CIOs boost collaboration to fight terrorism financing

Initiative of AUSTRAC CIO sees IT execs in region come together to tackle terrorism financing

AUSTRAC chief information officer Maria Milosavljevic has spearheaded an international initiative bringing together IT leaders from financial intelligence units (FIUs) across the region to combat terrorism financing.

A CIO forum held in conjunction with the inaugural Counter-Terrorism Financing Summit brought together chief information officers from FIUs as well as staff from other Australian government agencies and representatives of the private sector.

The CTF Summit was held this week in Sydney under the auspices of AUSTRAC, the Australian body responsible for combatting terrorism financing activities and money laundering, and Pusat Pelaporan dan Analisis Transaksi Keuangan (PPATK), AUSTRAC’s counterpart in Indonesia.

Milosavljevic said she had had the idea for a CIO forum attached to the conference a few weeks after AUSTRAC had begun organising the CTF Summit.

“Quite frequently CIOs aren't involved in these discussions,” Milosavljevic told Computerworld.

“If you look around the world, technology is driving so much innovation that really technologists should be involved in the discussion from the outset because they can actually tell you what's possible.”

“I think that CIOs are in a position to expand people's thinking and do the whole 'art of the possible',” Milosavljevic said.

“Most people are quite constrained by their thinking, whereas technologists can actually expand that thinking because they know what's possible.”

The two key themes for the CIO forum were leveraging technology to identify and disable terrorism financing, and increasing collaboration to maximise the use of financial intelligence.

The forum included representatives from Brunei, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, the United States and Sri Lanka, as well as Indonesia and Australia.

Along with AUSTRAC, Australian participants included the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC), the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Border Force, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), NSW Police, WA Police, the Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), and banking regulator Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA).

There were also representatives from Westpac, Western Union, MoneyGram and Thomson Reuters at the CIO forum.

Emerging CIO community

The CIOs agreed to seek to build an international community of IT leaders that can boost collaboration among FIUs and the private sector, Milosavljevic said.

“I don't want this to be a flash in the pan,” the CIO said.

The communiqué issued by the CTF Summit included as an action item the establishment of a taskforce to develop a regional framework for improved financial intelligence sharing and analysis of terrorism financing.

One of the framework’s building blocks will be the development of a “community of experts to define common standards and identify goals to find ways to capitalise on the data, intelligence, technology and expertise that government and industry can share on terrorism financing.”

“The community will comprise regional government agencies, academia and the private sectors,” the communiqué states.

Coming out of the CIO forum there was agreement to produce an infographic and set up a mailing list to help build some momentum around the emerging community, Milosavljevic said.

The CIOs agreed to host another forum, to be held in Indonesia in conjunction with the next CTF Summit in 2016.

However, CIOs also agreed to find ways to boost collaboration between summits, potentially holding virtual events such as webcasts every three months.

“We definitely agreed that we need to act and we agreed that we need a community, that we need to put our resources together,” Milosavljevic said.

A key takeaway from the forum was the mixed IT capabilities of FIUs in the region. There’s an opportunity for countries with more advanced capabilities to help increase the capabilities of other nations, Milosavljevic said.

Terrorism and terrorism financing are transnational challenges and require a level of collaboration that go far beyond just opening lines of communication between law enforcement agencies, the CIO said.

One of the sessions at the CTF Summit addressed the possibility of FIUs exchanging analysts and Milosavljevic said there is potential for a similar IT-focussed scheme.

Read more: Money laundering and digital currencies

“I want to set up technologist exchanges where we actually send people for a period of time to go and assist with something that we've done, or learn from something that someone else has done,” Milosavljevic said.

Another big takeaway from the event was how keen industry is to engage with law enforcement to try to break down data silos in order to combat terrorism financing and money laundering, the CIO said.

Forum delegates agreed to work on common standards for sharing data and improving data quality.

Although there are privacy constraints on the exchange of some personal data, Milosavljevic there are opportunities such as exchanging methodologies.

Technology is not as much an inhibitor of information sharing compared to culture, legislation and trust, the CIO said.

“If you talk about sharing methodology, that's not an issue because you're not sharing information about individuals, you're sharing patterns of behaviour,” the CIO said.

“So how do we do that better? That's something that we can share and if it's a methodology for financing terrorism, there's no issue about sharing that. And a company's not going to feel like their competitive advantage is being destroyed by sharing that - in fact quite the opposite.”

“There are these nicely defined areas where we can do some real work and start to produce some real value,” Milosavljevic added.

The UK’s Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce (JMLIT), a public-private partnership established earlier this year, is one model that the emerging community of CIOs in the sector can potentially draw on, Milosavljevic said.

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