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U.S. Approach to Curtail Money Flow to Terrorists Inadequate, Concludes Council-Sponsored Independent Task Force

October 17, 2002
Council on Foreign Relations


October 17, 2002 - After an initially robust attempt to curtail financing for international terrorism, the Bush administration's current efforts are strategically inadequate to assure the sustained results needed to protect U.S. security. This is the core finding of a bipartisan commission chaired by Maurice R. Greenberg, Chairman and CEO of AIG, and directed by two former National Security Council (NSC) officials who are experts in the field.

To regain momentum and give this issue the priority it requires, the Task Force urges the administration to take two key structural steps:

  • Designate a Special Assistant to the President with the specific mandate and prestige to compel the various diplomatic, law enforcement, intelligence, regulatory and policy agencies to work together to assure a sustained and effective U.S. response.
  • Drive other countries-whose efforts are woefully inadequate-to greater effectiveness and cooperation. To accomplish this, the U.S. should lead an initiative to create a new international organization dedicated solely to curbing terrorist financing.

In the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush said, "We will starve the terrorists of funding." The purpose of the report is to evaluate how the United States is doing in carrying out that mission. The Task Force, directed by former NSC officials William Wechsler and Lee Wolosky, commends the progress that the Bush administration and Congress have made in disrupting Al-Qaeda's financial network, both at home and abroad. It warns, however, that "as long as Al-Qaeda retains access to a viable financial network, it remains a lethal threat to the United States."

The Task Force describes the complex nature of the financial network sustaining Al-Qaeda and the obstacles to dismantling it, and it acknowledges that the only realistic goal is to curb rather than completely cut off terrorist funding. It finds that U.S. efforts to curtail terrorist financing are impeded not only by a lack of institutional capacity abroad, but, critically, by a lack of political will among U.S. allies. The Task Force notes, for example: "For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for Al-Qaeda. And for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem."

Confronted with this lack of political will, the Task Force finds that the Bush administration appears to have made a policy decision not to use the full power of U.S. influence and laws now on the books to pressure other governments to more effectively combat terrorist financing. It urges the Bush administration to reconsider the recently announced "second phase" of its policy to curb terrorist financing, which will rely more on foreign leadership and less on blocking orders-which the Task Force calls "among the most powerful tools the U.S. possesses in the war on terrorist finances."

Full text and executive summary: "Terrorist Financing," an Independent Task Force Sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations.

"Terrorist Financing"

An Independent Task Force Sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations

Task Force Members

Chairman: Maurice R. Greenberg

Co-Directors: William F. Wechsler and Lee S. Wolosky


Henry R. Luce Professor and Director, Watson Institute, Brown University.


Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence, New York City Police Department;

Former Deputy Director for Operations, Central Intelligence Agency.


Managing Director, Warburg Pincus;

Former Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs.


Partner, Covington & Burling; former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury.


Chairman, Council for Emerging National Security Affairs (CENSA);

Former Director for Transnational Threats, National Security Council.


Director for Global Anti-Money Laundering, Citigroup; Former Deputy Associate Director,

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.


Senior International Advisor, Bear, Stearns & Co.;

Senior International Advisor, Manatt Phelps & Phillips, LLP;

Former Vice Chairman, National Commission on Terrorism.


President, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation;

Former Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs.


Partner, Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering;

Former Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury and Staff Secretary, The White House.


Senior Partner, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy;

Former Director, Federal Bureau of Investigations and Director, Central Intelligence Agency.

WILLIAM F. WECHSLERn (co-director)

Vice President, Greenwich Associates;

Former Director for Transnational Threats, National Security Council and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury. Former chair of the interagency group charged with disrupting Al-Qaedas financial network.


Counsel, Alston & Bird; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Law Enforcement Affairs.

LEE S. WOLOSKY (co-director)

Head of the International Corporate Practice Group, Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP; Adjunct Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies; former Director for Transnational Threats, National Security Council.

Contact: Lisa Shields, Director of Communications, 212-434-9888