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A service for banking industry professionals · Friday, April 19, 2024 · 705,004,385 Articles · 3+ Million Readers

Money to Mind: The Parallel Dynamics of Money Laundering and 'Narrative' Laundering - Part 1 of 3

Adriana Sanford, Founder of Data Privacy Help, LLC and Of Counsel with Puga Ortiz Abogados

R. Delston, K. Worstell, B. Zagaris


The need for collaborative approaches, cross-sectoral strategies, and international cooperation has become more crucial than ever.

Dangers of Laundering, Misinformation, and Information Distortion

Cartels purchase media to positively spin illicit activities. Alternatively, they frequently manipulate or kill journalists to suppress negative coverage, ensuring their operations remain unexposed.”
— Bruce Zagaris, Partner, Berliner Corcoran & Rowe

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES, February 19, 2024 / -- In today's global society, we are witnessing the emergence of sophisticated mechanisms for obscuring truth and manipulating narratives, raising significant concerns for democracy, justice, and ethical governance. Adriana Sanford's exploration into the concept of laundering ventures beyond the traditional confines of financial transactions, delving into the increasingly critical realm of information and communication. This innovative approach to understanding the dissemination of disinformation as a form of laundering presents a compelling perspective on the challenges posed by the digital age. By drawing parallels between financial laundering and the spread of deliberately false or misleading information, Sanford illuminates the sophisticated methods used to obscure the origins of false narratives, thereby rendering them more difficult to trace and counteract. Her work serves as both a scholarly analysis and a stark warning about the potency of narratives in warping and distorting, the course of history. Her work suggests that combating the laundering of information requires a concerted effort that combines technological innovation, regulatory reform, as well as enhanced public awareness and media literacy.

Echoing Sanford's sentiment, Ross Delston, an anti-money laundering expert, attorney, and former banking regulator, underscores the complexity of distinguishing between truth and manipulation: "Sanford's perspective on the parallels between the dissemination of illicit information and traditional money laundering practices provides a clear perspective on a pressing issue facing Americans. The challenge of tracing disinformation back to its source perpetuates the cycle of false narratives tailored to specific communities, complicating the fight against misinformation." Adding to this discourse, Karen Worstell, a cybersecurity professional and chaplain, points out the role of technology in amplifying the creation and spread of false narratives, leading to potentially disastrous outcomes. She observes, "AI-enabled deepfakes, phishing, selectively edited videos, and salacious gossip now pose serious threats to the integrity of businesses, the essence of digital trust, and even people's lives and livelihoods. While truth exists, lies proliferate at the speed of electrons, influencing public perception, opinions, and beliefs. Consequently, the onus of verifying information before trusting it heavily falls on the information consumer."

Money laundering, a critical process for criminals and criminal enterprises to disguise their operations, typically involves three stages: placement, layering, and integration. Each stage serves to further distance the money from its illegal source, making it increasingly difficult for authorities to trace and act against the underlying criminal activity. When applying the concept of laundering to information and narratives, a parallel process used to disseminate misinformation is observed. The objective is to manipulate public perception for specific political, social, or economic purposes. Misinformation is generated and introduced into the public discourse, similar to how illicit funds are initially deposited into the financial system. This can occur through social media, websites, or traditional media channels, where fabricated stories or manipulated data are introduced. The misinformation is then disseminated across multiple platforms, often amplified by social media algorithms, echo chambers, and unwitting individuals, aiming to obscure the source and lend credibility to the false narrative. Finally, the misinformation becomes so pervasive that it becomes indistinguishable from genuine information for many people, influencing public opinion, shaping discussions, and possibly impacting policy decisions.

Bruce Zagaris, a partner at Berliner Corcoran & Rowe and author of "International White Collar Crime: Cases and Materials," highlights that cartels buy media to cast their operations in a positive light. Alternatively, they manipulate or assassinate journalists to quash negative reports. Organized criminal networks that are exposed engage in elaborate strategies to influence public opinion and safeguard their operations. They endeavor to refurbish their image through disinformation, lies, and skepticism towards detractors, concocting narratives to blur reality and undermine trust in authoritative sources. These actions deflect from investigations, mitigate public disapproval, influence policies, and facilitate uninterrupted criminal activities. Moreover, these entities strategically ally with influential personalities in politics, media, and business to normalize their narratives.

Sanford's analysis sheds light on the intricate processes through which misinformation is 'cleaned' and integrated into the mainstream discourse, much like the laundering of illicit funds. She calls for a reimagining of traditional concepts and strategies to meet the evolving challenges of our digital society, emphasizing the need for vigilance, innovation, and international cooperation in the ongoing fight to disrupt the cycle of misinformation and dissemenation of partial truths. This comparison deepens our grasp of the complexities in combating disinformation, underscoring the need for a nuanced, multifaceted approach to tackle an issue where information can empower or deceive. Her insights prompt us to refine strategies that protect free speech, ensure information access, value diverse opinions, and foster meaningful dialogue. Amidst rapid technological evolution and shifting communication methods, such cooperation is essential to uphold democratic principles, particularly as AI plays an increasingly significant role in shaping public discourse. In sectors such as education, transportation, urban planning, healthcare, finance, and employment, the efficiency and innovation brought by AI are balanced against issues of safety, accountability, equity, and the potential for heightened surveillance.


Adriana Sanford, founder of Data Privacy Help LLC, draws upon a deep family legacy of political resistance, notably highlighted by her great granduncle, Bavarian Interior Minister Franz Schweyer's opposition to Adolf Hitler, to underscore the critical need to combat misinformation and narrative manipulation. Her experience addressing international organized crime and its links to corporate fraud, bribery, and other forms of business malfeasance span well over two decades. Sanford's insights extend beyond traditional law and ethics, delving into the impacts of corruption and misinformation on society and global security.


Since September 1985, the International Enforcement Law Reporter has analyzed the premier developments in both the substantive and procedural aspects of international enforcement law. Read by practitioners, academics, and politicians, the IELR is a valuable guide to the difficult and dynamic field of international law.

Established in 1925, Puga Ortiz is a top-tier, highly specialized law firm, widely regarded as one of the most prominent legal firms in Chile.

Founded in 2015 by Robert Anderson, Telecom4Good provides affordable technology, notably internet access, to nonprofits and NGOs globally.

Maria Adriana Sanford (Koeck)
Data Privacy Help, LLC

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