Overview: As a transit country for goods, money, and migrants, Panama’s geographic location makes its willingness to engage on bilateral and multilateral counterterrorism (CT) initiatives important for regional security. Under President Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo, the Government of Panama (GoP) continued to cooperate on CT, namely related to maritime sanctions and migration. Through the Special Interest Alien (SIA) Joint Task Force, Panama cooperated with U.S. authorities on several CT-related cases this year and continued to lead the region in BITMAP (for Biometric Identification Transnational Migration Alert Program) enrollments. However, the pandemic has stalled progress on the GoP’s ability to address FATF concerns before a 2021 deadline, making only partial progress toward a 15-step phased Action Plan. Panama remained the first and only Latin American member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition and continued contributions to the Defeat-ISIS Counter-Terrorism Finance Working Group.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: There were no reported terrorist incidents in Panama in 2020.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Although Panama does not have comprehensive CT legislation or a robust CT legal framework, it has an executive decree to control dual-use goods and has adopted a national control list for dual-use goods in accordance with UNSCR 1540. Panama also has an executive decree to address chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incidents. While the country does not have a formal coordinating authority below the cabinet level, officials from Panama’s National Security Council, National Border Service (or SENAFRONT), National Migration Service, and National Police met frequently with U.S. government officials to coordinate and act on migration alerts and to detain and deport travelers who represented a security risk. Panama collected biographic and biometric data, shared information with regional partners (including advanced passenger information), and participated in INTERPOL, in accordance with UNSCR 2396. Panama used the CT-provided Personal Identification and Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (or PISCES) as its frontline passenger screening and integrated border management system.
Panama used the SIA Joint Task Force — a bilateral mechanism to share information on SIAs and Known or Suspected Terrorists and detain and/or deport them as needed — to cooperate on several CT-related cases. Since FY 2019 the SIA Joint Task Force has processed Panama’s BITMAP data and provided intelligence information, analytical products, and migration trends to Panamanian officers. The country’s biometric enrollments provided U.S. agencies information on foreign partners’ law enforcement and border encounters of SIAs, gang members, and other persons of interest. In 2020, Panama processed 6,782 enrollments, a decrease from 2019 because of COVID-19 border closures.
While Panama’s own intelligence capacity was limited, the Government of Panama acted as a willing partner in responding to U.S. alerts. Logistical challenges, such as routing flights for deportations and the lack of diplomatic relationships with some migrants’ countries of origin, limited Panama’s ability to deport.
The Ministry of Security and the National Customs Authority made progress in a bidding process to address the country’s lack of cargo scanners. At the time of this report, the scanners project was in the final stages of approval, with a 2021 anticipated delivery. The lack of scanners significantly limited Panama’s ability to analyze cargo transiting the country, including at Tocumen International Airport, which had the highest number of passenger movements in the region, and entry and exit of the Colón Free Trade Zone.
Panama cooperated with U.S. law enforcement on ongoing CT cases this year, including individuals linked to Hizballah. However, Panama’s ability to investigate financial support to terrorist-related organizations remained limited.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Panama is a member of the GAFILAT, a FATF-style regional body. Panama’s FIU, the Financial Analysis Unit Panama (UAF-Panama), is a member of the Egmont Group. In August the United States and Panama signed an agreement to create a Joint Task Force to counter money laundering with support from the FBI.
With support from the World Bank, Panama updated Chapter 5 of its National Risk Assessment, which relates to terrorism financing. Since the beginning of 2020, the Panama Maritime Authority, which oversees the world’s largest ship registry, de-flagged more than 40 vessels related to activity that may implicate U.S. or UN sanctions relating to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela. Panama has yet to identify and freeze assets belonging to terrorists or sanctioned individuals and organizations. It has not prosecuted any cases of terrorist financing.
Additional information on money laundering and financial crimes can be found in the 2020 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: https://www.state.gov/2020-international-narcotics-control-strategy-report/.
Countering Violent Extremism: There were no changes in 2020.
International and Regional Cooperation: Panama worked to strengthen implementation of UN resolutions that promote the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The OAS-CICTE received funding in 2020 to strengthen Panama’s implementation of UNSCR 1540 and to contribute to increasing the effectiveness of customs administration in Panama. The project will focus on providing legislative assistance to help Panama comply with its international obligations; promoting outreach to the private sector, industry, and academia to increase awareness of knowledge and potential proliferation risks; and providing capacity building to strengthen national capabilities to mitigate and combat potential risks.
Panama actively participated in regional security initiatives, co-hosting virtual workshops with the OAS-CICTE on cybersecurity and CFT. Panama also completed the OAS/CICTE’s project, “Technical Assistance for Implementation of Financial Sanctions Against Terrorism.” In January the OAS-CICTE trained Panama’s Public Ministry and Judicial Branch, along with national and international experts, in the investigation of terrorist financing cases, reports of suspicious operations, financial intelligence reports, and judicial means of evidence. Panama praised the training, noting that more than 200 people gained skills in strategic and operation analysis, and in special investigative techniques to support criminal prosecutions of terrorism-financing cases.