By Jeannine Aversa
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States has made progress in the last five years in trying to shut down avenues for terrorists to raise and move money but challenges remain, Bush administration officials told Congress Tuesday.
Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, Treasury Department official Daniel Glaser underscored the importance of the United States working closely with international allies to share information. The goal, he said, is to thwart terrorist financiers and improve coordination of this information among agencies.
Glaser said authorities must stay ahead of terrorist financiers who not only try to use the traditional banking system to move money but also other methods, including cash couriers, trafficking of drugs, weapons and precious metals and jewels.
"We must adjust the development and application of our financial tools as terrorists and other threats adapt their financing methods and as we continue to learn how to improve our efforts," said Glaser, Treasury's deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., agreed, saying: "We must be mindful of our enemies' ability to adapt." Even though "memories fade," the country must remain vigilant, Shelby said.
The remarks came one day after observances for the 5th anniversary of the terror attacks on New York and Washington.
Since the attacks, the United States has designated a total of 460 people and entities as providing financial support for terrorists, Treasury officials said. Those actions mean that any bank accounts or financial assets found in the United States belonging to them are frozen and Americans are barred from doing business with them.
Glaser and other Treasury officials testifying at the hearing also told lawmakers about the government's efforts to financially clamp down on Iran and North Korea _ two countries with nuclear ambitions. The United States says that Iran is a big source of funds for terrorist groups, including Hezbollah.
The international community needs to do more to put the financial squeeze on Hezbollah, Glaser said.
At times over the last five years, the Treasury Department had come under criticism for its efforts to combat terrorist financiers. The government, however, did get high marks for its efforts from the 9/11 commission.
More recently, some lawmakers expressed concerned that they weren't briefed early on about a secret program, started shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, which gives the government access to a massive international data base of financial information to track suspected terrorist financiers.
The existence of the program was revealed by news organizations in late June, a disclosure that the administration said could hobble future efforts to nab terrorist financiers.
The United States also is focusing more energy on the difficult job of trying to come up with ways to better pin down shell companies in the United States that are used to move money or hide money for terrorist financiers, drug lords and other criminals,