Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
U.S. Agency for International Development officials have vigorously defended the agency's record in vetting Palestinian groups to prevent funds from going to organizations that support or promote terrorist causes.
An Israeli watchdog group last week released a study charging that weaknesses in current U.S. law have allowed USAID money to be channeled to suspect groups. The Washington Times reported last week that lawmakers in both houses of Congress have begun efforts to amend the law governing aid policies in response to the study.
But James Kunder, USAID deputy assistant administrator for Asia and the Near East, said in an interview his agency carefully screens Palestinian applicants and their projects, even going beyond the statutory requirements to ensure against funding terrorist organizations or their supporters.
"There is a full vetting not only by USAID, but by the State Department and our colleagues in U.S. intelligence of any Palestinian group we work with to make sure there is absolutely no link to terrorism," Mr. Kunder said.
USAID officials say they also conduct annual audits to make sure no taxpayer money is diverted to Palestinian terrorist groups or individuals.
In addition, groups that refuse to sign a mandatory antiterrorism certification - as a number of Palestinian organizations have recently done - are denied funding, Mr. Kunder said.
Mr. Kunder acknowledged that the agency made a "mistake" in its grant for the new Salah Khalaf Recreation and Sports Center in the West Bank village of al-Fara'a, named for the man considered the spiritual godfather of the Palestinian terrorist Black September organization.
The U.S. charity Save the Children received the USAID grant to help build the center.
"That was a mistake; we should have checked it better," Mr. …