O’Brien, who leads the Treasury’s war against the financial aspects of terrorism, added that his department would be crippled in its ability to stop or slow kleptocrats without the increased powers granted to them by the Patriot Act of 2001.
A kleptocrat is a ruler of a regime who steals state money for personal gain.
“What happens if there is a lack of economic development or a lack of confidence in the rule of law?” asked O’Brien, who spoke Monday at a Treasury Department conference on collaborative efforts to fight kleptocracy. “That can often create conditions and places where terrorist organizations can find safe haven.”
O’Brien said in Africa especially there are gray areas where terrorists can flourish because of instability in local regimes caused by kleptocracy.
“Look at places like Somalia, Sudan and other regimes in Africa,” O’Brien told CNSNews.com. “Those places are examples of weak territorial governments that have areas of intersection with terrorism. When there is an ineffectual government, terrorists say, ‘hey, now we can operate here.’”
O’Brien said that powers granted to law enforcement officials and the Treasury Department by the Patriot Act – passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 – have allowed federal agencies to block many kleptocratic financial activities.
“What we do would not be nearly as effective without the powers granted by the Patriot Act,” said O’Brien. “It would be a huge problem to operate without it. Thanks to section 311, for example, if we find a bank that’s facilitating a certain kleptocrat, we have the authority to say, ‘Okay U.S. banks, you can’t deal with that bank.’”
President Bush, who appointed O’Brien in 2005, called kleptocracy in August 2006 a “grave and corrosive abuse of power” that “threatens our national interest and violates our values.”
“It impedes our efforts to promote freedom and democracy, end poverty, and combat international crime and terrorism,” said Bush in a statement released by the White House on Aug. 10, 2006.