Attorney General John Ashcroft
Financial Action Task Force October 29, 2001
Thank you Madame President, and Members of the Financial Action Task Force.
It is a privilege to address this distinguished body on an issue of such great importance. Today we meet some two miles from where American Airlines Flight number 77 crashed into the Pentagon and 250 miles from the death zone of the World Trade Centers. Citizens from over 80 countries perished in these terrorist attacks.
Tragically, the cloud that darkened the civilized world on September 11 did not pass with the attacks of that day. As we meet, terrorists individuals who were either involved with, associated with, or are seeking to take advantage of the September 11 attacks are spreading the poison of Anthrax. Three lives have been added to those lost. We are reminded in the most painful way of the need for all freedom loving nations to speak with one voice and with one clear sense of purpose in the war on terror.
Forty years ago, United States Attorney General Robert Kennedy conducted an extraordinary law enforcement campaign against a different enemy within America, organized crime. Kennedy's Justice Department, it is said, would arrest mobsters for "spitting on the sidewalk" if it would help in the battle against organized crime. In the war on terror, this Department of Justice will be equally aggressive. We will use every available statute and seek every prosecutorial advantage to arrest, detain and ultimately dismantle terrorist networks. Critical to the success of this strategy is denying terrorists access to the blood money that funds their operations. Those who finance terrorism are equal in guilt and equal in evil to those who direct and carry out terrorist attacks.
The work of the Financial Action Task Force is a critical component of our strategy to prevent terrorism by any means within the law and under the Constitution. I want to commend you for your accomplishments, and say a special word of thanks to your governments, so many of whom have undertaken to identify, freeze and ultimately to forfeit money seized from terrorists. America and all the civilized world are grateful for the high standards of cooperation and accountability you have set in our international financial system.
Since its creation in 1989 the Financial Action Task Force has taken strong stands against international drug trafficking and organized crime. It now falls to the Task Force to turn its attention and expertise to terrorist financing and related money laundering. As you have heard in the various presentations, terrorists use every method of moving and concealing money, from money couriers to wire transfers and from documented traditional banking to the paperless world of underground banking.
I understand that Task Force members have been talking about issuing recommendations at the end of this Special Plenary session that would make terrorist financing a domestic predicate for money laundering in all countries. Also included in your recommendations, I understand, will be a call to ratify the Terrorist Financing Convention.
I applaud both these steps, and encourage you to consider additional means to starve terrorists of their funding. Originators of wire transfers, for example, must be required to fully identify themselves. Recommendations are also urgently needed to deal with alternate remittance systems including underground banking. In addition, those who use charitable organizations as fronts for terrorist financing -- who make charitable givers unwitting accomplices to evil must find no refuge in the international financial system. Finally, I hope you will enhance your provisions for the informal sharing of information through police and regulatory channels.
On Friday, President Bush signed new legislation into law that will give law enforcement critical new weapons in the war on terrorism. The new anti-terrorism law makes sweeping changes to the criminal laws relating to wiretapping and electronic surveillance. In addition it contains a number of provisions relating to money laundering and asset forfeiture. Within hours of this legislation becoming law, I issued a series of directives to U.S. Attorneys and other law enforcement officials ordering that they immediately begin to implement the provisions of the act. Prosecutors, both in the United States and those working with our counterparts throughout the world, now have a powerful new set of tools with which to choke off funding to terrorist groups.
The key provisions of the new law include:
- Authorizing civil and criminal forfeiture of all assets, foreign or domestic, of any individual or organization engaged in terrorism, and any assets used to commit or to facilitate terrorist acts;
- Criminalizing the act of smuggling currency into or out of the United States. All property involved in such offenses is made subject to civil and criminal forfeiture;
- Increasing the ability of prosecutors to go after illegal money remitting businesses as well as to forfeit their funds;
- Broadening the definition of money laundering to include additional foreign crimes, including public corruption, and authorizing the civil and criminal forfeiture of both the proceeds of, and the property used to facilitate, such offenses;
- The law also authorizes courts in criminal forfeiture cases to order a defendant to repatriate assets to the United States and expands the courts' authority to enforce foreign forfeiture judgments, including foreign restraining orders.
The passage of this legislation marks a new era in the struggle against terrorism. United States law enforcement will now use these new tools to identify, dismantle and disrupt terrorist networks. But this is not a battle that the United States government can win alone. All freedom loving nations must join in and support the work of the Task Force and others in ridding the world of terrorism.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently spoke of the fragility of our borders in the face of transnational terrorists. Conflicts, he said, rarely stay within national boundaries. Tremors in one country reverberate throughout the world. The threat, Prime Minister Blair concluded, is chaos.
We thank you for coming together today to devote your time and your expertise toward warding off the chaos that is the ultimate objective of terrorists. Your presence is testimony to the fact that the cause that tragically defines our times is a global one. Separately, we cannot hope to prevail against terrorism. Together, we cannot help but succeed.