- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Six years after al Qaeda attacked the United States, many policy-makers and “terrorism experts” retain the misconception that terrorism does not require large amounts of money. This myth was strengthened first with the September 11 Commission’s report in 2003 and later reinforced by its October 2005 Progress Report, giving the government an A- for its “vigorous efforts against terror financing.”

The Feb. 13 Terrorism Index of the Center for American Progress also lauds U.S. success in stopping terrorists’ money all over the world. The Center for American Progress asked 116 U.S. foreign policy and terrorism experts to indicate how much progress has the U.S. government “made in implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations since July 2004… to curtail terrorist financing.” Most experts, in fact, “95 percent… said that some or a great deal of progress had been made.”

The press release by the Center for American Progress offers the explanation that this is not surprising since “terrorists do not need large sums of cash to be deadly effective.” Indeed, individual terrorist acts do not cost much; the World Trade Center attack on September 11 is estimated as al Qaeda’s most costly, at $500,000, while the bombing of London’s transit in July 2005, cost merely $2,000. Therefore, the report argues, the $140 million in terrorist assets, which the United States froze in 1,400 bank accounts worldwide during the last six years, is a great success.

But freezing $140 million did little to stop the fund flows to terrorists, especially when compared to the more than $90 billion that the Saudis spent since the 1970s to spread Wahhabism, one of the world’s most virulent forms of Islam, which also produced al Qaeda. This Saudi-sponsored propagation of Islamist extremism is described by former CIA Director James Woolsey as “the soil in which Al-Qaeda and its sister terrorist organizations are flourishing.” The hundreds of millions of dollars that the Saudis donated to the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas just to fuel the intifada is but one example.

The report also ignores Iran’s $100 million-plus in annual subsidies, for decades, to Hezbollah. Nor does it mention Iranian funds and weapons that bolster Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, whose cells are spread all over the world. Incredibly, there is nothing about the Iranian support of the Shi’ite in Iraq, or the cost of the Iranian made and supplied deadly weapons, including roadside bombs, and grenades “which spray molten metal … [and] are responsible for the deaths of scores of American soldiers.”

The Center for American Progress report talks about “terrorists money” in abstract. It says nothing about who transferred the money or who was the intended recipient. Was this al Qaeda’s money? Hamas’? Or perhaps the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)? Most importantly, the report failed to take into account the cost of building, maintaining and expanding the multilayered international infrastructure of radical Islam, thus making terrorists attacks possible on demand.

Another major source for financing terrorism comes from the illegal drug trade. But following the lead of the September 11 Commission’s reports, this Index also ignores the billions of dollars generated by heroin, cocaine and other illegal drugs, which corrupts many governments and destroys millions of lives while filling terrorists’ coffers worldwide.

It boggles the mind that the Bush administration continues to ignore terrorism’s need for, and access to, a strong, international funding base, with large pockets even in the United States. More disturbing is the administration’s unwillingness to identify the funding sources. As long as the terror financiers remain unknown, we will not be able to sever the terrorists’ lifeline.

This willful blindness continues to undermine U.S. credibility with its allies and foes, and therefore its ability to curtail the money flow. Ultimately, this U.S. approach allows the expansion of the Islamist terrorists’ agenda and the spread of terrorism, further risking U.S. national security.

Rachel Ehrenfeld is director of the American Center for Democracy.

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