Saturday, July 01, 2006

Off with their heads

Busy reading this morning, catching up on the outrage and calls for the imprisonment and/or death in the gas chamber of newsmen over the "traitorous" New York Times and Los Angeles Times publishing stories about the SWIFT program. The White House asked them not to. The Wall Street Journal published about SWIFT too, but "friendlies" don't get targeted.

"Loose lips kill American people," House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. said, prompting from conservative bloggers a flurry of WWII-style posters targeting the Times. Supposedly, the Times "tipped off" terrorists to our financial monitoring programs.

Were terrorists really not aware we were monitoring internancial financial transactions? I knew. A lot of other people knew too. How?

"We've established a foreign terrorist asset tracking center at the Department of the Treasury to identify and investigate the financial infrastructure of the international terrorist networks." -- President George W. Bush, September 24, 2001

"I have also issued an Executive Order to help deal with this threat by giving the United States more powerful tools to reach the means by which terrorists and terrorist networks finance themselves and to encourage greater cooperation by foreign financial institutions and other entities that may have access to foreign property belonging to terrorists or terrorist organizations." -- President George W. Bush, September 24, 2001

"Our successes breed new challenges. As the formal and informal financial sectors become increasingly inhospitable to financiers of terrorism, we have witnessed an increasing reliance by al Qaida and terrorist groups on cash couriers. The movement of money via cash couriers is now one of the principal methods that terrorists use to move funds." -- testimony before the House Financial Services Committee of Stuart A. Levey, Under Secretary Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, U.S. Department of the Treasury, September 22, 2004 (Levey was quoted in the Times report.)

"We put the world's financial institutions on notice: if you do business with terrorists, if you support them or sponsor them, you will not do business with the United States of America." -- President George W. Bush, 11/7/01

Terrorists need money to carry out their evil deeds. The President’s first strike in the war against terror was not with a gun or a missile – the President’s first strike was with his pen as he took action to freeze terrorist finances and disrupt their pipelines for raising and moving money in the future.

The world's financial institutions have been put on notice -- if you support, sponsor, or do business with terrorists, you will not do business with the United States. Denying terrorists access to funds is a very real success in the war on terrorism. Since September 11, the United States and its allies in the war on terrorism have been winning the war on the financial front:

- President Bush launched the first offensive in the war on terrorism on September 23 by signing an Executive Order freezing the U.S.-based assets of those individuals and organizations involved with terrorism.

- 196 countries and jurisdictions have expressed their support for the financial war on terror.

- 142 countries have issued orders freezing terrorist assets, and others have requested U.S. help in improving their legal and regulatory systems so they can more effectively block terrorist funds.

- The assets of at least 153 known terrorists, terrorist organizations, and terrorist financial centers have now been frozen in the U.S. financial system.

- Since September 11, the U.S. has blocked more than $33 million in assets of terrorist organizations. Other nations have also blocked another $33 million.

- On November 7, the U.S. and its allies closed down operations of two major financial networks – al-Barakaat and al-Taqwa – both of which were used by al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden as sources of income and mechanisms to transfer funds.

- On December 4, President Bush froze the assets of a U.S.-based foundation – The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development -- that has been funneling money to the terrorist organization Hamas.

- The U.S. government created three new organizations -- the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center (FTAT), Operation Green Quest and the Terrorist Financing Task Force. These new organizations will help facilitate information sharing between intelligence and law enforcement agencies and encourage other countries to identify, disrupt, and defeat terrorist financing networks.

- International organizations are key partners in the war on financial terrorism. On September 28, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 1373 that requires all nations to keep their financial systems free of terrorist funds.

- The Financial Action Task Force (see note below) -- a 29-nation group promoting policies to combat money laundering -- adopted strict new standards to deny terrorist access to the world financial system.

- The G-20 and IMF member countries have agreed to make public the list of terrorists whose assets are subject to freezing, and the amount of assets frozen.

-- The White House, 12/01
Here's the unclassified banner from the web site of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication,

Their web site includes this:

2. Cooperation - SWIFT has a history of cooperating in good faith with authorities such as central banks, treasury departments, law enforcement agencies and appropriate international organisations, such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF*), in their efforts to combat abuse of the financial system for illegal activities.

SWIFT tracking numbers are printed right on bank statements in some European countries, according to a caller I heard yesterday on a call-in show. He called in from Finland.

And this from Counterterrorism Blog:

Reports of US Monitoring of SWIFT Transactions Are Not New: The Practice Has Been Known By Terrorism Financing Experts For Some Time
By Victor Comras

Yesterday’s New York Times Story on US monitoring of SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) transactions certainly hit the street with a splash. It awoke the general public to the practice. In that sense, it was truly new news. But reports on US monitoring of SWIFT transactions have been out there for some time. The information was fairly well known by terrorism financing experts back in 2002. The UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group , on which I served as the terrorism financing expert, learned of the practice during the course of our monitoring inquiries. The information was incorporated in our report to the UN Security Council in December 2002. That report is still available on the UN Website. Paragraph 31 of the report states:

“The settlement of international transactions is usually handled through correspondent banking relationships or large-value message and payment systems, such as the SWIFT, Fedwire or CHIPS systems in the United States of America. Such international clearance centres are critical to processing international banking transactions and are rich with payment information. The United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions. The Group recommends the adoption of similar mechanisms by other countries.”

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