A number of commentators have expressed displeasure with this week's disclosure* regarding the participation of the US Army 's Special Operations Command, in a test program with the ICE National Bulk Cash Smuggling Center, in a money laundering investigation that utilized defense contractor software, accessing open-source social media data. The objections, which center on the prohibitions of the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids US military involvement in law enforcement, may be legally valid, but we need to look at the big picture, before universally condemning the operation.
To be frank, the anti-money laundering activities of US law enforcement agencies could use all the assistance they can get. With budgetary cutbacks reducing already understaffed law enforcement agencies, only a small segment of the massive illicit money laundering operations going on in the continental United States are being investigated.
Why would the US military be a value added to the enforcement structure ? Look at these issues:
(1) The military is far less sensitive to political pressure, whether from major banks, big business, or elected officials, whose campaign contributors lean on them when law enforcement threatens. That pressure influences decisions on whether to prosecute a case, or merely seek a monetary penalty on the regulatory side,whether we want to admit it or not.
(2) The sheer manpower of the US military dwarfs the size of the Federal law enforcement agencies that are presently struggling to contain money laundering in America. Law enforcement agencies have limitations on how many investigations an office can handle, when there are only a couple of agents in a local office.
(3) Training and experience are a major factor; military units generally insure that only properly trained staff are assigned to complex tasks, whereas in the US law enforcement community, inexperienced agents are often thrown into major cases, either for lack of manpower, the mandatory retirement of experienced people just when they are at their best, or geographical limitations, due to the thinly spread nature of law enforcement, where an agency has many offices throughout the US.
(4) Accountability; in the military, promotion is merit-based, and negligence, or misconduct, is severely punished. Law enforcement agencies often do not want the negative publicity of the disclosure that their people have made errors, and at times have failed to remove under performing or unsuccessful agents. The military is far more strict with its people and their performance.
To sum it up, I welcome all the help that law enforcement can get in combating money laundering. I trust that someone at the Department of Justice will find legal authority for such operations.
* The project, called Project Quantum Leap, was described in an after-action report, which states that it is an unclassified document, and that can be found here.