Ryan McWhirter has a master’s degree of Terrorism and Security Studies at Charles Sturt University.  He can be found on twitter at ryanmc__89.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.

National Security Situation:  The enforcement of terrorism financing for terror organisations such as the Islamic State (IS) within Australia.

Date Originally Written:  January 30, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  May 7, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of challenging the symbolism of investigating all terrorism financing with the effect of better employment of limited investigatory resources based upon an impact assessment of action or inaction.

Background:  Most terrorist organisations require vast amounts of external support to fund their operations.  At the height of its power, the Islamic State were vastly different in the way they funded their group, with an estimated valuation at $2 billion US dollars.  The group was almost entirely self-sufficient, relying on natural resources within their controlled territory, taxes and extortion[1].

Whilst the group is most certainly winding down due to being militarily defeated in the terrain they controlled, it is not unsound to assess that other groups will try to emulate them.  During their peak, only 5% of the group’s finances were obtained through foreign donation[2].

Significance:  The enforcement of all things terrorism has become a political hot point within Australia.  Governments profess to the public that they are doing all in their power to suppress the threat groups such as IS pose.  The financing of the group is no exception to this rule and many investigations have been squarely aimed at individuals funding terrorism.

However, when 95% of a groups finances come from internal resources, is the enforcement of external donations a cost-effective measure, particularly in a small nation such as Australia?  Whilst it is unknown the exact amount Australians contributed to IS at its peak, it can safely be measured to be a small amount of the 5% the group reaps from donations.

This situation is purely economic.  Counter terrorism operations are not cheap.  It would not be out of the realm of possibilities to estimate an operation may cost between $100,000 to $150,000 a day, given the amount of staff, resources and other intangibles required to thoroughly investigate.  If an operation runs for three months, the cost is $ 9 million.

Can these resources be put to better use?  A case in point occurred in 2016 when a young male and female were arrested in Sydney, Australia for sending $5,000 to IS[3].  This operation didn’t occur over night.  If for example it ran for two months, intelligence and security agencies spent an estimated $6 million dollars to investigate $5,000 going overseas.  The two offenders were refused bail and remanded in custody, with the male being sent to a supermax prison.  Is sending a young male to supermax for terror financing going to change his views or intensify them?

The key question is, for an almost entirely self-sufficient group, is enforcing this small amount of finance an efficient and productive measure?

Option #1:  The Australian government continues with total enforcement of laws regarding terror finance.

Risk:  This option maintains the status quo.  The continuation of the total enforcement of these offences may lead to effected communities feeling targeted and vilified by authorities.

A risk this option poses is that the resources and finances used in these investigations are not being used in more serious matters.  Whilst intelligence and security agencies are busy investigating small time terror financers, other serious offences are going unchecked, these offences include human trafficking, large-scale drug importations and actual terrorist activity being directed at citizens.

Gain:  This option allows political capital to be garnered, particularly with a government obsessed with giving the appearance of being tough on terror.  It also sets an example to other individuals who may be contemplating financing terror groups that their actions are unacceptable and will be investigated and prosecuted.

Option #2:  The Australian government conducts a cost and benefit analysis before investigating the financing of groups such as IS.

Risk:  The risks in this option are profound.  Individuals may use this loophole to contribute to their group of choice by only donating small amounts, knowing they won’t be investigated if the amount is small enough.  This small donation activity may be seen as a gateway to conducting further terrorist related activities and a key step in the radicalization process.

Politically, this option is problematic.  If this option became policy, it would be seized upon by the government’s opposition to imply they are soft on terrorism.

Gain:  Australian government terrorism-related resources and finances are diverted into more serious criminal offences and social programs.  Deradicalization programs in schools and community centers could be better funded, perhaps stopping individuals wanting to finance a terror group, or even help stop a terrorist attack before it happens.  The government could make the case that by saving resources in this area they are in fact showing a genuine attempt to stop terrorism before it happens, reducing the need to be tough on it.

Other Comments:  It should be noted that in cases of financing terror groups such as Al-Qa’ida who have a greater reliance on outside donation, option two would not be feasible.  As such, these incidents would be investigated as usual.

Recommendation:  None.


[1]  Centre for the analysis of terrorism. (2015). ISIS Financing

[2]  Ibid.

[3]  Olding, Rachel. (2016) Texts between schoolgirl terror suspect and co-accused Milad Atai released in court. Sydney Morning Herald.