Are We Winning The Financial War On Terror? – Another Perspective

By Victor Comras

http://counterterro rismblog. org/2008/ 01/are_we_ winning_the_ financial_ w_1.php

A few days ago my colleague Matthew Levitt published
<http://counterterro rismblog. org/2008/ 01/are_we_ winning_the_ financial_ w.php>
here an insightful essay asking, rhetorically, whether we are winning the
war against terrorism financing. His piece was structured largely as a
response to critic’s that have questioned the efficacy of our current
strategy and efforts in this critical endeavor, and would have us shut down
such current operations. While I completely agree with Levitt’s response
that the efforts taken by the Administration to clamp down domestically, and
internationally on terrorism financing are necessary and worthwhile, I fear
that they continue to fall way short in meeting effectively with the
challenge presented. Despite these measures Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other
terrorist groups continue to have access to the funds they need for active
and expanded indoctrination, recruitment, maintenance, armament and
. I fear that we are not winning this war against terrorism
financing, and I believe that it is time for us to re-assess, revamp and
strengthen our overall counter-terrorism financing strategy.

While the United States has put in place an extensive array of measures to
ferret out and stop funds from flowing to terrorists from our shores, the
main sources of terrorism funding are overseas, not here. And we are still
very far from achieving the needed international consensus on who the
terrorists are, and what constitutes terrorism financing. It is still not
illegal in most countries of the world, for example, to provide funding to
terrorist organizations such as Hamas or Hezbollah. We have to concentrate
our efforts to find a solution to this very serious deficiency.

Our international approach to date has focused on (1) criminalizing
terrorism financing internationally and (2) cooperating with certain of our
allies to “follow the money.”

UN Security Council resolutions and counter-terrorism conventions now set
forth various international norms and obligations for combating terrorism
financing. But there are serious gaps in these measures and the system of
implementation and enforcement lacks any real oversight or accountability.
The UN’s strongest measure – designation – only comes into play for Al Qaeda
and the Taliban, and then only after a specific individual or entity has
been added to the special list maintained by the
<http://www.un. org/sc/committee s/1267/index. shtml> UN’s Al Qaeda and Taliban
Sanctions Committee. That list is way to short and out of date.

Implementation of the <http://www.un. org/sc/ctc/> UN’s main
counter-terrorism resolution -1373 – has also proved woefully disappointing.
It directs that all countries criminalize terrorism and terrorism financing
and requires all countries to freeze the funds and other assets and economic
resources of any person or persons who commit, or attempt to commit
terrorist acts. But, these measures only come into play after terrorist acts
have been attempted or carried out. And, even then, local judicial or
administrative proceedings are required before any of the assets can be
frozen or transactions stopped. Another serious problem is the lack of
consensus on a clear definition of terrorism. The International community
has been struggling with this definition for over a decade. Without a common
definition countries remain free to interpret their own obligations and
define for themselves which groups are terrorists and which are “freedom

“Following the money” has also proved something of a “hit or miss”
proposition. We have put a lot of effort into developing useful links with
the intelligence and enforcement services of a number of countries. But, due
to the sensitive nature of sources and methods, and other political
sensitivities, this circle of cooperating countries is not very extensive.
This has produced some good results in identifying and closing down
terrorist cells within our countries. But, we have had considerably less
success in putting the prime funders out of business. In most cases they
were not to be found within the circle of countries cooperating with these

Identifying and designating international terrorism financiers is central to
our strategy to combat terrorism financing. Yet, it is becoming increasingly
difficult to convince the other members of the UN Al Qaeda and Taliban
Sanctions Committee to designate those responsible for funding terrorism.
The Council of Europe and the European Court of Justice are now questioning
the legitimacy of this designation process and its lack of transparency.
Both Yasin Al Qadi and the Al Barakaat International Foundation, for
example, have convinced the EU Advocat General to challenge their EU
designations. And domestically, we have the Humanitarian Law Project Cases,
one of which recently resulted in a very problematic ruling challenging the
President’s authority to designate individuals or groups as “Specially
Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). That case is now being appealed.
Earlier the Swiss Prosecutor’s office had to reimburse Youssef Nada for the
costs of defending an earlier prosecution alleging his terrorism financing.
Another early identified terrorism financing facilitator, Admed Idriss
Nasreddin was also recently mysteriously, and without any real explanation,
removed from both the US and UN designation lists. These reversals have
seriously undercut the credibility of the US, EU and UN designation process.

There is reason also for concern with the lack of international enforcement
supporting the UN designation measures. A certain weariness has set in here
and more and more countries are reluctant to dedicate the enforcement
resources necessary to control terrorism financing activities. Malaysia and
Saudi Arabia have taken no steps, for example, to freeze Yasin Al Qadi’s
assets or to put him out of business. And it now appears that Turkey may
also soon release his assets. It is well known that several charities
designated by the UN for terrorism financing are still in business, many
having merely changed their names. Both Wa’el Hamza Julaidan and Abdulaziz
Al-Aqeel are reportedly still actively engaged with Saudi Charities
providing assistance to suspect groups abroad.

Here at home we have also suffered several serious setbacks, including the
dismissals, acquittals, and mistrials in the The Al Arian Case in Tampa, The
Holy Land
Foundation case in Dallas, and the Oregon Al Haramain Case. The
<http://www.nytimes. com/2007/ 10/24/washington /24justice. html?ref= nationalspe
cial3> NY Times reports that since 9/11 the Government has commenced more
than 108 material support prosecutions. 46 of these were dropped. The
government took pleas in another 42. Eight defendants were acquitted and 4
cases were dismissed. The Government obtained jury convictions in only 9
cases. The overall success rate in terrorism cases is around 29% compared to
92% for felony prosecutions in general. This is not a criticism – rather, it
is evidence of the shear difficulty of establishing the knowledge and
subjective intent of those shielding these activities under the guise of
charitable giving.

These setbacks and failures are indicative of the problems we are facing in
cutting off terrorism financing. That doesn’t mean that we should stop what
we are doing. To the contrary, we need to do what we are doing better, and
we need to do more. We simply cannot be satisfied with the results we have
had to-date.

I believe it is time for us to review and update our counter-terrorism
financing strategy to deal with current terrorism funding realities and
methodology. Different funding mechanisms are being used in different cases,
although there are certain common elements One size does not fit all. And we
must distinguish between funding for local terrorist cells and funding for
more substantial insurgencies. While US government agencies have the benefit
of regulatory requirements, reports and intelligence, the private sector,
academia and think-tanks have some of best analysts and experts in the
business. It’s time to bring these assets together to re-assess the
situation and to develop some new ideas and new strategies for dealing with
terrorism financing here and abroad


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