The Role of Forensic Accounting in Terrorism

Forensic accountants help to catch terrorists and criminals.

Forensic accountants help to catch terrorists and criminals.

That accounting degree could get you a job with the FBI. Because very few terrorists get caught in the act, catching them often involves lengthy and detailed investigations. The investigation that tracks terrorists down can take months or even years. Since the beginning of the FBI, accountants have played a huge part in helping agents build cases against terrorists and other criminals. The FBI hires forensic accountants to help them "follow the money."

Financial Analysis

Forensic accountants contribute heavily to the intelligence cycle employed by the FBI. Terrorism takes money because these criminals need training, equipment and weapons. Someone has to pay for these purchases, or give funds to terrorists who buy them, often in small amounts. Forensic accountants receive specific training to help them piece together financial activity details. They audit and pull information from banks, investment companies, airline companies, ATM and phone records, and questionable charitable organizations. They help track down terrorists by reviewing the financial records of individuals or businesses suspected of an involvement with terrorism. They complete financial analysis of business and personal records to develop profiles that identify people or businesses as suspected terrorists or terrorism supporters.

Evidence Gathering

By reviewing financial records, tracking financial activity, deposits, and withdrawals into or out of various accounts -- as designated by the FBI or another law-enforcement agency -- forensic accountants gather the financial evidence that can be used to anticipate and track suspected terrorist activity or prosecute known terrorists. In the early days of the FBI, accountants helped catch such notable criminals as Al Capone, caught on tax-evasion charges. Forensic accountants can also rebuild activity by piecing together information from multiple sources. After compiling the financial evidence, forensic accounts report their findings in investigative reports.

Tracing Funding Sources

Terrorism activity starts with finding the businesses or people who fund these criminals. A forensic accountant spends a lot of time tracing funding sources and interrelated transactions to determine terrorist activity. In 2009, the FBI developed the forensic accountant position as an investigative-support function for both terrorism and other illegal financial crimes. Since 9/11, the FBI has forensic accountants track a variety of financial transactions that could involve large money transfers, sleeper cells and terrorist training.

Expert Witnesses

Some forensic accountants testify in court on their findings. They meet with prosecutors to build the case against terrorists. They discuss strategies and proceedings before a case goes to trial. Once a judicial case begins, some forensic accountants may testify on behalf of law-enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, as expert witnesses. Forensic accountants must be familiar with accounting principles and practices, law-enforcement policies and procedures, as well as federal rules of evidence, security protocols on a national level, and courtroom proceedings.

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About the Author

As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.

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