GAO and fed agencies differ over the extent that precious gems and metals fund terrorist networks

The government needs to do a better job of tracking the money that terrorists use to bankroll violence, congressional investigators said yesterday.

Authorities at the Treasury and Justice Departments are struggling to get a grip on how terrorists may be using alternative means—trafficking in gold and diamonds, for instance—to raise and move financial assets, said the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, The Associated Press reports.

Terrorist financiers have been looking for ways to move and conceal money as governments in the United States and abroad have taken steps to prevent them from using the traditional banking system.

“While we recognize that the full extent of criminal activity cannot be determined, information can be systematically collected and synthesized to provide a useful gauge,” the report reportedly said.

The congressional investigators recommended that the FBI work with other government agencies to collect and analyze information on the subject, the AP reports.

Treasury reportedly said it was trying to attack the terror-financing matter on many fronts.

“The GAO report focuses on the use of commodities—that is a gross oversimplification to suggest that is the primary way money is moved,” Treasury spokeswoman Tara Bradshaw reportedly said. “The FBI has been to West Africa to look at the diamond business. We have also met with people in the diamond business in Brussels and Antwerp. We haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that is the case.”

Terrorists, she said, have used various means to move money, including the banking system, front companies and charities, as well as trafficking in commodities.

The Justice Department also took issue with the report, the AP reports.

“The lack of any system for collecting and analyzing data according to specific financing mechanisms does not mean that this type of information is not being collected, maintained and used operationally,” spokesman Mark Carallo reportedly said.

Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D., Ill.) and Charles E. Grassley (R., Iowa), both members of the Judiciary Committee, requested the report.

“If the U.S. is going to get a handle on these organizations, they need to operate smarter and be better coordinated than they are today,” Grassley reportedly said. “Without improvements, we can’t keep up with them.”

The report reiterates lawmakers’ concerns that government agencies are not doing enough to fight financing of terrorists.

Congress last month voted to create a new intelligence agency in the Treasury Department as part of a bill authorizing 2004 intelligence programs. A report accompanying that bill said that “coordination on terrorist financing issues within Treasury, and between Treasury and the intelligence community, while improving, is currently uneven and disjointed.”

“If the 9/11 terrorist attacks taught us anything, it is that the U.S. government must not remain complacent,” Durbin reportedly said.

The Treasury Department has reportedly said that it has made progress in tracking terrorist financing since the attacks but that the campaign is a long-term effort. Since the attacks, 1,439 accounts containing more than $136.7 million in assets belonging to al-Qaeda and other terrorists have been frozen worldwide, the department reported in September.

The GAO report stated that Treasury and Justice failed to produce a report on links between precious stones and commodities trafficking and the funding of terrorist activities. Such a report, however, was issued in November and found that there was no evidence that this was the primary way terrorists were moving money, Treasury’s Bradshaw reportedly said.