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Examining the Reality of Hamas’ Funding

On Tuesday, Adewale Adeyemo, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Treasury, testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs concerning the Treasury’s efforts to counter illicit finance, terrorism, and sanctions evasion. Although the hearing touched on a variety of national security matters, one recurring topic of Deputy Secretary Adeyemo’s remarks was Hamas’ use of cryptocurrency. 


Deputy Secretary Adeyemo began the hearing by requesting “additional tools and authorities… to mitigate the risks” in the cryptocurrency ecosystem. Because of the Treasury’s “long track record” of “making it harder for these groups to use the traditional financial system to move money,” they were exploring other means of moving their money. At the same time, Deputy Secretary Adeyemo testified that the Treasury Department “continue[s] to assess that terrorists prefer to use traditional financial products and services” over cryptocurrency.


The hearing did not fully explore why “terrorists prefer to use traditional financial products and services,” which is critical information as Congress considers legislative action to suppress illicit financing risks. One reason might be that law enforcement has proven effective at combating illicit financial activity using crypto: in April of 2023, Hamas suspended Bitcoin fundraising in an effort to reduce the US government’s use of Bitcoin’s public blockchain to trace and seize Hamas’ crypto assets. According to an Elliptic report, Hamas’ use of cryptocurrency has proven ineffective:


“Since the Hamas attacks of October 7th, the most prominent public crypto fundraising campaign has been operated by Gaza Now, a pro-Hamas news organization. However, only $21,000 in cryptocurrency has been donated since October 7th, and thanks to the efforts of crypto businesses and researchers, much of this has been frozen - preventing Gaza Now from being able to use these funds. On October 9th, Gaza Now sent around $2,000 of the donated cryptocurrency to an exchange, presumably to cash-out, where it was promptly frozen. In addition, around $9,000 in stablecoin donations were frozen by Tether, the stablecoin’s issuer.”


While this week’s hearing focused on crypto, the Treasury Department has published detailed assessments of Hamas’ preferred financing methods. In an October speech, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson stated that Hamas “generates vast sums of revenue through its secret investment portfolios;” uses “its control of border crossings and avenues of commerce, racketeering business frameworks, and extortionary practices around local populations” to generate income; and “illicitly funnel[s] money through fictitious charitable organizations” to access funds. Moreover, Hamas’ “global portfolio of investments generates vast sums of revenue through its assets, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars'' with companies operating “under the guise of legitimate businesses.” 


In May of 2022, the Treasury designated a Hamas finance official, three Hamas financial facilitators, and six companies for supporting Hamas through their management of an international investment portfolio. Last month, the Atlantic Council found that Hamas created a “global investment portfolio valued between $500 million and $1 billion” with investments in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, and Turkey. Hamas’ network of supporters also provides the group with resources and funding. According to the State Department’s 2021 report on terrorism, Hamas “has received funding, weapons, and training from Iran and raises funds in Persian Gulf Countries.” More specifically, the State Department assessed in the same report that “Iran provides up to $100 million annually in combined support to Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas.” 


In addition, the Treasury Department has long found non-governmental and charitable organizations to be a key source of support for Hamas’ terrorist activities. For example, in 2003, the Treasury designated five charities funding Hamas as terrorist organizations. Years later, in 2008, the Treasury imposed sanctions on Union of Good — “an organization created by Hamas leadership to transfer funds to the terrorist organization.” The Treasury noted in its press release that “[t]errorist groups such as Hamas continue to exploit charities to radicalize vulnerable communities and cultivate support for their violent activities.” Despite these sanctions, Hamas continues to leverage NGOs and charitable organizations to collect funds. Additionally, Hamas taxes imports from Egypt and the West Bank to raise revenue. 


The Treasury Department has for years found that cryptocurrency is not the primary method through which Hamas or other terrorist groups move their money and that terrorists continue to prefer traditional products and services to finance their operations. Exclusively focusing on crypto means deprioritizing terrorists’ preferred financing sources, which might be where to start. 


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