Larry C. Johnson - Guest columnist
Published: Wednesday July 5, 2006
If you still labor under the fantasy that the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal divulged "classified information" that put U.S. lives at risk or hampered our ability to track terrorist financial assets, you are willfully ignorant or have been living in a sensory isolation tank.
Starting in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, the Administration took up the hue and cry of the need to track terrorist finances. Congressman Michael Oxley, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, speaking at the outset of a public congressional hearing on 3 October 2001:
I applaud the president and our distinguished witness today, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, for taking swift action to block terrorist assets that may be located here in the United States and to warn foreign banks that the U.S. is poised to block their assets in this country and deny them access to U.S. markets that refuse to freeze terrorist assets overseas. The secretary is also to be commended for setting up a new foreign terrorist asset tracking center which I hope will become a model for interagency cooperation in law enforcement and in the sharing of financial intelligence
. http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/ba ... 5656_0.HTMThe information provided to the public went well beyond general platitudes. In fact, U.S. officials provided specific information that anybody, including members of Al Qaeda, who read the testimony would learn what the United States Government was doing and how it was doing it. Here is the public record on what the U.S. Government has been doing to track terrorist finances.
First, a Teasury Department official publicly identified on the record how Al Qaeda moved money thru the international financial system. (See testimony by Juan Zarate, Deputy Assistant Secretary, For Terrorism And Violent Crime, Office Of Enforcement, U.S. Treasury Department, 12 February 2002 in open session before the House Financial Services Committee):
I would like to read to you a portion of the Al Qaeda manual that I think is instructive to our discussion today. The manual, as you may know, was discovered during the search of an Al Qaeda member's home in England and was introduced in evidence during the embassy bombings trial in New York.http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/ba ... 8125_0.HTMSecond, U.S. Government officials provided specific details on what they were doing to track and identify how terrorists were moving their money
The third lesson in the manual, entitled Counterfeit Currency and Forged Documents, discusses financial security precautions that Al Qaeda members should take to secure their operations. It reads as follows: One, dividing operational funds into two parts; one part is to be invested in projects that offer financial return, and the other is to be saved and not spent except during operations; two, not placing operational funds all in one place; three, not telling the organization members about the location of the funds; four, having proper protection while carrying large amounts of money; five, leaving the money with nonmembers and spending it as needed.
Madam Chairwoman, as you can see, this is an enemy that understands the need to cover their financial tracks while simultaneously fueling funds into new acts of terror. Because we are facing an enemy with faceless tentacles planted around the world, we must employ all our assets to track and disrupt the financing of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups of global reach.
(see testimony by Mary Lee Warren, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, testifying on the same day as Zerate before the House Financial Services Committee):
The Financial Review Group (FRG) has made substantial progress in tracing financing related to the September 11th attacks as well as the financial underpinnings of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization. The FRG has identified certain trends and patterns associated with the financing of terrorism, some of which I am able to share with the Subcommittee today.http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/ba ... 8125_0.HTMThird, U.S. Government officials identified the intelligence community as being an important part of the effort to identify and track terrorist financing
To date, over 1000 search warrants have been executed and numerous subpoenas have been served seeking information on over 10,500 persons or accounts. Over 321,000 documents have been processed and over 2,450 accounts have been examined, including more than 90 foreign bank accounts. In addition, analysts have reviewed over 940 credit card accounts and scrutinized more than 13,000 domestic and foreign wire transfers. While the analysis continues, through financial information, we have established how the hijackers received their money, how and where they were trained to fly, where they lived and - perhaps most significantly - the names and whereabouts of persons with whom they worked and came into contact.
