Follow the money,” Deep Throat famously whispered to Bob Woodward in that underground garage. Not long after, Richard Nixon was forced from power.
Money is the ultimate keystone. It is oxygen for the bad guys.
Canadian journalist and filmmaker Martin Himel’s latest effort follows the money to a dark and frightening place: where international drug cartels, the Dark Web, and global Islamic terrorism intersect.
Himel’s brisk and detailed Follow The Money examines how terror militias throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have forged unholy alliances with criminal networks worldwide to sell drugs, weapons, and stolen art to fund their operations.
Ever wonder how Hezbollah gets its expensive rocket launchers, tanks and high-end weapons to rain mayhem on Israel? Turns out the Mob-like group is among the world’s most proficient drug trafficking organizations, raising millions of dollars for weapons, training, salaries, and inflicting horror.
“These terrorist groups are organized crime,” former RCMP and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency undercover officer Chris Mathers tells Himel. “They sell drugs, they move weapons, they traffic in people. Hezbollah is a major drug trafficking organization.”
You can also buy anything online – albeit not on the Web you may know. The Dark Web is a vast marketplace where one can pick up everything from heroin to AK-47s to human beings.
Suicide bomber vests are on sale for $200. A TOW missile capable of leveling a small building will set you back $5,000. Tank shells are a mere $300 each. In this world, there are no borders; billions of dollars glide around the globe effortlessly.
It’s not limited to weapons. Himel has satellite images showing that al-Qaeda, Syrian militias, and ISIS, or what’s left of it, have looted millions in art, antiquities, and national treasures that are sold online or smuggled to Europe.
The Dark Web is also where Jihadists very successfully fundraise. All you need, either to buy or donate, is Bitcoin or any virtual currency. They’re all untraceable.
We meet the experts in cybercrime and counterterrorism who monitor all this by tracing weapons through serial numbers, cataloguing stolen goods and posing online as interested parties. They’re obviously very good at what they do, but one gets the sinking feeling they’re one step behind.
“The bad guys are always working on new ways to beat the system,” Himel told The CJN. “International security organizations always have to catch up.” For example, if authorities clamp down on Bitcoin, terror groups and criminal gangs move on to other crypto currencies, like Zcash and Monero. “It’s a constant catch up game,” Himel said.
Israel, unsurprisingly, is on the cutting edge of cybersecurity. Israeli experts are working on frontline defences and on developing techniques before the terrorist do.
The documentary also investigates how the charitable status of a Canadian Islamic organization was revoked after allegations that it helped fund a terrorist group, the Hizbul Mujahideen.
You might think that Islamic terror groups and transnational criminal gangs have little in common. After all, the former is caught up in an apocalyptic vision of rewards in the Hereafter, and the latter with today’s bottom line. It’s “a strange mix of ideologues and hyper-materialists coming together for mutual interest,” University of Toronto scholar Aisha Ahmad, author of the book, Jihad & Co. – Black Markets and Islamist Power tells Himel.
It’s not news that terror groups are criminal and have ties to other criminals. Still, Himel’s film is riveting, disturbing stuff. It plays on our worst fears of why terrorists – tech-savvy and financially astute – will likely continue to thrive, at least in the short term.
Follow The Money premieres Oct. 8 at 9 p.m. on VisionTV.