- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2003

A White House-backed decision to move the nation’s most successful terrorist-related financial crimes task force from the Customs Service to the FBI has drawn criticism from law enforcement authorities who say the bureau can’t effectively conduct the complex financial investigations.

Created in the wake of the September 11 attacks, “Operation Green Quest” brought together the top financial investigators from the Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service and Customs to target the systems, organizations and people serving funders of terrorist groups worldwide.

Green Quest, which made 79 arrests and seized more than $33 million in a 19-month period, was designed to harness the investigative financial expertise of the Treasury Department to freeze accounts, seize assets and bring criminal actions against those funding terrorism.

“These are incredibly confusing and complex cases, and a successful prosecution requires investigators with years of experience and expertise,” said a top Treasury official who asked not to be identified. “Whatever the rationale to move Green Quest to the FBI, it’s clear somebody never heard the old adage: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”



Other veteran agents familiar with the task force said the FBI’s grab of the program jeopardized several ongoing investigations.

The task force’s demise was authorized May 13 when Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge signed a “memorandum of agreement” giving Green Quest’s duties to the FBI. The memo, approved by President Bush, designated the FBI as the lead agency in the investigation of terrorist financing.

The memo specifically barred further use of the name “Green Quest.”

The new Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which had been touted as the investigative arm of Homeland Security, was removed entirely from terrorist-financing investigations. Instead, it was given “Operation Cornerstone,” a program that identifies vulnerabilities in financial systems through which money could be laundered.

But, the memo says, when ICE agents discover terrorism-related ties, they must turn the probe over to the FBI.

Ironically, the decision to give the FBI control of Green Quest came at a time that Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner, who created the task force, was looking to double the number of intelligence analysts assigned, expand the program throughout the country and open Green Quest offices in the Middle East and Europe.

In January, Mr. Bonner, who now heads the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), told The Washington Times the task force had “hit its stride” with more than 600 active investigations and it was “time to expand” to capitalize on what he thought would be a successful effort to target secret financial organizations here and abroad on which terrorists rely to raise funds to commit new attacks.

“These are difficult investigative cases that require a high level of knowledge of the banking system,” he said at the time. “We have that knowledge and plan to put it to use on a much wider scale.”

Green Quest, under Customs, had targeted a wide range of terrorist-related activities, including credit-card fraud, identity theft, counterfeiting, fraudulent import and export schemes, drugs and bulk currency smuggling.

Officials at CBP and ICE declined comment on the transfer of the Green Quest program.

The Justice Department, in a statement, said only that while investigations into terrorist-related financing would be coordinated by the FBI-led National Joint Terrorism Task Force, they would continue to be supported by the other agencies, including those within Homeland Security.

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