Financing Terrorism

If you have a hammer, all problems tend to look like nails.

In this case, the problem is international terrorism and the hammer is the United States military. One would think that our abysmal failure to crush a guerilla force with massive conventional arms in Vietnam would have driven this lesson home to us.

Apparently not.

Today’s headlines (as I write they are just beginning to clear the rubble) are all about our military gearing up for a “Maximum Effort” against terrorism. They are talking about adding $40 billion to the Defense budget as an emergency measure. And the President has just authorized the military to call up 50,000 reservists.

This is lunacy.

We are not going to eliminate international terrorism with conventional forces. In the first place, they are the wrong military tool for the job. Terrorists exist in small camps or as submerged cells in cities. To knock out those kinds of targets, you need unconventional units like the Delta Force or the British S.A.S. Except with near perfect intelligence married to a hefty dose of total, blind luck, no smart bomb or salvo of cruise missiles is going to do the job. And the lumbering sledge-hammer blows of conventional forces inevitably give enough warning that only innocent civilians remain in any target area.

In the second place, even if successful in the short, such a strategy will not work in the long run.

The deaths of a few dozen or a few hundred terrorists will have no real effect upon terrorism as a whole, even if one of the dead is Osama Bin Laden. One of the things we have to realize is that not only is terrorism international in the sense of crossing many borders, it is also international in the sense that dozens of localized terrorist groups cooperate in an effectively global network.

By this I don’t mean merely that Bin Laden is a Saudi currently resident in Afghanistan. I mean that Pakistanis who got their training from the CIA in the Afghan war are now working with Hezbollah. German Red Brigade terrorists became instructors in the Middle East. Just a few weeks ago IRA members were caught in Colombia. Seems they were there to study the latest Colombian bomb-making techniques.

Point is, to be successful, this has to be a simultaneous war against all terrorism in everycountry. The military option simply will not work.
How then do we wage an effective campaign against international terrorism? Let me suggest that it will take a willingness to make revolutionary changes. Because to really kill international terrorism we must change the global system to cut off their three basic necessities: Money, Money, and Money.

But if we really want to take away their money, we will have to make some changes in the global financial system. Normally, there would be a fatal resistance to such changes, both here and abroad. However, there is a very short time window when we can actually demand changes and get them. We have to be willing to both alter our own system and to go to every country — friend, ally, or adversary – and get them to alter theirs so that giving or transporting financial aid to terrorist groups is no longer concealable.

As an example, consider the IRA. They receive the bulk of their funding from the United States, through indirect contributions. We should make that a felony, and a strictly enforced one. In order to do that, the banks will have to revise their disclosure rules to demonstrate that the owner or final destination of funds is not a terrorist group.

If Sinn Fein wants to claim they are separate from the IRA and should still be able to get money from the United States, they should be forced to offer complete transparency of their accounting records to prove that separateness. If they aren’t willing to disclose, then they should be regarded as financially barred from financial aid from any U.S. citizen or institution just as the IRA would be.

American, Swiss, German, Egyptian, and other international banks are now used to hold and transfer funds destined for terrorist groups. They, too, should be forced to establish and maintain special disclosure procedures to insure that the final end-users of their funds are not terrorist groups. Once again, this would require new, effective disclosure laws.

This is the moment when every single country in the world might be coerced to adopt and enforce parallel laws. Hezbollah receives a portion of its funding from areas of Northern Germany. It receives more from Iran. If we want to win the war against terrorism, those contributions must not only be made illegal, but enforceably so.

Note that Hezbollah, too, has a “non-violent” branch that operates schools and charities in the Middle East. They receive substantial funding from citizens of the United States. Once again, if that section of Hezbollah can demonstrate that their funds are not commingled with the political side, well and good. If not, there have to be effective mechanisms in place to prevent funds being forwarded to any portion of Hezbollah.

For a very short time, while the crisis atmosphere lasts, we have a real chance (in concert with NATO, the European Community, and perhaps the U.N.) to install and enforce Draconian rules of disclosure and penalties of financial and trade isolation against any country that dares to violate the new rules. I think we could get most countries, including a number in the Middle East and such sometime friends as China and Russia, to voluntarily join in such a new regime of international law. The rest could be isolated and forced into compliance.

We should go to each of our allies and tell them that turning a blind eye to the tacit support of terrorism through existing financial mechanisms must end. Now. We should go to Syria and Iran and say, no more support for Hamas or Hezbollah or face global isolation. We should go to Arafat and say, if you ever want a homeland, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and all other terrorist groups must no longer find a home in the territories. We should go and give the same message to every country that supports or harbors terrorists.

I suppose this approach is not as sexy or as satisfying as holding another Desert Storm or sending Rambo and James Bond in to personally slaughter all the bad guys. Then, too, I am afraid that there are a lot of folks in Washington who would view this as interference in state sovereignty and a sacrilege against the holy icon of free trade.

True enough. The changes would be revolutionary.

On the other hand, since the vast majority of financial transactions are performed by or are accessible to the U.S. and her allies, it has one great advantage.

It would work.

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