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Technorati stops publishing blog rankings

September 13, 2014

For 10 years, the blog indexing company Technorati served as the Nielsen ratings equivalent of the blogosphere. But earlier this year, Technorati quietly yanked its rankings of blogs off the Internet and into a dustbin in their server room.

The end of Technorati’s rankings is unfortunate. The site lost some credibility over the years, but it was still one of the better tools available for tracking and comparing the relative popularity, authority, and influence of blogs. (It also means the end of “Technorati tags,” a convenient way of tagging content especially on Typepad platforms.)

Technorati probably could have helped its own reputation by making a bigger announcement before the move, or at least by enabling web users to access archived rankings. But they didn’t. So we’re not sure where this blog ended up immediately prior to Technorati pulling the plug, but as of March 2014, Money Jihad was listed a “Top 100” blog under the “World Politics” category, ranking 72nd:

Technorati blog ranking for Money Jihad

Money Jihad was also listed as a top 500 U.S. politics blog as early as 2010 when readership was much lower than it is today.

Alexa, which still provides statistical comparisons of blogs, generally monitors the blogs with the biggest audiences, and scarcely registers accurate metrics for “mid-market” blogs unless you pay them.

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Hard dose of reality on funding moderates

September 12, 2014

During his Wednesday night speech, Pres. Obama called on Congress “to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these [Syrian opposition] fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people — a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL.”

The hazards of funding Syrian fighters have been clear for years, and the resurgence of ISIS should eliminate any temptation to fall in love again with the myth that we can identify “safe” partners in Syria and ensure that the money and arms we give them stay exclusively within their hands.

An extremely important piece of analysis on this subject by Dr. Marc Lynch was published by the Washington Post last month. Lynch comes to it from a different perspective of questioning the likelihood of effectiveness, noting that, “external support for rebels almost always make wars longer, bloodier and harder to resolve.” Read it all:

Would arming Syria’s rebels have stopped the Islamic State?

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton made news this weekend by suggesting that the rise of the Islamic State might have been prevented had the Obama administration moved to more aggressively arm Syrian rebels in 2012. Variants of this narrative have been repeated so often by so many different people in so many venues that it’s easy to forget how implausible this policy option really was.

It’s easy to understand why desperate Syrians facing the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad hoped for Western support, especially by early 2012 as the conflict shifted inexorably from a civic uprising into an insurgency. It is less obvious that U.S. arms for the rebels would have actually helped them. Arming the rebels (including President Obama’s recent $500 million plan) was, from the start, a classic bureaucratic “Option C,” driven by a desire to be seen as doing something while understanding that there was no American appetite at all for more direct intervention. It also offered a way to get a first foot on the slippery slope; a wedge for demanding escalation of commitments down the road after it had failed.

There’s no way to know for sure what would have happened had the United States offered more support to Syrian rebels in the summer of 2012, of course. But there are pretty strong reasons for doubting that it would have been decisive. Even Sen. John McCain was pretty clear about this at the time, arguing that arming the rebels “alone will not be decisive” and that providing weapons in the absence of safe areas protected by U.S. airpower “may even just prolong [the conflict].” Clinton, despite the hyperventilating headlines, only suggested that providing such arms might have offered “some better insight into what was going on on the ground” and “helped in standing up a credible political opposition.” Thoughtful supporters of the policy proposed “managing the militarization” of the conflict and using a stronger Free Syrian Army as leverage to bring Assad to the bargaining table.

Would the United States providing more arms to the FSA have accomplished these goals? The academic literature is not encouraging. In general, external support for rebels almost always make wars longer, bloodier and harder to resolve (for more on this, see the proceedings of this Project on Middle East Political Science symposium in the free PDF download). Worse, as the University of Maryland’s David Cunningham has shown, Syria had most of the characteristics of the type of civil war in which external support for rebels is least effective. The University of Colorado’s Aysegul Aydin and Binghamton University’s Patrick Regan have suggested that external support for a rebel group could help when all the external powers backing a rebel group are on the same page and effectively cooperate in directing resources to a common end. Unfortunately, Syria was never that type of civil war.

Syria’s combination of a weak, fragmented collage of rebel organizations with a divided, competitive array of external sponsors was therefore the worst profile possible for effective external support. Clinton understands this. She effectively pinpoints the real problem when she notes that the rebels “were often armed in an indiscriminate way by other forces and we had no skin in the game that really enabled us to prevent this indiscriminate arming.” An effective strategy of arming the Syrian rebels would never have been easy, but to have any chance at all it would have required a unified approach by the rebels’ external backers, and a unified rebel organization to receive the aid. That would have meant staunching financial flows from its Gulf partners, or at least directing them in a coordinated fashion. Otherwise, U.S. aid to the FSA would be just another bucket of water in an ocean of cash and guns pouring into the conflict.

