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Report: US Bureaucratic Infighting Hampers Financial Anti-Terrorist Efforts

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has made attacking terrorist finances a priority. But a congressional report says turf wars between agencies are hampering that effort.

In a new report, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office says bureaucratic battles between federal agencies are hampering efforts to cut off the flow of funds to terrorists.

Loren Yager, director of the GAO's Office of International Affairs and Trade and chief author of the report, tells VOA his investigators found significant squabbling between competing agencies over foreign assistance and training.

"What we found is that there were significant disagreements over key aspects of how the government should be performing these activities, and which agencies have the authority to carry these out," he said. "So, particularly between the Department of State and Department of Treasury there were some significant differences that we felt could get in the way of performing these functions effectively."

The GAO says the U.S. government also lacks a coordinated strategy for helping foreign countries that may be havens or sources for terrorist funds. It also says that because money for such efforts is scattered among different agencies, there is no clear picture of the resources available.

The GAO is an investigative arm of Congress that delves into issues at the request of members of Congress. The new study was requested by two Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee, Susan Collins of Maine and Charles Grassley of Iowa. GAO auditors traveled to Pakistan, Indonesia, and Paraguay to assess U.S. efforts to choke off terrorist finances.

The Bush administration has made battling terrorist financing a top priority. To that end, an interagency group called the Terrorist Financing Working Group was set up to coordinate efforts. But the report says the Treasury Department has refused to recognize the State Department's position as lead agency in providing counterterrorism financing training and assistance to other countries.

Twenty-six countries have been named by the government as "vulnerable" to terrorist financiers, but that list of countries is secret. However, the State Department has said that it is providing technical aid and training to 20 of them.

Not surprisingly, the agencies affected take issue with the GAO report's conclusions. In a telephone interview, Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant secretary of the treasury for terrorist financing and financial crimes, says interagency cooperation has been good, but admits that, as the report points out, it could be better.

"The challenge that we have faced, and are obviously continuing to face, is how to make sure that we're keeping lock step [keeping together] and working together on these things," he said. "I think that we've been doing a pretty good job on that. Obviously we can do better on that, and the GAO report shows that we can do better on that. And I think that there's a very strong commitment, both here at the Treasury Department and at the State Department, to make sure that this process is going to be adjusted in a way that makes it as seamless as possible."

Mr. Glaser also says the GAO report is narrowly focused just on the issue of cooperation in foreign assistance and training.

"But what shouldn't get lost in this is the narrow scope of what they're looking at," he said. "There's so many other things that we're doing, both here at the Treasury Department, at the State Department, throughout the U.S. government, to combat terrorist financing, to target the terrorist financing networks and to take action against them, both bilaterally and multilaterally."

In a related development, a report by another congressional investigative arm, the Congressional Research Service, says there is no common criteria among agencies for measuring the success of government-wide anti-terrorist efforts.