Testimony: IMVE Investigation
Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security
Welcome to a special Friday edition of Insight Intelligence. Yesterday, I testified at the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for their investigation into ideologically-motivated violent extremism. You can watch the testimony here, but I thought some of you might also appreciate a copy of my written opening statement. So here you go! I’ve also linked to some of my recent pieces that support the statement. And if you’re new around here, you can sign up for a free trial.
Terrorist and extremist financing uses similar methods and mechanisms across ideologies. Over the last twenty years, we’ve seen a shift away from large-scale financing in the west for terrorist activity; instead, attacks are primarily self-financed, and for very small sums of money.
Despite the small sums involved, money remains a key enabler of terrorist activity; efforts to constrain terrorist and extremist access to funds constrains their capabilities. We see evidence of this in the adoption of low complexity, lone actor attacks – from the October 2014 attacks to the Quebec mosque attack, to the more recent Incel-motivated van and stabbing attacks that took place in Toronto. All of these were self-financed attacks that involved no international transfer of funds and likely raised little in the way of suspicion with banks and other financial institutions charged with efforts to detect terrorist financing. But they all required some financial resources, small though they might have been.
The one aspect of financing that is different in the IMVE space from other forms of terrorism and extremism is the issue of propaganda. IMVE actors produce propaganda (including in Canada) that serves to recruit people into their movements. Propaganda also inspires lone actors and creates a sense of community for those who would go on to commit ideologically-inspired attacks.
The propaganda produced by IMVE actors has an important financial component. “extremist influencers” can generate significant revenues from this activity. This is important because many of them – particularly those that are successful at generating audiences and particularly hateful propaganda – are often financial excluded from society; they tend to lose their jobs when their views become public knowledge. So propaganda production sustains them economically.
At the moment, we have few tools at our disposal to prevent people from profiting from hate. Deplatforming, whether it’s from a social media platform, or a financial tool, usually leads to the propagandist / influencer finding another platform. Further, many financial service providers, including payment processors and financial technology companies, rarely restrict the use of their services for hateful content. Most only take action when faced with significant public backlash (if at all). In some cases, Canadian companies appear to provide financial services to sites selling propaganda and goods for listed terrorist entities, like the Proud Boys.1
Compounding this problem is the fact that we have no laws against extremist financing, and few laws that can be used to prevent individuals from profiting from hateful content. And “influencer” activity rarely rises to the level of terrorism as defined in our criminal code.
Between the self-financing of most IMVE attacks and financing of IMVE propaganda, we have some challenges ahead of us. Our terrorist financing tools were adopted following 9/11 with an eye to combatting structured terrorist organizations involved in international financing, not lone actors drawing inspiration from extremist influencers. That’s not to say that those tools are powerless – financial intelligence remains an important tool for law enforcement and security services. But we also need new tools, regulatory flexibility, and investigative expertise to fully tackle the threat of ideologically-motivated violent extremism. And we’ll need to work with our partners, in other countries, and with the private sector, to do that, since both the threat, and its financing (as we saw recently with the convoy) are international in scope.
I checked before committee, and a Canadian crypto processor continues to appear on the website in this analysis.