Insight Intelligence 2022 Year in Review
Welcome to the last Insight Intelligence newsletter of 2022! This is my year-end roundup of the work my team and I have done over the last year. We are taking a break in December, and will be back in early January with more news and analysis you won’t find anywhere else. We worked hard to shed some light on terrorist and illicit financing, international security threats, and everything in between! First, some business:
Thank you all so much for sharing the newsletter and subscribing — It’s worth mentioning again how much I enjoy writing this newsletter. It really helps me keep on top of everything happening in the world, and I hope it helps all 2700+ of you stay more informed! So please keep sharing the newsletter and spreading the word.
I also wanted to let you know that subscription prices are increasing in the new year, so now’s a great time to lock in the 2022 rates! The yearly subscriptions will continue to offer a solid savings over the monthly rates. And if you’re in charge of a team of people who need access, please get in touch. I administer a number of group subscriptions (at various discounts depending on numbers).
We have a ton of great content planned for 2023, some of which you have suggested to us! If you want to suggest a topic, head on over to the subscriber chat and let us know!
That’s enough business for now. Here’s your review of Insight Intelligence for 2022.
Crypto, NFTs, and FINTECH
What’s a 2022 roundup without a discussion of cryptocurrencies and NFTs, and other financial technology products? I had a lot to say about this topic in 2022, and I suspect that will remain true for 2023 as well.
I also took a quick look at an extremist website after they posted their own accounting of their revenues. It was quite the look behind the curtain! Terrorists and extremists are continuing to adopt crypto, but the evidence still doesn’t quite live up to the hype.
One of the staples of our analysis here at Insight Intelligence is our financial analysis of terrorist attacks. This year we covered a number of attacks, building out our dataset on the cost of terrorism & methodologies & typologies:
We also wrote about some disrupted plots and individuals arrested for terrorism financing, like Hisham Chaudhary.
In addition to terrorist attack profiles, we think it’s useful to continually iterate our knowledge of terrorist and extremist groups and how they finance their activities. We expanded our analysis this year to cover a wider range of actors:
I was also invited to write a report for the January 6th commission on how a number of groups financed their activities. I shared a video of one of my presentations with subscribers, and wrote up some counter-terrorist financing options for Lawfare. I was also asked to testify at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security as part of their investigation on ideologically-motivated violent extremism.
On a related note, Alex Wilner and I also published a piece on paying terrorist ransoms — we challenged the conventional wisdom of “no money for terror”, examining what actually happens when ransoms are paid. You might be surprised.
Ottawa’s “Freedom” Convoy
The early part of Insight Intelligence’s year was dominated by the Ottawa convoy. Living in Ottawa, it gave me a front-row seat to what was going on. Does anyone remember when I said this was going to be a three part series? (We’re still laughing about that over here…) Here’s the complete list of my coverage of the event.
Convoy Finance: Digging in and diversifying away from GoFundMe
Missing the mark: over- and under-relation of convoy activities
Convoy Finance: 25% Foreign Funded, but Questions Still Remain
On a related note, with Mack Lamoureux over at Vice, I took a look at the QAnon “Queen of Canada”’s finances. It’s a wild ride.
I was also invited to write a piece for The Line on some of the intelligence issues that I was seeing at the Public Order Emergency Commission. Buckle up for this one because I’m pretty salty about it. My coverage of Ottawa’s convoy culminated in my testimony / commentary at the Public Order Emergency Commission.
Women in Terrorism
While not a huge part of our work this year, we also kept an eye on the issue of women in terrorism and extremism and wrote about the emergency of a new group using women as suicide bombers: the Balochistan Liberation Army.
A big piece of countering illicit financing is the use of sanctions. I did a fair bit of work on sanctions-related issues this year, including as part of an academic paper, and for GNet. I was asked about Iran sanctions frequently, so I wrote up some early thoughts. I followed those observations with another piece about Canada’s Iran sanctions with my colleagues Leah West and Thomas Juneau for Lawfare.
I was particularly pleased to work with the Soufan Center this year on a sanctions project on the extreme right. I wrote about what we can learn from the listing of violent far-right extremist groups in Canada. You can find lots of other related work from the fine folks at the Soufan Centre here.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of my work this year focused on Afghanistan. The SOC-ACE team, through RUSI CFCS, commissioned bespoke analysis on illicit financing in Afghanistan. I also wrote about the fall of Afghanistan and the implications for threat financing, and updated the group profile for the Taliban. I’ve also been quite critical about the Government of Canada’s refusal to adapt our counter-terrorist financing laws to allow humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, which I wrote about for the Globe and Mail.
This year was a big one for financial intelligence and financial crime, with the publication of the Cullen Commission report. I was pretty disappointed with the results of the commission.
I also wrote up some of my ongoing observations in the Nova Scotia shooting rampage, focusing on the financial intelligence angle. I was particularly concerned by how some of the financial intelligence issues were being used to fuel conspiracy theories and violent extremism.
Also this year, the government announced plans for a financial crime agency. My colleague Mike Nesbitt and I also wrote about Canada’s proposed financial crime agency for RUSI CFCS. I suspect we’ll have more to say about that in the new year!
We were also treated to an earlier-than-usual look at FINTRAC’s annual report. A highlight from the report included increased disclosures around terrorist and threat financing, raising questions about the evolving threat environment and financial intelligence in Canada. 2022 also includes last year’s FINTRAC report, where I first provide an overview of 21 years of FINTRAC annual reports.
Foreign influence and national security
I also wrote about foreign influence / interference with my colleague Akshay Singh, first in the context of the convoy. This has become even more timely of late with the revelations about potential Chinese influence in Canadian elections / political affairs. I also warned about an artificially depressed level of terrorism during the pandemic…and I think we’ve seen a resurgence, without taking advantage of that lull for counter-terrorism purposes.
A sneak peak at 2023
This year, we also finalized a number of other reports — some of which haven’t been released publicly. (This is part of our bespoke analysis / research offering. If you’re interested in commissioning something, get in touch!) We’re hoping to share some insights from those reports in the near future, and if the full reports become available publicly, you know I’ll share them here as well! For example, Lena was a great help on a recent project (a hint below!), and she has used her analytic & artistic talents to visualize our data — which you’ve almost certainly noticed in some of our more recent newsletters.
So what’s happening over at Insight in 2023? Well, our year is pretty full already. We’ve got a number of projects planned & commissioned, a long list of analysis to share with you, and much more! Kicking of 2023 will be a review of trends and issues in terrorist financing, so stay tuned.
Don’t forget to subscribe to lock in 2022 rates, and stay up to date with news and analysis you won’t find anywhere else!