Funding Terrorism Through Wildlife Trafficking


Debra LaPrevotte has worked tirelessly to end wildlife trafficking in Africa. The Schar School of Policy and Government’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) welcomed the former FBI special agent and current international corruption investigator at the Sentry Group for a Tuesday afternoon discussion on how to stop trafficking networks. The talk was held on the Arlington Campus of George Mason University.

LaPrevotte received a Bachelor’s Science in Kinesiology from Mason before embarking on a 20-year career busting corruption and trafficking organizations as an FBI agent. She founded the FBI’s kleptocracy program aimed at stopping the exploitation of natural resources and citizens by a government or state.

“At the Sentry, I am investigating the greed that is fueling war crimes in Sudan and South Sudan,” said LaPrevotte, addressing an audience of nearly 45 students, faculty, and staff. “Wildlife trafficking is a $23 billion per year industry, and we focus on following the money to the source.”

Wildlife trafficking includes the illicit trade of ivory, rhino horn, pangolins, and other animal products used for medicine or decorative purposes.

“In South Sudan, they are using the same methods to move ivory as they did for rhino horns before they poached them all,” she said. “Wildlife traffickers are even using the same routes as- human- and drug-traffickers in the region.”

LaPrevotte focused the lecture around taking down the entire operation rather than simply stopping the man or woman in charge. “From the bottom [poachers], work your way up, and seize it all,” she said. “When I see large seizures of illicit goods, what’s missing is the seizure of bank accounts, property, means of transportation, and information on the supporting networks.”

Some 136 countries found at least one instance of wildlife trafficking moving through their airports between 2009 and 2017, she said. “These networks all have commonalities. We need to increase our information sharing to find similarities and figure out who is paying for transport, who bribed who, and what accounts they work for.”

‘Wildlife trafficking threatens security through funding of extremist groups; it hinders economic development; and it undermines the rule of law in many countries around the world,” she said.

The mid-week afternoon talk, delivered at a time when many Schar School students are at work or preparing for class, was well-attended and well-received.

“It is fascinating and important to learn about this environmental and security threat that affects so many countries,” said Richard Catherina, a Master’s in Public Policy student from Fairfax, Va. “I am looking forward to more events from TraCCC addressing non-traditional security threats.”