Two weeks ago I wrote about Tim Hamilton’s book advance for the graphic novel Army Of God being seized by Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) under suspicion of funding terrorism. Army Of God is both the name of Joseph Kony’s outfit in the Congo and a militant anti-abortion group in the U.S. It was unclear which one Hamilton was suspected of laundering money for, or why a cartoonist’s paycheck would be seized without the slightest research into what it was for.
David Axe writes that the issue has been cleared up. With thousands of Specially Designated Nationals listed as red flags for bank transactions, much of the government’s work is automated.
In fact, banks do much of OFACs work for it, using government-certified software to screen transactions. If a money transfer gets flagged for some reason, the funds can be diverted into a blocked account at the originating bank that only the feds can access. Thats apparently what happened to us.
Whats not clear yet is why OFAC and the OFAC-approved software believe we are laundering money or which terror group is allegedly benefiting.
I wrote at the time, “Comics wouldn’t be a great way to fund terrorism. They don’t pay very well. But now we know no one fighting terrorism knows how to use Google, which sure makes me feel safe.” It turns out they at least have a Google alert on their name. The day following my post, Treasury spokesman John Sullivan got in touch and spoke with Axe.
In the past banks have encountered false positives of names or identifiers of Specially Designated Nationals, Sullivan says. In most cases the bank will complete its review, confirm the false positive and complete the processing of the payment in a prompt manner.
Not in our case. The block on our funds was still in place weeks later. A couple federal agents not OFAC employees got in touch with me, expressing their alarm over the block on our funds and volunteering to pull whatever levers they could to expedite some kind of resolution. Whether through their action or the banks processes, sometime around the new year the funds were released. I havent heard a full explanation yet for what went wrong and how it got resolved.