Seminar on Preventing Terrorism and Organized Crime in the Tri-Border AreaAmbassador Francis X. Taylor, Coordinator for Counterterrorism
December 19, 2001
President Gonzalez Macchi, Foreign Minister Moreno Ruffinelli, Distinguished Guests:
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the subject of terrorism.
On the morning of September 11, the world changed. Terrorist attacks in my country claimed victims from more than 80 nations, including from countries as far away as Australia and Zimbabwe. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay, and Paraguay lost citizens, and to their representatives I offer my condolences.
For many countries, including ours, September 11 claimed the most lives of any terrorist incident in their history. Great Britain, for example, lost more citizens in the World Trade Centers than in all of the IRA bombings combined.
The attacks may have been conceived as a blow against the United States, but in reality they were an attack against humanity.
Last Thursday, I watched a video tape of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden speaking casually, with pride and a smile on his face, of the murders of thousands of innocent people in New York, and justifying it in religious terms.
There can be no justification for this type of act. Those who support groups involved in this activity are no better than the terrorists themselves. Such support encourages even more acts like these. For this reason, our campaign will target not just terrorist groups, but also those who harbor them and those who fund them.
As you are aware, the United States and her allies are in the midst of a global campaign not only against the perpetrators of those attacks but also against terrorism itself, wherever it exists.
The Threat to the Tri-Border Area
Let me speak for a few moments about the situation that we face in this region, and the reason we are gathered here today:
In the Tri-Border area that I visited for the first time yesterday we see a busy, culturally diverse business center with an astonishing array of goods and services available to consumers. We see evidence of a multi-billion dollar economic engine. We see, in the beautiful waterfalls nearby, one of the world s notable tourist attractions.
We are worried, however, not by the things we see, but by the things we do not see the darker side of the commercial trade, clandestine networks of persons and money - money that may act to support terrorist organizations in the Middle East.
It is no secret that you have, living in this area, more than 15,000 persons from the Middle East. Some of these people are from, or are descendants of persons from countries such as Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. I applaud the cultural diversity that has been allowed to flourish here.
It is no secret that the majority of those persons from that area of the world - an area that is a cradle of religions - follow the Islamic faith. This is a wonderful thing. I applaud your governments for being members of the elite group that believes in, and permits, freedom of religion.
What is not a wonderful thing and this is based on information shared with me by law enforcement and intelligence officials from your governments - is our shared concern that Islamic extremist organizations such Hizballah, HAMAS, al Gamaat al Islamiyya and others are using this vibrant area as a base from which to support terrorism.
At a minimum, there is evidence that elements of the Tri-Border population are engaging in various types of organized criminal practices. We know, from close cooperation with your law enforcement officials, that Hizballah members in the Tri-Border engage in document forgery, money laundering, contraband smuggling. We understand that there may be reason for concern about involvement in weapons and drug trafficking. We fear that the money generated by these illegal business activities is being used to support acts of terrorism by the radical elements and terrorist subgroups of these larger organizations.
The threats I have just spoken of are perhaps distant threats to you - secondary funding for terrorist acts in other areas of the world. But there is a local threat. I share the concern of your officials that local support cells could be activated to conduct terrorist attacks here in the region. Hizballah remains a suspect in the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the 1994 bombings of the Argentine Israel Mutual Association (AMIA) community center. I point out to you that these attacks were characterized by the same faceless cowardice that we saw on September 11. I hope that the perpetrators of those crimes will one day be brought to justice.
On the topic of justice, the U.S. and its allies are currently waging a military campaign in Afghanistan in order to bring al Qaida to justice. This campaign is broadcast by news organizations, around the clock, to all the parts of the world that receive television and radio signals. That is to say, it is an extremely visible war.
The non-military fight against terrorism is less visible, but may be more important in the long run. Id like to share with you some of the important victories we have already won:
Almost 50 multilateral organizations have issued declarations of support: the Organization of American States invoked the Rio Treaty, which also covers collective self-defense. OAS foreign ministers, meeting in Lima, Peru on the day of the attacks, were the first to condemn the attacks.
The United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of African Unity, and many others have expressed their strong solidarity.
The coalition of countries supporting the war against terrorism has grown to 196.
Three months and one week after the attack, members of the global coalition remain dedicated. I count on the governments represented here today to fight for justice, and to remain vigilant vigilant in the quest for justice to redress the wrongs of the September 11 attacks, and vigilant to keep your own countries from falling victim to senseless mass murder.
Forging the Tools to Fight Terror
I have spoken for some time now about the problem of terrorism, but now Id like to take a bit more of your time to talk, instead, about the solutions to this problem. I want to talk about the tools that nations can use to prevent terrorists from killing more innocent people.
First, Id like to quote my commander-in-chief, President George Bush, from a speech he made to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in September:
"We will direct every resource at our command -- every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war -- to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network."
This campaign is unlike others we have fought. We are fighting the battle equally in conferences such as this one, in small meetings among bankers, at border crossing points, or in forensic laboratories, as in the skies of some distant country. Our victories are being counted in the drying up of financing, preventing illegal use of borders and official documents, the withering of political support, not in the conquest of foreign land.