But such coordination was easier said than done. The Qatari-Saudi rivalry was playing out across the region, not only in Syria. Their intense struggles over the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt and the overall course of the Arab uprisings were peaking during the 2012–13 window during which arming the rebels was being discussed. Their competition largely precluded any unified Gulf strategy. Turkey and Qatar channeled money and support to a variety of Islamist groups. Meanwhile, U.S.-Saudi relations were also at their nadir, before fears of jihadist blowback began to concentrate Saudi minds. Riyadh showed no more interest in following the United States’ lead in Syria than it did on Egypt or Iranian nuclear talks. External backers of the rebels didn’t even agree on whether the goal was to protect civilians, overthrow Assad, bring the regime to the table, or to wage a region-wide sectarian war against Iran. It is difficult to see Gulf capitals embroiled in these regional battles becoming more receptive to American guidance just because the United States had some “skin in the game.”

Meanwhile, huge private donations from the Gulf flowed toward mostly Islamist-oriented groups. These were massive public mobilization campaigns, mostly led by popular and ambitious Islamist figures who framed support for Syria along religious and sectarian lines in increasingly extreme ways. (Incidentally, the magnitude of those campaigns reveals the absurdity of recent claims that Arabs had ignored Syria’s war compared to Gaza.) Kuwait became the key arena for collecting money, as other Gulf states more tightly controlled private donations for Syria, but Islamists from across the region and especially Saudi Arabia continued to play a prominent role in the campaigns. Fears of jihadist blowback have led Gulf states to crack down on these private efforts, including Kuwait’s recent stripping of the citizenship of Nabil al-Awadhy, one of the most prominent of these Syria campaigners. But at the time Clinton’s plan was under discussion, those campaigns were peaking, with massive public support built around Islamic and sectarian identity.

That intra-state competition and popular mobilization is the regional context within which U.S. efforts to arm the FSA would have unfolded. The FSA was always more fiction than reality, with a structure on paper masking the reality of highly localized and fragmented fighting groups on the ground. Charles Lister’s comprehensive recent survey of the current Syrian military battlefield should quickly dispense with the simpler versions of the conflict. Syria’s civil war has long been a dizzying array of local battles, with loose and rapidly shifting alliances driven more by self-interest and the desires of their external patrons than ideology. Even at the height of the conflict between the Islamic State and its more secular rivals, local affiliates fought side by side in other theaters of the war. No one should be surprised that, as Hassan Hassan reports, some U.S.-backed and vetted groups have aligned with the Islamic State.

The idea that these rebel groups could be vetted for moderation and entrusted with advanced weaponry made absolutely no sense given the realities of the conflict in Syria. These local groups frequently shifted sides and formed alliances of convenience as needed. As MIT’s Fotini Christia has documented in cases from Afghanistan to Bosnia, and the University of Virginia’s Jonah Shulhofer-Wohl has detailed in Syria, rebel groups that lack a legitimate and effective over-arching institutional structure almost always display these kinds of rapidly shifting alliances and “blue on blue” violence. A “moderate, vetted opposition” means little when alliances are this fluid and organizational structures so weak.

The murkiness of the “terrorist group” line in this context is apparent in these changing alliances and conflicts. For instance, the United States recently designated two key Kuwaiti Islamists as terror financiers, accusing them of channeling funds to Jubhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State. But both were better known as backers of Ahrar al-Sham, a large Salafist organization that then worked within the Saudi-backed Islamic Front. And as recently as June, when they were allegedly funding the Islamic State and al-Nusra, one of them was holding events with FSA commander Riad al-Assad. These complexities, so deeply familiar to everyone who studies the conflict, deeply undermine the assumptions underlying plans resting on identifying and supporting “moderate rebels.”

Many have argued that the United States might have changed all of this by offering more support for the FSA. But based upon his outstanding recent book “Networks of Rebellion,” the University of Chicago’s Paul Staniland urges caution. Initial organizational weaknesses have long-lasting implications. “Pumping material support” into them, he observes, “might buy some limited cooperation from factions that need help, but is unlikely to trigger deep organizational change. This means that foreign backing for undisciplined groups will not do much.” Syria’s famously fractured and ineffective opposition would not likely have been miraculously improved through a greater infusion of U.S. money or guns.

In short, then, discussion of U.S. support for Syria’s rebels overstates the extent to which such aid would matter given the diverse sources of support available. U.S. arms would have joined a crowded market and competed within an increasingly Islamist and sectarian environment…

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9/11 hijackers funding: names and numbers

September 11, 2014

Follow the money

If you follow the money, the men in the middle of the disbursing of funds to the 9/11 hijackers were United Airlines Flight 175 hijacker-pilot Marwan al-Shehhi and a UAE-based computer specialist Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (Ali), who ultimately received the money from his uncle, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (KSM).

