GAO: The FBI needs data on terrorism finance

GAO report: "U.S. Agencies Should Systematically Assess Terrorists' Use of Alternative Financing Mechanisms"

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The FBI doesn't collect and analyze data on the various terrorist financing mechanisms, and the extent of terrorists' alternative funding is unknown, the General Accounting Office said in a report released last week.

Terrorists may earn and store assets through practices such as trading in illicit drugs and weapons or concealing money through charities and informal banking, the GAO said. Collecting this information could give the government a better assessment of terrorist networks and potentially cut off terrorist funds.

"The lack of such data hinders the FBI from conducting systematic analysis that could aid in assessing risk and prioritizing efforts," GAO officials wrote. "Moreover, despite an acknowledged need for further analysis of the extent of the use of alternative financing mechanisms by terrorists, few rigorous studies have been conducted."

The Treasury and Justice Departments were expected to report on links between financing and precious stone and commodity trading, for example, but failed to do so. The Internal Revenue Service in 2002 also agreed to develop a system to share information with states about terrorist financing in charities, but GAO officials said they have not made this a priority.

Monitoring funding vehicles isn't easy, officials said. It's difficult for law enforcement agencies to infiltrate networks financed through alternative means, and terrorist groups can quickly adapt when they discover one mechanism is being monitored, the GAO report said.

The report recommended that the FBI start collecting and analyzing information on terrorists' funding mechanisms. GAO observers also recommended that the Treasury Secretary and Attorney General report on links between terrorism and the use of precious stones and commodities as previously required, and that the IRS establish procedures for data sharing on charities as allowed by law.

The Justice Department did not formally respond to the report, but in technical comments, officials agreed that the FBI does not collect and analyze this data. Treasury officials agreed to produce the report, and IRS officials pledged to make their efforts a priority, according to the GAO.

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