National Security

This Is The National Security Threat No Presidential Candidate Is Talking About

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JP Carroll National Security & Foreign Affairs Reporter
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Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton have both said they will protect the U.S. from terrorism, but neither one has spoken about terrorist financing coming from illicit tobacco.

Terrorists all around the world are taking advantage of governments not wanting to enforce international trade laws that are letting them finance their murderous causes in part through illicit tobacco sales, according to experts.

“Political debates become very simplistic. To discuss terror financing in it of itself is complicated because you’re not talking about the activity, you’re talking about the financiers of it,” economist Roger Bate, PhD told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Dealing with the multi-billion dollar national security threat of illicit tobacco is a highly complex matter since, “the lines of financing, the movement of products across borders, the cash transactions, even the bank accounts are very hard to trace,” according to Bate, an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Visiting Scholar.

Terrorist groups throughout the world — including radical Islamist groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas — all profit off of the illicit tobacco trade, according to a March 2015 report by the French think tank, Center for Terrorism Analysis (CAT).

Terrorist finance emanating from illicit tobacco dealings has become such a grave threat that the U.S. federal government formed the international Interagency Working Group to Combat Illicit Tobacco in 2015.

“The illicit trade in tobacco, including cigarettes, has been linked to the financing of terrorist organizations,” according to the Interagency Working Group’s report in December 2015.

Some of the entities involved in producing the report are the U.S. Department of State, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Europol (which is the European Union’s law enforcement agency), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), among others.

“When consumers purchase illicit tobacco they undermine their own security,” is another point made in the report titled, “The Global Illicit Trade In Tobacco: A Threat To National Security,” and was a point echoed by Bate.

Based his own report, “Smoking Out Illicit Trade: How Some Policies Intended to Limit Smoking Drive Illegal Trade,” Bate told TheDCNF that “most people don’t consider themselves criminals for buying a smuggled product, a 20 [cigarette] pack of Marlboro.”

“I think it’s an interesting aspect that probably half a mile from where the [first presidential] debate [between Trump and Clinton] was held, there was probably someone smoking an illicit cigarette, which is helping to finance the organizations that one of those two will end up having to tackle as president. And they aren’t even thinking about that at the moment,” Bate gloomily concluded.

TheDCNF could not find on neither Trump’s nor Clinton’s respective campaign websites any sort of policy paper related to terror finance matters.

“Their [policy] teams should have position papers on the broad themes of how are we combating terror financing,” Bate opined.

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