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Al Qaeda was able to raise about $30 million a year, mostly from zakat and sadaqa from wealthy Arab donors and other supportive Muslims around the world. The money was funneled through Islamic charities—often charitable foundations backed directly by the Saudi government—and through hawala, the traditional Islamic system of transferring money without physically having to transfer cash. The same methods continue being used to fund Al Qaeda and its offshoots today.

Of that $30 million, $10-$20 million was estimated by the 9/11 Commission to have been given annually to the Taliban. The remaining money was used for wages, training, planning, and operations like 9/11, which is estimated to have cost $400,000 to half a million dollars to carry out.

KSM gave about $300,000 of that sum to the hijackers for their travel to and inside the U.S., living expenses, and flight lessons. He sometimes handed out cash to operatives during face-to-face meetings but he relied on intermediaries—most significantly Ali—for international transactions once the U.S. sleeper cells had been established. In addition to being KSM’s nephew, Ali is the cousin of 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, and the husband of terror maven Aafia Siddiqui. He currently resides in Guantanamo Bay.

In what amounted to the largest series of transactions in the entire run-up to 9/11, Ali sent at least $110,000 to al-Shehhi for use by him, Muhammad Atta, and presumably for the expenses of the other Florida-based hijackers—several of whose leaders had been a part of Atta’s prior Al Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany. Read the rest of this entry »

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Imran Khan says ditch the banks and use hawala

September 9, 2014

The ex-cricket star, political gadfly, and possible future prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan is commanding his supporters and their families abroad to send money back and forth to each other through hawala, the traditional Islamic system of transferring money, rather than using conventional banks or wire transfer services.

This account comes from Dispatch News Desk on Aug. 23. As the article notes, Pakistan has officially sought to discourage hawala since it has been so often used to finance terrorist attacks, which is what makes Khan’s instructions disturbing.

“Use Hawala Hundi system for transfer of money to Pakistan”, says Imran Khan

The Chairman of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Inasaf (PTI) Imran Khan has directed his followers living outsides Pakistan to stop sending money to their families in Pakistan through banks(remittances)  and directed them to use Hawala Hundi system for transfer of money to Pakistan. He passed these directions while addressing his workers on Saturday night.

Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) Imran Khan on August 17, 2014 announces Civil Disobedience against sitting government asking his workers and followers not to pay any utility bills and taxes. Now he has directed to stop sending remittances to Pakistan.

Hawala or Hewala also known as hundi, is an informal value transfer system based on the performance and honour of a huge network of money brokers, primarily located in the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Indian subcontinent, operating outside of, or parallel to, traditional banking, financial channels, and remittance systems. This is the biggest channel being used by Arab and Afghan terrorists including Al-Qaeda to transfer money and finance their projects, therefore this channel is being discouraged by Pakistan since war on terror.

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Why can’t you send money home to Somalia? Because your politicians want sharia banking first

September 8, 2014

The fairy tale is that existing financial channels from conventional Western banks in England and Minnesota can create a new, “safe corridor” for high-tech, well-screened remittances from the Somali diaspora back to their families with an eliminated risk of financing terrorism or corruption in the process. The sharia banking plan is to leapfrog over the creation of a conventional, interest-based banking sector in Somalia by establishing sharia financial sector based exclusively on Islamic law. The word on the street is that the notorious money transfer company Dahabshiil is peddling influence with Somali politicians to ensure that no new financial institution cuts into their racket—a charge which (like every other mounting charge against it) Dahabshiil denies.

The result of all this is that there has yet to be a conventional bank in Somalia that can provide banking and money transfer services.  Thus it is becoming increasingly clear that Western banks should not be blamed for the inability of Somali leaders to authorize their own private banks and remittance channels.  The next time you hear somebody demand Western banks to keep the “lifeline” of Somali remittances open, ask yourself why Somali politicians won’t create a lifeline of their own.

The following excerpt from an Aug. 25 Foreign Policy article entitled, “Franchise Opportunity: Western Union in Somaliland” (hat tip Sal) goes a long way to explain why:

…For the past year, Somaliland’s parliament has failed to enact legislation allowing the creation of a commercial banking sector. The reluctance, government insiders say, is rooted in the belief that sends the muezzin’s call to prayer echoing from every corner of Hargeisa five times a day: the Islamic faith. Mindful of a constitution explicitly drafted according to Islamic principles, Somaliland’s parliamentarians have approved an Islamic Banking Law, but have yet to pass its commercial equivalent. They fear it could introduce the charging of interest on economic activity, which is unacceptable under sharia law.

