteworthy development, Hamas declared the cessation of its cryptocurrency donation program in April 2023, indicating a potential shift in its fundraising strategies amidst increasing international scrutiny.
The narrative surrounding the role of cryptocurrencies in terrorism financing often leads to overblown claims, mainly when tracing funds on the blockchain. The recent actions by both US and Israeli authorities highlight the challenges posed by cryptocurrencies in curbing terrorism financing while also emphasizing the adaptability of regulatory measures to counter illicit crypto operations.
The collaborative efforts between law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and private sector organizations, exemplified by the recent actions against Hamas’s cryptocurrency operations, showcase the potential in leveraging blockchain technology to understand and disrupt terrorism-supporting financial networks. The developments emphasize the need for a nuanced approach in assessing the role of cryptocurrencies in terrorism financing, reinforcing the assertions by Chainalysis on the limited scope of crypto in fueling terrorist activities.
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