- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Congress is beginning to elevate the debate about countering terrorist financing, partly in response to the release of the September 11 commission’s staff report on the issue. The discussions highlight the progress that has been made over the past three years and the remaining gaps in enforcement.

On Monday, the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing geared toward thwarting the funding of terrorism and to discuss the commission’s staff report. While U.S. and international efforts have clearly reduced the size of al Qaeda’s purse, which was believed to be about $30 million a year before September 11, al Qaeda apparently “can still find money to fund terrorist operations,” said the report.

In wake of September 11, U.S. officials now have become more effective in tracking and seizing terror funds, due to better collaboration and changes in laws that have removed enforcement obstacles. The United States now has “a far better understanding” of the methods terrorists use to raise, move and use money, the report said. Still, tracking terrorist funding remains a challenge, and the FBI still lacks talented analysts to gather and analyze information.

Some lawmakers, such as Reps. Ed Royce, California Republican, and Sue Kelly, New York Republican, have proposed giving the Treasury Department a more muscular, centralized role in leading the counterterrorist funding effort. The job of overseeing financial institutions’ compliance with anti-terror and money-laundering regulations is currently divided between eight agencies and institutions. Mr. Royce is considering proposing giving Treasury the authority, for example, to demand more rigorous enforcement of existing laws by the agencies — a measure that would require legislation. Treasury also needs more resources, Mr. Royce and others have said, to develop sophisticated computer programs to analyze and look for patterns in the suspicious activity reports it receives from financial institutions.

Finally, Mr. Royce also has recommended that the Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC), which coordinates interagency strategy and operational responses to terrorist financing, be moved to Treasury, where it resided until 2003, when it was moved to the National Security Council. The commission’s staff report found the NSC has effectively handled its PCC responsibilities, but the White House should welcome vigorous discussion of the matter, and ask whether Treasury has the broader institutional expertise and enforcement authorities to head the committee in post-September 11 America.

The commission’s staff report quoted an al Qaeda operative as saying: “There are two things a brother must always have for jihad, the self and money.” Congress and the White House should make every effort to ensure jihadis are denied the latter — even if this involves some turf battles and ruffled feathers.

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