Saturday, April 1, 2023

Experts say cash standstill good strategy to find culprits

September 25, 2001

Exactly two weeks after Sept. 11, U.S. officials are still attempting to smoke the terrorists out - by any means necessary.

In the nation’s latest measure to pinpoint the culprits, President Bush called for a “strike on the financial foundation” of terrorists, and froze assets of 27 individuals and organizations.

The freeze applies to “terrorist organizations, individuals, terrorist leaders, a corporation that serves as a front for terrorism and several nonprofit organizations,” Bush said.

Norman Graham, director of the Center for European & Russian Studies at MSU, said freezing the accounts will only be beneficial in the hunt for terrorists if certain aspects are correct.

“What we really need to see is ... the evidence as to why they are assuming it’s Osama bin Laden,” he said. “The affect of freezing these accounts will depend on how clear they are that they have the right person and the right network.

“This is a good strategy if they have a good idea of both who is responsible for the attack and also the extent of assets really held by the terrorists.”

Graham said the frozen assets will do very little to the economy because of the small amount of dollars the terrorists have compared with the rest of the world’s economy.

Bin Laden is said to have a personal fortune estimated at $300 million.

“People marvel at the estimated income bin Laden has but it is fairly small in comparison to the total number of assets in the world and any major financial city,” he said. “While this will be relatively harmless to the economy, the amount of impact it has on bin Laden will depend on the amount of assets he has here.”

James Phillips, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., said it may take years before the terrorists are apprehended.

“It’s very possible it will be solved since already so much is known about the people involved and where they came from, how they lived and how they operated,” he said. “There are very tangible leads the FBI and other agencies have leading to bin Laden.”

The Heritage Foundation, an educational and research institute, promotes conservative public policies based on principles of a strong national defense.

There are many things that need to be done before the terrorists are found, Phillips said.

“They will need to review other clues that may have been ignored before and once they apprehend the people linked to the suicide bombers they may find new leads,” he said. “This will probably go on for years.”

Other MSU specialists agree it will be hard to find everyone behind the attack.

“It is very difficult to make a prediction at who is behind this because our intelligence capability is not as good as it needs to be,” said Michael Rubner, an international relations professor, “If it was that good, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Rubner, who also specializes in international security and Middle Eastern affairs, said finding the culprits will be similar to peeling an onion - officials will have to go through many layers until the center is reached.

“In a good number of instances in the past we do not know who was really behind different acts, although we often know who carried them out,” he said.

“And like this tragedy, the carriers already paid with their lives.

“What happens is you keep peeling each layer and find who is behind that one, and then who is behind that. The problem is, the deeper in the onion you get, the more difficult it becomes to have a great deal of confidence in what you find.”

And Rubner said the financing behind terrorist attacks often come from many different sources, generally one step behind each level.

“It is extremely difficult because we don’t even know how many tiers there are, or how many organizations, or even organizations within that,” he said. “This is going to be a lot of detective work. And these people are not very good - the people who actually paid with lives left a lot of finger prints.

“They were pretty sloppy.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rachel Wright can be reached at


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