Military Shuts Down Allegedly Illegal Money Laundering Investigation

Jiri Hera/

Program violated laws barring military from law enforcement activities.

The military’s Special Operations Command has shut down an operation in partnership with the Homeland Security Department to use social media monitoring and data mining tools to investigate a $2.5 billion international money laundering case.

The Washington office of the Tampa-based SOCOM kicked off a project called Quantum Leap in August 2012 with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a DHS agency, to investigate money laundering activities conducted by several multinational and U.S.-based companies, according to an internal SOCOM after-action report obtained by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

Mike German, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said SOCOM’s participation in such an investigation violated the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which bars the use of the military in law enforcement activities.

The SOCOM after-action report said a dozen private companies, including defense industry giant Lockheed Martin Corp., participated in the Quantum Leap exercise and signed nondisclosure agreements to “permit open sharing of proprietary and law enforcement sensitive information among the participants.”

Ken McGraw, a SOCOM spokesman, told Nextgov that Quantum Leap “was a very small, little-known, inconsequential experiment that was defunded.” McGraw added, “The people who worked on the experiment are no longer at USSOCOM.”

The draft report on Quantum Leap obtained by Aftergood contained “a number of errors,” McGraw said. “Contrary to the impression the after action [report] gave, social media data mining tools were not a major focus.”

SOCOM did not work with DHS on social media data mining, McGraw said.  “The scenario that was used was a generic counter-threat finance scenario that was based on real events but was not a specific case.” The report said ICE intelligence analyst John Clifton “provided background on the case, which included a wide range of examples and the tactics of advanced money laundering activity.”

McGraw said that currently, “There are no social media data mining projects planned by USSOCOM to the best of my knowledge.”

(Image via Jiri Hera/