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 OFAC’s 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. That’s apparently what happened to us.
What’s 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 bank’s processes, sometime around the new year the funds were released. I haven’t heard a full explanation yet for what went wrong and how it got resolved.
Reporter David Axe and artist Tim Hamilton send word that a payment for their comic, “Army Of God,” which I edited this year for Cartoon Movement, has been flagged by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The graphic novel is being published next year by PublicAffairs and Hamilton says his book advance has been seized by the government. You see, the title of the book is the name of a terrorist organization.
“Hamilton’s money was seized early in December, 2012 when his agent attempted to wire the advance payment for the extra chapters that the artist illustrated for the graphic collection,” a press release sent out by the Axe and Hamilton states. Hamilton’s agent (who, full disclosure, is also my agent) called the bank and found the Federal Reserve wire fraud unit was holding it under suspicion of laundering money for terrorism. That could mean Joseph Kony’s cult-like militia the book is titled after, or, quite possibly, the fanatical anti-abortion group in America who has bombed abortion clinics. “The Federal banking authority, who monitor every wire: foreign and domestic, apparently seized the funds due to the title of the book,” they say. As of now the money has not been released, despite attempts made by Hamilton and his agent, who are currently working with lawyers to figure it out.
OFAC hasn’t responded to my request for comment yet, but their answering machine urged me to visit the U.S. Treasury’s website. 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.
UPDATE: The money has been released to Hamilton. More here.
At Cartoon Movement we’ve been publishing Army Of God all year, the book length work of comics journalism from David Axe and Tim Hamilton. Each chapter has focused on a different aspect of the conflict with the LRA in the Congo and, with the latest chapter, the entire book is now available online.
A new chapter of the graphic novel by David Axe and Tim Hamilton is up at Cartoon Movement.
Cross-posted at Cartoon Movement
Today we publish the fourth installment of Army Of God by David Axe and Tim Hamilton. This chapter examines the history of the infamous leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, who has long evaded capture. Over the last year, Kony has virtually become a household name and efforts to arrest him have been ramping up. Just yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Ugandan forces had captured one of his top commanders.
If you aren’t caught up on Army Of God, check out previous chapters on our project page.
The “Kony 2012” campaign launched by Invisible Children has brought worldwide attention to Joseph Kony and the LRA–as well as sparking a fierce debate over the role of Internet activism, humanitarian groups, and western interventionism.
Last month Cartoon Movement began publishing Army Of God by David Axe and Tim Hamilton, a book-length work of comics journalism about Kony’s LRA and people working to stop him. This week we published another chapter, reconstructing a first-hand account of the LRA raid on the town of Duru in 2008, where Kony’s soldiers abducted more children.
On the CM blog, David Axe writes about his meeting with Invisible Children’s Adam Finck while reporting from Congo in 2010, and his ultimate support for their project, in Get Kony.
Brian Conley, who has established grassroots news outlets in conflict zones, writes from South By Southwest, where two panels focused on Kony 2012 and who exactly it empowers. “It undermines the agency of Ugandans as implementers of change in their lives,” Conley writes in Hashtag You Can Believe In. “I am left wondering how Ugandans will advocate for themselves in the world of 2013 without Kony.”
David Axe and I did a short comic for the CBC, Canadian Broadcast Corporation. Last month David traveled to Congo and interviewed survivors of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Here is one of their stories.
Congo has millions of internally displaced people and an epidemic of rapes by armed groups–more than half by Congolese soldiers–that is tearing apart the fabric of their society. Axe explains the dire situation in a two part article for World Politics Review.
David Axe has returned from five weeks of reporting in the Congo, site of the largest humanitarian crisis on earth. If you are curious what the landscape looks like, he has some videos from the trip showing some road building, refugee shelters and food convoys. He posted some photos of the Lord’s Resistance Army’s victims here. Don’t click if you have a weak stomach.
We are collaborating again. The first effort is a short comic that should be up next week.