This Week in AML

Domestic Terrorism in Our Nation's Capitol

This week, Executive Vice President John Byrne, and Creative Director Elliot Berman of the AML RightSource staff discuss the unprecedented actions at the Capitol Building in Washington DC. They explore the challenges presented by domestic terrorism, how financial services companies can work to identify possible planning activities by domestic terrorists, and what actions Congress may take to codify domestic terrorism in the Federal criminal law.

Domestic Terrorism in Our Nation's Capitol Transcript


Elliot Berman: Hey, John, how are you this week?

John Byrne: Hey, Elliot. Sad and angry, but I'm sure most people are as well. And I know that we're typically going to give people updates on direct AML or AML related items, but I think as we both talked about before the call, this is an issue that needs some referencing.

I know our AML community has always been committed to doing what they can on a number of topics that address societal woes, like trafficking and elder abuse. But you and I have previously talked about domestic terrorism, and there wasn't a more clear example of that in my humble opinion than on Wednesday [January 6, 2021].

Elliot Berman: Yeah, I think that's right. While domestic terrorism by itself is not actually defined in the federal law, the the FBI certainly has a guideline description that they use. And if you look that up, you'll see that the events of this week certainly fit within it. Again, it would be up to a court in the end to make that decision, but there's not a lot of space between the guidance definition and the acts that we saw laid out.

John Byrne: No, that's right. And obviously part of it in terms of what our role, if any, in this is, comes from the space to detect and prevent and report the financials. And that only comes if there's planning. So while obviously there'll be a lot of investigations on the various groups that we're aware of that could have planned this, and there's certainly been media stories that suggested and pointed to social media posts that showed there was planning in terms of what we can do as a community, it's not completely clear. But I'll say - I had a conversation with Dennis Lormel, who I had a separate conversation with months ago from one of our podcasts about domestic terrorism.

And he said, he's taken yesterday's activities, and is going to use that to improve and enhance his training. He figures, there's some things that will come out of this that will help going forward. So I think that's where “the opportunity” lies for us to be helpful with our law enforcement partners.

Elliot Berman: Right. And again, I hope that we never see anything like we saw this week, but that doesn't mean that there aren't individuals and groups out there who view it differently, who are actively trying to plan things. We've certainly seen some arrests and some other related things that would have fit the definition of domestic terrorism in the last six months. There's no question that trying to isolate the typologies, and look for things that just don't make sense, and reporting them accordingly, is what the AML community can do on an ongoing basis to help keep things heading in a rational direction.

John Byrne: Yeah. And going forward, today was also the day where incoming president Biden named his justice department team. He’s going to appoint/nominate Eric Garland, (Judge Garland) as the attorney general. His brief comments today on Judge Garland talked about specifically domestic terrorism, [be]cause he was one of the prosecutors in the Oklahoma city bombing [case] in the nineties.

So sadly there's a connection, but he mentioned in his comments, he also said something that I think is very important. He mentioned “the rule of law is not simply a turn of a phrase”.

So I think the justice department will obviously focus on this as an area that needs prosecution, investigations, that sort of thing. Director Christopher Ray, back in 2019 identified this as a priority for the Bureau. And he issued a statement this morning and I'll just read this quick portion of it. He said “The violence and destruction of property at the Capitol yesterday showed a blatant and appalling disregard for our institutions of government, and the orderly administration of the democratic process.”

And as we've said consistently, we don't tolerate violent agitators and extremists. They use the guise of the first amendment to incite violence and wreak havoc. So I do think that's going to be another thing to watch for the incoming Congress - House and Senate both. I believe we'll look at potential legislation to put domestic terrorism as a defined term under title 18, which I think is woefully lacking and many agree on both sides of the aisle, is needed.

Elliot Berman: Right. Just for our listeners who aren't familiar title 1[8] is really the federal criminal law.  Yeah I do think it has been a hole for many years. People probably didn't perceive it as a critical hole, but we've certainly seen some things over the last number of years and months that would indicate that maybe that's a hole that has to be filled pretty promptly.

John Byrne: Well, I don't think there's any question. And I think just on a final note, I would say it's very important as we hit this new year, new administration, and try to deal with the aftermath of the disgusting activities yesterday, that we recognize that at the end of the day we're all Americans, we need to work together, but facts do matter.

And I think we in the AML community, we respect that, and we just continue to do what I think we always do -  partner with our folks in law enforcement, the regulators, other parts of the private sector, and do the most we can to detect and hopefully prevent some of these activities going forward.

And I just think there's another thing to add to the list of priorities for the AML professional now in 2021.

Elliot Berman: Agreed well. Stay safe. You're a lot closer to Washington than I am. So first stay safe. Secondly, we'll look forward to people coming together and looking for a better path as we go ahead.

John Byrne: Great. Thanks Elliot. We'll talk next week. Take care.

Elliot Berman: You too. Bye-bye.