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Progress Made in Eliminating Terrorist Finances - 2002-02-12

Bush Administration officials told Congress Tuesday that the United States has made significant progress in its effort to shut down groups that finance terrorism. But some lawmakers are urging even greater cooperation with U.S. allies as the crackdown on terrorist financing continues.

Treasury Department officials say the administration has so far identified 168 groups and individuals that either directly or indirectly support terrorists. A total of $104 million in assets has been frozen.

Juan Zarate specializes in anti-terror efforts at the Treasury Department. He said, "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-Qaida and other terrorist groups of global reach."

Members of the House Committee on Financial Services were also interested to find out what federal investigators have learned about the methods of financing terror in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

FBI officials have focused on how the 19 hijackers received their money prior to September 11, much of it sent to U.S. banks from overseas accounts. FBI agent Dennis Lormel says that money was intended to fund a specific mission - the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

But FBI agent Lormel says al-Qaida operatives in other parts of the world are funded in more subtle ways. "In Singapore," he said, "you'll find people that were more of a 'sleeper' oriented type [operative] where they had legitimate jobs, where they had legitimate work activities and any terrorist funding would have been funneled in and meshed into their legitimate earnings."

Congress passed legislation, in the wake of the terrorist attacks last year, that gives federal agencies greater powers to track down and block sources of terrorist funding, both into and out of the United States.

Some lawmakers are additionally urging the Bush administration to strengthen cooperation with allies to close international loopholes on the financing of terrorists.

Congressman Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois, said, "Our fight against terrorism financing is a broad-based effort extending beyond the al-Qaida network. It means nothing to build a concerted effort between financial institutions and law enforcement agencies at home without instituting similar actions abroad. The help of other nations is therefore essential."

Federal law enforcement officials say that in the end the war on terrorist financing will not be measured by the dollar amounts of assets seized, but by their ability to prevent future terrorist attacks.