Maajid Nawaz, CAGE and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign have been secretly given a “terrorism” designation on a confidential database that banks use as a reference tool for blacklisting customers, a VICE News investigation has revealed.
The highly influential World-Check database has also listed major charities, activists, and mainstream religious institutions under its category of “terrorism.”
Authors of the list claim it’s used by 300 government and intelligence agencies around the world and 49 of the 50 biggest banks.
World-Check operates on a global scale, covering more than 240 countries with access to hundreds of thousands of sources. Many of these sources are untested, and include right-wing and Islamophobic blogs and websites. More than 2.7 million individuals and entities are on the list. Since 2007, the number of terror entries has risen five fold to over 93 000, according to VICE News.
In a new financial age of “de-risking”, companies like World-Check play a vital role in the supply of risk data to banks and law enforcement agencies. The trend follows the US government’s mammoth $1.9bn fine of HSBC bank, after a Senate investigation found that it had served as a channel for “drug kingpins and rogue nations”. Banks are increasingly terminating or restricting business relationships to avoid money laundering and terror financing.
In the past two years, a number of prominent British non-profits, including Cordoba Foundation, Cage, and Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) have had their accounts or transactions frozen by banks with no explanation.
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Reacting to the news Nawaz expressed solidarity with others who were also listed.
He said: “If you’ve never been convicted of terrorism, you should not be on this list. This is why I’ve always spoken out about compiling lists, secret or not, adaptable or not, as a ridiculous McCarthyist and archaic idea. Anyone (Islamists or not) get in touch. I may disagree with your ideas but your civil liberties are non-negotiable.”
However, others were quick to point out that Nawaz’s words were ironic given that in 2010 the Guardian revealed that the Quilliam Foundation had prepared a secret list for a top British security official that accused Muslim groups of sharing the ideology of terrorists.
For its part, CAGE, which has had its bank account closed down for almost two years, welcomed the Vice News investigation into World-Check.
Ibrahim Mohamoud, CAGE Communications Officer, said: “The VICE News investigation reveals what we have long suspected: that World-Check has privatised intelligence on individuals and organisations, adding to a further erosion of civil liberties without a shred of scrutiny.
“Intelligence gathering in the name of the War on Terror is being outsourced to the private sector on an industrial scale, resulting in profit at the expense of countless individuals. CAGE calls for accountability and transparency. World-Check’s methods have so far gone unscrutinised.”
Meanwhile, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said it was taking legal advice following a decision by the World-Check commercial database to label it as a terrorist organisation.
Sara Apps, interim Director of PSC, said: “PSC is shocked and appalled to learn of this listing. This is a false and defamatory accusation, which is without any basis in fact. PSC is a long-established British campaigning organisation which works to promote Palestinian human rights through public campaigning and Parliamentary lobbying. It is proud to be part of the UK’s long-standing democratic traditions of standing up for the persecuted and disempowered.
“PSC is an open, member-led organisation, with its accounts subject to independent inspection and its directors listed on the Companies House website.”
Ms Apps added: “World-Check’s sources appear to be right-wing websites and blogs, according to the investigation carried out by Vice News. One of the websites used as a source in deciding to list PSC is the Investigative Project on Terrorism. This website is run by Fox News pundit, Steve Emerson. Last year, Emerson was described as “a complete idiot” by David Cameron when he suggested that Birmingham was a no-go-zone for non-Muslims.
“World-Check has never contacted PSC with its allegations, and has published them without allowing PSC the opportunity to refute these ludicrous claims.”
Ms Apps concluded: “World-Check has also included personal profiles of individuals in its allegations, which is completely unacceptable.
“PSC takes these unfounded allegations very seriously and is consulting with its legal team.”
In an email to non-profit Cage seen by VICE News, World-Check claims to be an impartial resource that stores profiles of individuals and organizations with “no independent input or opinion.”