Sigal Mandelker: Meet the woman who is seizing Iran’s money

#5: Sigal Mandelker

Sigal Mandelker (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Sigal Mandelker
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
As under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence of the US Treasury Department, Sigal Mandelker is the woman behind the scenes who is seizing Iran’s money and preventing it from doing business around the world.
With the US holding its fire militarily, this means she is consistently doing more damage to Tehran’s ability to continue its nuclear and regional hegemony plans than anyone on the planet.
Born in Chicago in 1971 to Holocaust survivors, Mandelker got her BA from the University of Michigan and her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
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Mandelker worked her way up the legal and national security apparatus.
Previously, she was counselor to the secretary of homeland security, where she worked extensively on intelligence, national security, counterterrorism and border security matters.
She also previously served as counsel to the deputy attorney-general, where she continued her work on national security and counterterrorism matters, though from the attorney-general’s office’s standpoint.
The under secretary was also an assistant United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a special assistant to the assistant attorney-general for the Criminal Division.
From 2006-2009, she served as deputy assistant attorney-general in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, where she oversaw four major prosecutorial sections and a number of significant cross-border prosecutions involving cybercrime, human rights, child exploitation, intellectual property theft, and other national security priorities.
In 2017, she advanced to her current post – staring down Iran and seizing its funds for promoting terrorism in the Middle East.
Mandelker is very clear about where she stands.
Surrounded by former Obama administration officials at a recent US national security conference, she put out a far more articulate vision of the US sanctions regime strategy than her boss, US President Donald Trump, ever puts out.
While she was the sole Trump official to attend the conference, she was not bashful about defending the sanctions strategy.
According to Mandelker, the strategy is not only designed to get the Islamic Republic back to the negotiating table, but to limit its ability to support terrorist groups in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen and elsewhere.
While critics of the sanctions campaign note that Iran has not altered its nuclear stance and has increased its maritime provocations in the Persian Gulf, Mandelker pointed out that many of the terror groups supported by Iran have had to start soliciting donations to replace the shortfall in funds the sanctions have cost them from Iran.
She also said that the sanctions limit Tehran’s ability to break out to a nuclear weapon at any point as many break-out activities themselves require large amounts of additional funds.   
Part of what makes Mandelker a valuable spokesperson for the sanctions campaign is how articulately she takes apart Iran’s systematic abuse of the global financial system to fund its dangerous goals.
In June 2018, Mandelker told a conference held by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “As the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, I spend my days and nights tracking and targeting terrorist financing, proliferation financing and a myriad of other illicit activities, including the methods our adversaries use to attempt to conceal their behavior.”
She continued, “We regularly warn governments and companies all over the world about the need to harden their networks from illicit actors, whether it is through the strong actions that we take, in bilateral government engagements, through the Financial Action Task Force, or with the private sector.”
Mandelker explained, “Iran’s deceitful tactics include forging documents, obfuscating data and hiding illicit activities under official cover of government entities,” in order to “ensure that no legitimate company or government knows that they are being used to achieve Iran’s illicit aims.”
As if she was a surgeon diagnosing a cancer, she related how the Central Bank of Iran used six front companies and an extensive currency exchange network in Iran and the UAE to exploit the UAE’s currency exchange market in order to transfer millions in US-dollar-denominated bulk cash.
She explained that the Central Bank of Iran’s illegal moves helped the Quds Force maintain its sponsorship of terrorism in the region even as most of the Islamic Republic was feeling the crunch of a currency crisis.
Being creative about uncovering the complex ways by which Iran disguises its illicit financial activities, and coming up with innovative ways to block them, is where Mandelker comes in.
Mandelker is thoroughly on the conservative side of the aisle, having clerked for US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who is known as the most conservative of the court’s justices.
Though she has Israeli connections, Mandelker grew up in the US, and her open pro-Israel stance appears rooted more in ideology than merely a general tribal affiliation.