Our efforts include gathering and sharing intelligence, rooting out terrorist cells, assisting countries to tighten their border security, law enforcement cooperation, and identifying and disrupting terrorist money flows.
The sharing of intelligence information concerning terrorists and planning for terrorist attacks has grown steadily over the years among many nations of the world. Such cooperation has resulted in the arrest of numerous terrorist suspects and the prevention of untold numbers of attacks. But in the weeks since September 11, the increase in intelligence sharing among nations has been phenomenal. Both the amount and quality have vastly improved. We are heartened by this development as yet another sign of the seriousness shown by the global coalition in fighting terrorism.
From an intelligence standpoint, the countries represented here today have dramatically different structures, personnel, and even languages. We in the United States count on each of you as friends and colleagues, but that s not enough. My hope is that the Tri-Border Countries can share intelligence in a more effective and timely manner. That you can develop trust, and then coordinate your approach to information so that would-be terrorists know that they cannot hide their activities merely by crossing borders.
Speaking of borders, at the request of Foreign Minister Moreno Ruffinelli, I have brought along with me an expert in border issues and he will soon speak to you at a technical level. However, speaking at a broad level, I would like to commend the governments of the Tri-Border for the efforts you have already made in developing a cooperative approach you have, in the Tri-Border, one of the more complicated border junctions in the world. Your efforts to make further improvements to the coordination and cooperation among border officials will reap great benefits in preventing terrorism and organized crime.
On the topic of crime, let me speak for a just a moment about law enforcement.
Since September 11, the FBI has mounted the largest criminal investigation in its history, involving seven thousand agents in an operation truly global in scope. Thousands of leads are being tracked down, and hundreds of credible threats have been analyzed. In addition to the hundreds of arrests and detentions here in this country, hundreds more terrorists and suspected supporters of terrorism have been arrested or detained in over 25 countries.
We do not pretend, however, that U.S. law enforcement officials, even if they had unlimited resources - which they do not - could gain access to all of the information they need. No. For that, we know that you, the governments of sovereign nations everywhere, must take up the fight as well. We know that a new police recruit in a small town in Paraguay, Brazil, or Argentina can gain access to information that even a seasoned FBI veteran could simply not uncover.
A military effort may destroy bin Laden and most of al-Qaida, but we recognize that the prevention of future terrorist acts is dependent upon the vigilance and professionalism of local police and intelligence officials.
Last but not least, Id like to talk about an issue near and dear to my heart -- money. The September 11 terrorists apparently had enough money to make their preparations many months, if not years, in advance. We are therefore encouraging other countries to join in our efforts to clamp down on terrorist fund raising and money transfers. Funding is a critical element in these large-scale terrorist operations and in the recruiting of supporters. We need to choke it off.
Again, at the request of Foreign Minister Moreno Ruffinelli, I have invited another U.S. expert to speak at a technical level about funding issues, but I would like to touch on a few broader issues and mention some successes we have had in this area.
On September 28, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1373, binding on all states under international law, which goes to the heart of how terrorism operates. It obliges all member states to deny financing, support, and safe harbor for terrorists. It will also expand information sharing among UN members to combat international terrorism. A Security Council follow-up mechanism has been set up to monitor compliance on a continuous basis.
This effort has already yielded results:
Between September 11 and December 11, the United States blocked more than $33.7 million in assets belonging to the Taliban and the al Qaida network.
Other nations have blocked at least an additional $33.6 million.
As of December 11, there were 1,149 accounts under review in the United States.
As of December 11, 140 other countries and jurisdictions have joined the United States in blocking terrorist accounts, and others have requested U.S. assistance in upgrading their legal and regulatory structures so that they can also block effectively.
The coalition of countries supporting the financial war against terrorism has grown to 196.
In addition to targeting money that goes directly to terrorist organizations, we believe that we must target the organizations that support terrorist organizations, including some non-Governmental organizations. We have in the U.S. a law, written in 1996, that does just this. An important section in this law is worth repeating because it may have relevance here:
"(F)oreign terrorist organizations that engage in terrorist activity are so tainted by their criminal conduct that any contribution to such an organization facilitates that conduct."
This is a key point. Before they make a contribution to groups supporting terrorists, people need to understand that by doing so they are assisting criminal conduct -- and are themselves committing a criminal act.
Using this and other legislation as a potential model, we have urged other countries to tighten up their own laws and regulations to curb terrorist fundraising and money transfers. We commend the Government of Paraguay for swiftly introducing an anti-terrorism bill to the Congress. We hope the Congress will consider the bill and move toward enacting it soon. Other countries, including Canada, Greece, India, and the Philippines, have new counterterrorism laws or proposed legislation in various stages of consideration.
With that, I would like to conclude my remarks for today, and to thank you once again, Mr. President, for inviting me to your beautiful country, and for allowing me to speak at this conference.
And let me conclude with the declaration of President Bush:
"Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, let justice be done."