Terrorism. A hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information yielded significant lessons learned in the five years that have passed since the bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993.
Several of the panelists were from federal agencies such as the U.S. Secret Service and FBI. They said that their partnership approach to combating terrorism, along with increased legislative powers, has helped the government make great strides in eliminating terrorist threats. The INS, for example, has obtained new authority under recent legislation and has opened up a new office to deal exclusively with counterterrorist activities at the nation's 200 entry points.
At the same time, however, government representatives and other panelists noted that terrorists take advantage of Western freedoms to raise funds and gain support for terrorist activities against the United States and other western countries. Citing Middle-Eastern terrorist activities in particular, many said the openness of American society has facilitated terrorist operations and provided safe havens for conspirators.
"The liberal policies of the West, primarily France, Germany, and the United States, allowed the extremists from the Middle East to establish bases of operation in their countries," said Omar Ashmawy, whose late father was a crusading Sunni Muslim who tried to preach the more moderate and tolerant side of Islam to the country through radio broadcasts, a self-funded newspaper, and congressional testimony.
"The easily obtained western technology and free open market offers them a better and more effective way to direct and finance their followers," he told Congress.
Richard Rohde, deputy assistant director of investigation for the U.S. Secret Service, shed light on the connection between financial and white collar crime and terrorist activities. He said it has been virtually impossible for investigators to determine a motive for a crime at the outset, as illustrated by several recent cases that started as financial crime investigations but led to the uncovering of terrorist operations.
Secret Service agents, he said, in one case thought they were investigating rings of counterfeit credit card producers but eventually discovered the group was connected to a Lebanese terrorist operation that was using the cards to build up money and purchase equipment.
Rohde also discussed a fund-raising technique used by many terrorist groups that takes advantage of an interpretation of the law. Group members obtain credit cards and send in payment checks before actual purchases are made. Because of the way a banking regulation is routinely interpreted, banks credit the account before the fraudulent checks clear, thereby making it appear that the account has a cash surplus available in addition o the established credit line. Then before the banks discover that the payment checks are fraudulent, the members take out large cash advances to purchase equipment or fund other operations, leaving the bank holding bad debt.
In another case, undercover agents from multiple federal agencies were investigating coupon fraud and met a man who owned several grocery stores. They discovered that he was a kingpin for an extremist Palestinian organization, and that his nephew was also a leader of a known terrorist group. They were submitting thousands of dollars worth of coupons, obtained by purchasing bulk recycled newspapers and clipping inserts, artificially aging them to look as if they had been used, and submitting them for payment.
Steven Emerson, documentarian and journalist, reminded subcommittee members that domestic terrorists use similar fund-raising operations as those described for foreign terrorists, and that new measures instituted to fight terrorism should not ignore the growing specter of the home-grown brand of terrorism. …