I was head of Treasury’s international affairs division when the operation began. Under U.S. law, the president had the authority to call on U.S. financial institutions to freeze the accounts of terrorists. In the years before 9/11, however, that law was not used very aggressively. As described later in the 9/11 Commission’s Monograph on Terrorist Financing, “Terrorist financing was not a priority….the Treasury organization charged by law with searching out, designating, and freezing Bin Laden assets, lacked comprehensive access to actionable intelligence and was beset by indifference of higher-level Treasury policymakers.”
Few Americans now remember that the United States launched its first post-9/11 attack on terrorists from a very unusual front—the financial front. As President George W. Bush put it, “the first shot in the war was when we started cutting off their money, because an al Qaeda organization can't function without money.” Here is my Bloomberg News piece about this financial aspect of the war on terror. The detailed story of the people and what they did is fascinating as I try to describe in more detail in my book Global Financial Warriors: The Untold Story of International Finance in the Post-9/11 World. I will be talking with Tom Keene and Michael McKee about it on Sunday at noon. They will be broadcasting on Bloomberg Radio live from the World Trade Center site.