WASHINGTON – Terrorists may still be able to finance attacks in the United States the same way al Qaeda did three years ago,two members of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11,2001,terrorist attacks told a Senate hearing Wednesday.
Since the attacks,the U.S. government has focused,for the first time,on terrorist financing and devoted considerable energy and resources to the problem,the commissioners said.
“We now have far better understanding of the methods by which terrorists raise,move and use money,” said 9/11 Commission member Slade Gorton.
Gorton and 9/11 Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton said there was one main reason it is hard to trace terrorism financing: al Qaeda terrorists used small financial transactions with U.S. banks and ATM credit cards that are difficult to track.
“For example,” Gorton said,“the 9/11 plot cost al Qaeda somewhere in the range of $400,000 to $500,000.”
Hamilton said,“The money transactions of 9/11 hijackers were small and innocuous,and could probably not be detected today.”
Gorton said,“Bin Ladin did not have access to any significant amount of personal wealth.” However,he said al Qaeda has income of approximately $30 million per year. It depends mainly on money from Islamic charities and “witting and unwitting donors,primarily in the Gulf region.”
Hamilton suggested some other ways to track terrorists' transactions and bank accounts. He said the government shouldn't routinely freeze suspicious accounts. “Sometimes it's better to follow than to freeze,” he said,arguing that investigators should watch where the money comes from and where it goes.
Before the attacks,Gorton said,“The U.S. intelligence community largely failed to comprehend al Qaeda's methods of raising,moving and storing money.”
“The FBI gathered intelligence on a significant number of organizations in the United States suspected of raising funds for al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. The FBI,however,did not develop an endgame for its work,” Gorton said.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby,R- Ala, the Senate Banking,Housing and Urban Affairs Committee chairman,confirmed what the two commissioners said. “Nobody was in charge,” Shelby said.
In discussing security shortcomings before the terrorist attacks,Hamilton and Gorton said fighting terror financing and developing good international cooperation are the best ways to eliminate terrorism.
“It is an essential issue to have international cooperation,” Hamilton said.
Gorton said that Saudi Arabia has become a cooperative country,especially after the 2003 terrorists attacks there.
“We need to engage the international community in this to have better results,” Gorton said.
The 9/11 commissioners said information gathering and intelligence is better today. “There is a big progress,but,it's not what we like it to be,” Hamilton said.