Leaked Budget Document Provides Glimpse Into How ISIS Makes Money NPR explores how ISIS gets its money and why that makes it so hard to turn off the money spigot. We examine how ISIS makes up its budget and manages it through its tax system, fees and the antiquities smuggling strategies.

Leaked Budget Document Provides Glimpse Into How ISIS Makes Money

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/459249994/459249995" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


ISIS, in many ways, operates as a highly secretive organization. It's difficult to get information about its on-the-ground operations. Now, thanks to a leaked ISIS document, we have a glimpse of how the terrorist organization gets and spends its money. Stacey Vanek Smith from our PLANET MONEY podcast reports.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Recently, a municipal budget was smuggled out of ISIS territory. It's for one province, called Deir ez-Zor, for one month - January.

AYMENN AL-TAMIMI: The title is a rough draft of the operation of the project of the administration of wealth.

SMITH: Aymenn al-Tamimi is a fellow at the Middle East Forum. One of his contacts in ISIS territory got this budget to him. And in a lot of ways, it looks like any local budget - has a column for income, a column for expenditures. A couple of higher-ups are CC-ed on it, and there are tables of numbers and a lot of dollar signs.

TAMIMI: Income in this budget is all given in U.S. dollars.

SMITH: The budget is in dollars.


SMITH: That's so surprising. I mean, don't they really strongly - I mean, isn't their whole thing anti...

TAMIMI: Yeah. I know they hate the U.S. dollar. I know they hate it. They can't get around the fact that it is, like, the international currency of the world.

SMITH: The first page of the budget lists income, and the first item listed is oil. This is probably the most famous way ISIS makes money - smuggling oil over its borders to sell on the black market in Turkey and Iraq. But Tamimi says it was the biggest surprise for him in the budget.

TAMIMI: The daily income from the oil wells only comes to just over $66,000 a day.

SMITH: That is about $2 million a month in oil revenue from this one province, which sounds like a lot, but it's a lot lower than Tamimi and most experts expected.

Ben Van Heuvelen is the managing editor of the Iraq Oil Report. He says when ISIS first got control of this territory, giant tanker trucks full of oil were pouring over the border between Iraq and ISIS territory every day. But the West has squeezed ISIS's oil production, and now smugglers have downsized a lot.

BEN VAN HEUVELEN: Strapping drums of oil to sticks and putting them on their backs and walking it over the border.

SMITH: They were attaching barrels of oils to sticks and, like, carrying them Johnny Appleseed-style over the border?

VAN HEUVELEN: (Laughter) Basically, yeah.

SMITH: All told, oil and gas only make up around a quarter of ISIS's income. And a lot of the money in this budget comes from a place that is very familiar, a place where all governments get money - taxes. ISIS charges its citizens and businesses a lot in taxes. But there's a line in this budget that is a little less familiar. It represents the stuff that ISIS just steals from people. That's in the budget, too.

TAMIMI: Taxes and confiscations go over two-thirds of the income. So confiscation's are 44.7 percent.

SMITH: Do they call it confiscations?


SMITH: That seems so honest, in a way.

In this budget, confiscations are the biggest source of income for ISIS. The budget actually itemizes everything ISIS stole from the people of Deir ez-Zor in January.

TAMIMI: It included 17 houses, 80 cars, 36 trucks, $480,000 in material sums, 180 dunams of land, 1,200 cases of cigarettes and 1,320 sheep and 50 cows.

SMITH: Of course, ISIS doesn't just make money. It also spends it. After all, it is running this province, and it breaks that budget down, too. Although, you don't really see any money going towards public works or schools.

TAMIMI: The majority of the expenditure is going towards military upkeep and maintaining bases and paying fighter salaries.

SMITH: Almost half of the money ISIS spends goes to paying its fighters in U.S. dollars. And Tamimi says the bottom line of this budget is really clear.

TAMIMI: The total income is $8,438,000, and the total expenditure goes of $5,587,000. So it's a profit of just under $3 million.

SMITH: For the month of January, in this one province, ISIS made almost $3 million more than it spent, a $3 million surplus. Stacy Vanek Smith, NPR News.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.