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  • Mr. Earnest: Good afternoon, everybody.

  • It's nice to see you.

  • I'm joined at the briefing today by David Cohen

  • from the Treasury Department.

  • We spent a lot of time over the last several weeks, even months,

  • discussing the strategy that the President has put

  • in place to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

  • We have, for understandable reasons,

  • spent a lot of time talking about our strategy related

  • to the military -- military airstrikes

  • by our coalition partners.

  • We've talked a lot about our effort to train and supply

  • local forces on the ground to take the fight to ISIL.

  • We've talked a lot about our ongoing diplomatic efforts

  • to build a broad international coalition.

  • But another core component of this strategy is

  • our efforts to shut down ISIL's financing.

  • This is David's area of responsibility and expertise,

  • and so he's here to give you some brief remarks

  • at the top and to answer your questions about it.

  • So with that, David, why don't you get us started.

  • Under Secretary Cohen: Thanks, Josh.

  • Good afternoon, everybody.

  • So what I thought I would do is briefly recap a speech that

  • I delivered earlier today describing Treasury's role

  • in leading the effort to disrupt the financing for ISIL,

  • which is part of the, as Josh mentioned,

  • the overall effort to disrupt, degrade

  • and ultimately defeat ISIL.

  • So I began by sketching the key source of ISIL's current

  • revenue, and noted that ISIL presents a somewhat different

  • terrorist financing challenge for a couple of reasons.

  • One, it has obviously amassed wealth at a pretty rapid clip.

  • Much of its funding, unlike sort of al Qaeda and al Qaeda-type

  • organizations, does not come from external donations but

  • is gathered -- internally gathered locally in the territory

  • in Iraq and Syria where it currently operates.

  • But nonetheless, ISIL's financial foundations can be

  • attacked through the application of some tried and true

  • techniques that we've developed over the past 10 years

  • at the Treasury Department, and with some

  • modifications on some of these approaches.

  • So with respect to ISIL's sources of revenue,

  • obviously ISIL's sale of oil has gotten a lot of attention.

  • Our best understanding is that ISIL, since about mid-June,

  • has earned approximately a million dollars

  • a day through the sale of smuggled oil.

  • There's been some progress recently in beating back

  • ISIL's ability to earn money from the sale of smuggled oil,

  • in particular due to the airstrikes that have been

  • conducted on some of the ISIL oil refineries.

  • Second, ISIL has earned about $20 million this year through

  • kidnapping for ransom, through receiving ransoms

  • to free innocent civilians, often journalists,

  • that it has taken hostage.

  • Third, ISIL earns up to several million dollars

  • per month through its various extortion networks

  • and criminal activity in the territory where it operates.

  • And finally, as I mentioned, external donations are not

  • right now a significant source of funding for ISIL,

  • but it does maintain some really significant links to Gulf-based

  • financiers, as a spate of Treasury designations we did

  • last night -- last week, rather -- or last month, highlights.

  • So we are leading a three-pronged effort to combat

  • ISIL's financial foundation, closely linked up with

  • the other members in the U.S. government

  • of the anti-ISIL coalition,

  • as well as with international counterparts.

  • So first, we're focused on cutting off

  • ISIL's funding streams.

  • With respect to oil, we are looking very carefully at who

  • the middlemen are who are involved in the sale

  • of the oil that ISIL is smuggling.

  • At some point, there is someone in that chain

  • of transactions who is involved

  • in the legitimate or quasi-legitimate economy.

  • They have a bank account.

  • Their trucks may be insured.

  • They may have licensing on their facilities.

  • There is someone who our tools, our designation

  • tools can influence.

  • And so we are looking very carefully at identifying who

  • the people are that are involved in this chain

  • of transactions that we can apply our tools against.

  • Secondly, we are working to turn the growing international

  • norm against paying ransom to terrorist organizations

  • into a reality.

  • This year there were two U.N. Security Council

  • resolutions that very clearly came out and

  • said that paying a ransom to terrorist organizations

  • is something that no country, no member state should

  • be involved in.

  • This is something that has been longstanding U.S.

  • policy, longstanding U.K. policy, and something

  • that we're trying to get our partners around

  • the world to turn from a norm into a reality.

  • Third, we are looking at these external funding networks.

  • Although it is not currently a significant source of revenue,

  • there is obviously a big pool of money out there

  • that has historically funded extremist groups.

  • Very focused on ensuring that this does not become a more

  • significant means by which ISIL is able to fund itself.

  • And finally, on the crime and extortion networks,

  • the best way to address this, again,

  • is through the military activity and other activity

  • on the ground to push ISIL out of the territory

  • where it's currently operating.

  • But it does sort of play into our second line of activity,

  • which is to prevent ISIL from gaining access

  • to the international financial system.

  • So as it has funds at its disposal,

  • it's critically important that it does not get access to the

  • financial system through the bank branches that are

  • in the territory where it's currently operating.

  • There are dozens of bank branches in Iraq where ISIL

  • is currently operating.

  • We're working closely with the Iraqis and with others around

  • the world, both in the private financial sector and in the

  • public sector, to ensure that ISIL is not able to gain

  • access to the international financial system.

  • And the third line of effort is to apply sanctions

  • against the key leaders in ISIL.

  • It has a relatively sophisticated,

  • complex organizational structure.

  • We're going to look to designate the leaders,

  • designate the people who act in CFO-like capacities,

  • as well as to designate those outside of Iraq and Syria

  • who are providing support to ISIL.

