In 2016, travelers pulling suitcases filled with cash started showing up at Sea-Tac Airport holding tickets destined for recipients in Somalia, raising concerns among anti-terrorism officials. Transporting large amounts of cash overseas isn’t illegal, but it was who was carrying the money and where it was going (to Somali terror groups like Al-Shabaab) that caught the attention of security officials.
KING5 The first cash shipment rolled through Sea-Tac in 2016. A man carrying $750,000 in cash told Customs officials he was transporting the money overseas. Over the next several months, couriers carrying as much as $2 million boarded commercial flights at Sea-Tac. One hawala – Seattle hawala – sent out $20 million last year,” said Kerns.
Over the years, U.S. banks have been shutting refusing to wire money on behalf of hawalas – worried that the bank could be held liable for failing to report suspicious activity. After the banks shut down the last remaining accounts of hawalas that wired money to Somalia, Somali Muslims began to ferry cash overseas using couriers.
Glenn Kerns, who was assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) at the time, uncovered something suspicious when he analyzed financial records that the hawalas are required file with the Washington Department of Financial Institutions. “All ten of them were on welfare benefits. DSHS benefits,” said Kerns. “It’s fraud. Straight up fraud – every one of them.”