Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have spent the past year analyzing what’s lacking in U.S. federal policy to combat terrorism financing worldwide say they want President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration to form a “whole-of-government strategy” to counter money laundering and reduce revenue streams for terrorism groups.
Initiated by the interest of North Carolina’s U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee assembled a 21-member task force last year to look into how global terrorism organizations fund their operations. The task force has also recommended policy areas where Congress and the executive branch can do more.
On Tuesday, the task force made public a wide-ranging report about terrorism financing in countries like Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria and Venezuela. The 191-page analysis examines how criminals and terror groups exploit corrupt governments and weak regulations worldwide to extort money, profit from stolen antiquities and, in some places, work with drug cartels.
Pittenger has advocated giving the U.S. Treasury more power and resources to go after such forms of illicit terrorism financing. A bill he introduced this summer that would put more Treasury officials, with a specialty in counterterrorism activity, in a greater number of U.S. embassies earned overwhelming bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.
The task force’s report released Tuesday says there are “fewer than a dozen and a half Treasury personnel . . . assigned to cover all overseas embassies.”
Recommendations from the task force include:
▪ Passing legislation to require the president and treasury secretary to devise a national strategy aimed at curbing terrorism finances, with a mandatory annual report to lawmakers. Such a bill has already passed the House.
▪ Giving the Treasury broader authority to investigate and do surveillance on suspicious real estate and business transactions in hot spots around the U.S. where criminals may be engaging in money laundering or other activity to aid terrorist groups. Legislation targeting these “high-end,” “high-risk” and usually all-cash transactions has already passed the House.
▪ Finding ways to better recruit and retain employees who specialize in investigating financial crimes. Federal agencies experience a high turnover rate and lose talented workers to the private sector, the task force report says.
“Over the past year, the task force to investigate terrorism financing has conducted critically important work to identify solutions to address 21st-century threats. In conjunction with the legislation we passed this Congress, I look forward to implementing the recommendations found in this report as we continue efforts to defeat radical Islamic terrorism,” Pittenger said in a news statement Tuesday.
Pittenger, who represents North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, is vice chair of the anti-terrorism financing task force. He serves as chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare and has spent the past two years traveling extensively worldwide with the goal of increasing the United States’ partnerships with other countries to combat terrorism financing.