  • So with that, why don't I take a few questions?

  • Mr. Earnest: Olivier, you want to start us off?

  • The Press: Please.

  • Thanks, David.

  • Do you have a sense of ISIL's overall net worth?

  • I realize that these analogies are not perfect,

  • but do you have a sense of where they are in overall net worth?

  • And could you maybe give us just where they rank either in income

  • or in overall wealth against other notable extremist groups?

  • Under Secretary Cohen: There's no question that ISIL

  • is among the best-financed terrorist organizations --

  • leaving aside state-sponsored terrorist organizations --

  • that we've confronted.

  • I can't give you a precise figure on what

  • its current net worth is.

  • But I think an important point, though,

  • is to not confuse funding with financial strength.

  • ISIL has massed millions of dollars in funding,

  • but a terrorist organization's financial strength turns

  • on its ability to continue to tap into funding streams,

  • its ability to use the funds that it has,

  • and also its expenses, ISIL, in its ambition to control large

  • swaths of territory -- cities, towns and millions of millions

  • of people -- has a significant expense side

  • of its balance sheet.

  • And as we work to cut off its access to revenue,

  • ISIL's ability to deliver even a modicum of services to the

  • people that it's attempting to subjugate will be stressed.

  • And so its ability to continue to hold that territory against

  • a population that in the past has shown a willingness

  • to push back against al Qaeda-types is going

  • to be stressed.

  • The Press: And one more.

  • You said that external donations are not right

  • now a significant source of revenue.

  • Again, I'm sorry, can you put a dollar amount

  • on what that means?

  • How much smaller is it than a million dollars a day from

  • smuggling oil, or $20 million this year from ransom?

  • Under Secretary Cohen: It is smaller.

  • In September, we announced designations that included

  • sanctions against a Gulf-based facilitator -- actually,

  • a Syria-based facilitator who received $2 million from

  • Gulf-based donors.

  • So I don't mean to suggest that this is an insignificant source

  • of financing, it's just in comparison to their other

  • revenue streams right now, it's not as important to them.

  • The Press: Which countries are most lenient

  • toward paying ransoms?

  • And how do you approach this problem?

  • Under Secretary Cohen: Look, we approach this problem by lots

  • of quiet diplomacy, working with the countries,

  • and making the point -- which I think is both logical and,

  • frankly, has borne out -- which is that the payment of ransoms

  • just encourages further hostage-taking.

  • And so we all have an obligation to protect our citizens.

  • And the best way to protect our citizens is to take away

  • the incentive in the first place for terrorist

  • organizations to take hostages.

  • The U.S. policy against paying ransoms has been longstanding,

  • and it applies across the board to any hostage-taker.

  • But in the context of a terrorist organization that

  • is taking hostages, this policy has even more force,

  • because we know that the funding that comes from the ransoms

  • is used by these terrorist organizations to fund

  • all of their violent activities.

  • And so the best way to translate what is this emerging

  • international norm into practice is really to make the case

  • to our partners around the world that payment

  • of ransoms ultimately redounds to the detriment

  • of all of our citizens.

  • The Press: Is it mostly European nations that are

  • lenient towards paying, or is it Gulf States?

  • Or who exactly?

  • Under Secretary Cohen: Look, I'm not going to identify

  • any particular countries that are involved here.

  • There are, as evidenced by the fact that ISIL has received

  • $20 million or so this year in ransom payments,

  • there are still ransoms being paid.

  • And I think it's incumbent on everybody and the anti-ISIL

  • coalition and more broadly to adhere

  • to the Security Council resolutions

  • and to not pay ransoms.

  • The Press: What would be an example of the external funding

  • sources that you talked about a minute ago?

  • An example or two?

  • Under Secretary Cohen: Well, an example are these donor

  • networks in the Gulf where money is collected.

  • There are bundlers, essentially, who collect funds and move

  • the funds out of the Gulf into Iraq and Syria.

  • I mean, one of the things we're concerned about -- and again,

  • we have recently designated some individuals who are involved

  • in this activity -- is the use of social media

  • to solicit funds, and the ability, frankly, to move

  • beyond sort of person-to-person fundraising and to use

  • social media as a way to raise funds, bundle those funds,

  • and move them out of the Gulf into Syria and Iraq.

  • And so that's something that we're very focused on.

  • The Press: You mentioned going after the middlemen when

  • it comes to dealing with the oil revenue generated by ISIS.

  • Do you know who is buying that oil ultimately?

  • Are there nations buying it?

  • Under Secretary Cohen: I don't think it's --

  • that's what we're looking into.

  • And our intelligence community and our partners are highly

  • focused on identifying exactly who it is in these smuggling

  • networks that are involved.

  • These smuggling networks didn't just pop up overnight.

  • These are historic, longstanding smuggling networks that

  • have been the way by which all sorts of commodities,

  • including oil, have been traded over the years.

  • But what's different now, frankly,

  • is that the oil that had previously moved through these

  • smuggling networks, we now know that that oil finds

  • its origin with ISIL.

  • And anyone involved in the sale of this oil is, frankly,

  • assisting ISIL, funding ISIL.

  • And so, in the past, if some of these people in these networks

  • were willing to sort of turn a blind eye as to where the oil

  • came from, that's no longer tenable because this oil,

  • everybody should know, is coming from ISIL-controlled territory,

  • and trading in this oil is just funding ISIL.

  • The Press: And do you know how much money is coming

  • from the West?