- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

A Justice Department official yesterday told a Senate committee that the battle against global terrorists has "moved inside America" and federal law enforcement authorities are trying to tap into the terrorists' financial empires.
Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, who heads the department's criminal division, told the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee that federal authorities are committed to identifying terrorists and bringing them, their associates and those who finance them to justice.
"Terrorism requires financing, and terrorists rely on the flow of funds across international borders," Mr. Chertoff said. "To conceal their identities and their unlawful purpose, they exploit weaknesses in domestic and international financial systems … curtailing terrorism requires a systemic approach to investigating the financial links to the terrorist organizations."
Committee Chairman Sen. Paul Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat, said the United States and several other countries have been engaged for the past five months "in what must surely be the most intensive financial investigations that have taken place."
Mr. Sarbanes said the government has seized or frozen more than $34 million in terrorist-related assets while other countries have accounted for nearly $46 million. He said 165 persons have been identified as being involved in the financing of terrorist activities.
"A broad strategy for this effort is essential," he said. "The U.S. must lead both by example and by promoting concerted international action. Our goal must be not only to apprehend particular individuals but to cut off the pathways in the international financial system along which terrorists and other criminal elements move money.
"Even as we build stronger, more effective anti-money-laundering programs at home, we must press for comparable programs and for an end to unreasonable bank secrecy around the world, offering technical assistance wherever possible, but employing stronger influence where necessary," Mr. Sarbanes said.
Money-laundering laws passed by Congress have given authorities new investigative tools to prosecute financial crimes involving terrorists and "to enhance our ability" to cooperate with authorities overseas "in the tracing, freezing and forfeiture of funds used to support terrorist organizations," Mr. Chertoff said.
Among the provisions of the new USA Patriot Act, passed after the September 11 attacks, is the authority to seize terrorist assets, both foreign and domestic. He said the new law also furthered the ability of law enforcement to fight transnational crime by making the smuggling of bulk cash across borders unlawful.
Mr. Chertoff said investigators have reconstructed the "web of planning and finance" that supported the September 11 attacks, and work continues to detect other threats by members of al Qaeda or other terrorists.
He said following the money trail not only had led to other co-conspirators, but has provided "strong proof of the conspiracy, its membership and its criminal actions."
The Justice Department is trying to identify thousands of offshore banks and other financial institutions from which clients including suspected terrorists have routed billions of dollars into U.S. accounts.
Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate permanent investigations subcommittee, said all the 22 U.S. securities firms examined by subcommittee investigators had numerous offshore clients and many could not provide an accounting of those clients. Mr. Levin was among the witnesses who testified yesterday.
Those firms, he said, had more than 45,000 offshore clients, with as much as $140 billion in assets including $137 billion from offshore corporations and trusts.
Mr. Chertoff said the department's investigation has made "substantial progress" in tracing financing for the September 11 attacks as well as the financial underpinnings of al Qaeda.
He said investigators established how the hijackers received their money, how and where they were trained to fly, where they lived and the names and whereabouts of persons with whom they worked and came into contact.
He said targets included the al Barakaat network, operated by Somalis in Massachusetts, Virginia and Ohio. The government also shut down al Barakaat-related entities in Georgia, Minnesota and Washington State.

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