Report: U.S. Under Obama Has Halted Battle Against Charities Funding Terrorism

Barack Obama
Barack Obama / AP
May 12, 2016

The United States under the Obama administration has halted the practice of blacklisting domestic organizations that pose as charities to raise money for terrorist groups.

The tool was central to former president George W. Bush’s counterterrorism strategy, but Bloomberg reported Thursday that federal officials haven’t listed an American charity as a facade for terrorist fundraising since the first month of President Obama’s presidency.

Osama bin Laden was still a fugitive Feb. 11, 2009, when the Treasury Department blacklisted the Maryland-based Tamil Foundation for allegedly raising funds for Sri Lankan terrorist group the Tamil Tigers.

Bloomberg reported:

An examination of the Treasury's own website that lists charities designated for terrorist fundraising shows a precipitous drop since Obama came into office. Between the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the February 2009 designation of the Tamil foundation, the U.S. designated eight major U.S.-based charities for terrorist fundraising. These included al-Qaeda fronts such as the U.S. branch of the al-Haramain Foundation and the Benevolence International Foundation. In this period, the U.S. government also blacklisted groups that raised money for the Palestinian terror group Hamas, including the Holy Land Foundation, and for the Lebanese militia and political party Hezbollah, like the Good Will Charitable Organization.

Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the Treasury, told Bloomberg that the task is no longer delegated to the agency. He said the Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence views itself as a "global intelligence shop, leaving the domestic work to domestic agencies like the FBI."

"My concern is that the FBI may be overwhelmed with direct threats to the homeland, thereby relegating domestic terrorism-finance cases to a third- or fourth-tier priority," Schanzer said. "Is anyone taking the threat of domestic terrorism finance as seriously as the Treasury did back in its heyday? I don’t know."

A Treasury spokeswoman said in a written statement to Bloomberg that the agency’s policy hasn’t changed "regarding designating U.S. persons that violate sanctions" and that assertions otherwise were "incorrect."

Counterterrorism experts, including Juan Zarate, who served as a deputy national security adviser under Bush, claimed that the program has come to standstill partially because it’s now too risky for terrorist groups to establish sham charities in the U.S.

Zarate also said groups like the Islamic State no longer rely on outside fundraising groups for financial backing.

"ISIS doesn't have to create a U.S. NGO, they run a war economy," Zarate said. "Al-Shabaab, they are taxing people, they are engaged in other kinds of illicit trade."

The GOP-led House Homeland Security Committee is moving to investigate the issue, according to a spokeswoman for the committee.