(Testimony by Juan Zerate, Deputy Assistant Secretary, For Terrorism And Violent Crime, Office Of Enforcement, U.S. Treasury Department, 12 February 2002 in open session before the House Financial Services Committee):
Treasury, in close partnership with the State Department, the Defense Department, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the intelligence community and many other parts of the federal government has been dealing with the terrorist financing issue on multiple levels. Allow me very briefly to highlight the efforts the Treasury Department has taken, along with these sister agencies, to tackle the global problem. http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/ba ... 8125_0.HTMFourth, the U.S. Government and the International Community, thru the Financial Action Task Force aka FATF, laid out in detail an international plan for tracking and identifying terrorist assets
At an extraordinary plenary meeting on the financing of terrorism held in Washington, DC on October 29 to October 30 2001, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) agreed to a set of special recommendations to suppress terrorist financing. This action plan commits its members, and also invites all other countries (ie non-members of the FATF), to:
* take immediate steps to ratify and implement the 1999 United Nations International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism;
* criminalize the financing of terrorism, terrorist acts and terrorist organizations, and also designate such offences as predicate offices under their anti-money laundering laws;
* take immediate steps to implement the United Nations resolutions calling on members to take specific measures to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorism, particularly Security Council Resolution 1373;
* freeze immediately the funds or other assets of terrorists and those who finance terrorists and terrorist organizations in accordance with the United Nations resolutions, and legally empower their competent authorities to seize and confiscate such funds or assets;
* require financial institutions, or other businesses or entities subject to anti-money laundering obligations, to report promptly to the competent authorities any suspicious transactions related to terrorism;
* require financial institutions to obtain accurate and meaningful originator information (name, address and account number) for fund wire transfers, and closely scrutinize and monitor suspicious fund transfers that lack such information;
* regulate alternative remittance systems by requiring the licensing and registration of persons or legal entities including agents that provide a service for the transmission of money or value;
* review the adequacy of laws, regulations and monitoring mechanisms for entities that can be abused for the financing of terrorism, especially non-profit organizations (eg charities); and
* extend the fullest possible assistance to other countries' law enforcement and regulatory authorities in investigations, inquiries and proceedings relating to terrorist financing.
(International Financial Law Review, December 1, 2001; SECTION: No. 12, Vol. 20; Pg. 34; ISSN: 0262-6969, IAC-ACC-NO: 88177842)
(same link)Finally, the Bush Administration has repeatedly informed the public that they were having great success tracking terrorist financing tracing financial activities "forward" and "backwards". Mr. Juan Carlos Zarate spilled the beans again in September 2004 during testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. Zarate said
In addition, we have used the money trail to find the financial footprints of the terrorists. As we have seen, terrorists and their supporters leave identifiable and traceable footprints in the global financial systems, and these footprints must be pursued forward to identify future perpetrators and facilitators. These trails must also be traced backwards to identify and dismantle supporting entities and individuals. As we have done since September 11th, we must attack the sources of funding, follow the money trail, and build safeguards in the financial sectors worldwide to prevent, deter, and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.
Only people trading clam shells for coconuts would have been unaware that any financial transaction moving through the international financial system--which includes SWIFT, FedWire, and CHIPS—was being scrutinized by the United States Government. As I noted earlier, Bush official, Juan Zarate, was telling Congress in February 2002 that Bin Laden and his crew were taking precautions because traditional banking money movements made them vulnerable to detection.
The furor over the “SWIFT” story has little to do with keeping America safe and a lot to do with keeping Republicans in power. If the leak was so devastating there would be a full court investigation of who in the Federal Government spoke to the reporters. But, as shown above, this information was not secret and was already in the public domain. It appears that Bush, with the advice of Karl Rove, sees demonizing the New York Times as a great way to energize a flagging political base. When it comes to hurting our nation's security and putting our citizens at risk, the fault lies with Bush, not the New York Times.
Larry C. Johnson, a terrorism and intelligence expert for NBC, CNN, PBS, Fox News and the New York Times, previously worked in the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department's Office of Counter Terrorism.
The international components of our work have been critical to our success and will remain so as we must maintain political will and focus and ensure implementation and enforcement of anti- terrorist financing efforts. The United States has helped promote effective international standards of financial transparency and accountability; sanctioned non-compliant behavior by non- cooperative states and coordinated effective technical assistance to weak but willing states; frozen and seized terrorist-related and other criminal assets; investigated and prosecuted crimes by law enforcement; directing intelligence operations either at a financier, a financial node, or a facilitator; and using diplomatic suasion to convince other governments to take significant steps.