“We’ve visited parliament; we have sat down with the chairman to explain how important this is, how much we need these foreign banks. We push and push and push,” says Abdilahi Hassan Aden, director general of Somaliland’s (unrecognized) central bank. “But we are still waiting.”

A Western advisor to the government sees parliament as ultimately persuadable, but not without work. “A lot of this is about changing the narrative when it comes to religion, changing mentalities,” the advisor says. “Islamic countries like Malaysia or Indonesia, for example, still manage to have commercial banking sectors.”

In private, some officials voice the suspicion that a commercial banking law has been so long in coming because the MTOs, influential local economic players that they are, until recently preferred the remittance system to remain just as it was. It’s a charge Dahabshiil, for its part, rejects. Abdirashid Duale, chief executive officer, insists the company is keen to see legislation allowing commercial banking passed. “Dahabshiil is very supportive of any law or other initiative that supports the commercial banking sector,” he says.*

Dahabshiil, which says it does background checks on all the customers it can, sees itself instead as a victim of world events. “All of this started because of 9/11,” Duale says. “Before then, there was no difference between us and a grocery store opening a bank account to deposit its earnings. With 9/11, the world changed, especially for Muslims.”

MTO operators say Barclays’s move would do the opposite of improving competition on a continent whose inhabitants already pay well over the odds for their money transfers. U.S.-based Western Union and MoneyGram, which the Barclays decision would not affect, charge far higher fees than Dahabshiil, which prides itself on being the cheapest MTO in the world.

Dahabshiil has now applied for and been granted a banking license under Somaliland’s existing Islamic banking legislation. But if that materializes, there would still be an open question of how thousands of rural families who will never see the inside of a bank — too far away, too expensive — would survive financially.

After a spirited lobbying campaign by the Somali diaspora, fronted by Olympic sprinter Mo Farah, whose family lives in Somaliland, the British government set up an action group in the fall of 2013 to try to hammer out a solution. The Department for International Development (DFID), alongside the British Treasury, is working on establishing a “safer corridor” for remittances. Its feasibility study explores ways of improving customer due diligence, from biometric fingerprinting to PINs to bar codes, and the establishment of an independent “trusted third party” to audit transactions. But more than a year after the remittance issue first blew up, the “safer corridor” remains a distant aspiration.

British consultants who were in Hargeisa to address a conference on money laundering, attended by Somaliland government ministers, remittance companies, the local Chamber of Commerce, and the World Bank, dismiss the “safer corridor” idea as a non-starter. (They have been commissioned by Dahabshiil to carry out a regional banking survey.) “It’s a Hans Christian Andersen story concocted by DFID, a case of the emperor’s new clothes,” says Peter Norris of Obiter Consult. “It’s been very unhelpful in luring everyone into a false sense of security.”

“The idea that you can have some massive computer system and somehow feed all this information in … and the computer will somehow work out which clients are dodgy and which are clean is a nonsense,” he adds…

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Terror finance frontal assault: recommended news reading

September 7, 2014
  • The Turkish Islamic front charity behind the illegal Gaza flotilla has just inked a pact with Qatar. What could go wrong?  More>>
  • After Egypt shut down Sinai smuggling tunnels, Hamas became desperate for cash. So it launched its rocket war against Israel with a global shakedown in mind… more>>
  • How Arab Bank transferred millions of dollars from Middle East “charities” to Hamas’s “martyrs”… more>>
  • Poorly informed Pentagon spokesman is concerned about Qatar’s support for terrorism only “if the reports are true”…more>>
  • ISIS poses an economic threat to the U.S….more>>
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Admin note about TTFB

September 6, 2014

Money Jihad blog, which is hosted by WordPress, is working great.

The Terror Finance Blog (TTFB) however, to which Money Jihad blogger A.D. Kendall is a contributing expert, is experiencing domain problems. TTFB’s editor Ilan Weinglass says the problem may take some time to resolve.

The website that has taken over the terrorfinance.org URL calls itself “Terror Finance: tutto sulle opzioni binarie,” The website is in Italian and gives advice on binary trading options. Forbes magazine warns its readers that binary option websites “are gambling sites, pure and simple,” not investment websites.

Money Jihad and blogger A.D. Kendall are in no way affiliated with the Italian website.

The Terror Finance Blog is technically still available in a basic format at http://terrorfinance.typepad.com/. Pieces written by Kendall for TTFB were cross-published on Money Jihad, and can still be accessed as normal at http://moneyjihad.wordpress.com/category/appearing-at-terror-finance-blog/. Once TTFB finds a more permanent home, we’ll let readers know.

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