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GAO: Terror Money Tracking Needs Improvement

Government efforts to track the money trail that terrorist organizations use to bankroll acts of violence are flagging and must be improved, congressional investigators have concluded.

U.S. authorities -- at both the Treasury and Justice departments -- are struggling to understand how the financing works and how terrorists move and conceal their assets, says a report by the General Accounting Office (search), tthe investigative arm of Congress.

Details of the GAO study were reported late Thursday on Web page of The New York Times, and a congressional staffer confirmed the details. The report had been request by Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill, and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. It was expected to be released Friday.

The report among other things reiterates lawmakers' concerns that the two federal departments and other government agencies aren't doing enough to fight terrorist financing.

Citing those problems, Congress last month voted to create a new intelligence agency in the Treasury Department (searchas part of a bill authorizing 2004 intelligence programs. A report accompanying that bill said that "coordination on terrorist financing issues within Treasury, and between Treasury and the intelligence community, while improving, is currently uneven and disjointed."

Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Friday he hadn't seen the report, but stressed that any evaluation of the job the administration had done to track terror financing had to look both at where it started, how far it has come and how far it has to go.

"The truth is, pre-9/11, there was precious little intrajurisdictional cooperation when it came to freezing terrorist assets and preventing them from funding their activities," he said. "Our committee will use this report as guidance for our continued oversight." Cox was leading a congressional delegation on a visit to Italy.

In October, Richard A. Clarke, a former top anti-terror official in the Clinton and Bush administrations told the Senate Banking Committee that efforts to track terrorism financing have been complicated by the reorganization of some federal agencies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and by poor coordination between the government and financial institutions.

The Treasury Department has said it has made progress in tracking terrorist financing since the attacks, but the campaign is a long-term effort. Since the attacks, 1,439 accounts containing more than $136.7 million in assets belonging to Al Qaeda (searchand other terrorists have been frozen worldwide, the department reported in September.

The GAO report said terrorists are using methods that are hard to detect to move and launder money. In one example, when investigators looked into suspected terrorists who were raising money by selling counterfeit household appliances, the suspects began marketing their own brand, the Times said.