On Friday, President Obama named top U.S. Treasury official David Cohen as the next CIA deputy director, replacing Avril Haines, who will become Obama’s deputy national security adviser. Cohen, 51, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence for the Treasury, is best known as the official behind the sanctions against Iran and Russia. (CNN even dubbed him the “sanctions guru“.)
The Washington Post reports, “Since 2011, Cohen has led many of the Treasury Department’s most aggressive overseas programs, including efforts to sever lines of financial support to terrorist groups, weapons proliferators and drug cartels, officials said.”
Cohen, who has testified on Capitol Hill about Iran and Syria, has been vocal about fighting the Islamic State, emphasizing the militant group’s nontraditional financial structure. In an October 2014 speech, he stressed the need for the U.S. to adapt its tactics in response:
But to some extent, ISIL poses a different terrorist financing challenge. It has amassed wealth at an unprecedented pace, and its revenue sources have a different composition from those of many other terrorist organizations. Unlike, for instance, core al-Qa’ida, ISIL derives a relatively small share of its funds from deep-pocket donors, and thus does not, today, depend principally on moving money across international borders. Instead, ISIL obtains the vast majority of its revenues through local criminal and terrorist activities.
So, just as ISIL relies in part on new models to fund itself, we too are adapting our tools and techniques to combat ISIL’s financial activities.
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Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.