The Department of Treasury has made broad statements charging the U.S. charitable sector with being a significant source of terrorist financing and support. But evidence to support these claims has not been forthcoming. As a result, there has been significant disagreement between Treasury and the nonprofit sector on the extent and nature of the relationship between charities and terrorists. The issue is highlighted by the fact that Treasury's Annex to the Guidelines only cites examples of alleged crimnal activity by foreign charities.
The legal authority for the Department of Treasury to designate a person or organization as a Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) (or freeze assets "pending investigation") is based on laws providing for economic sanctions against foreign nations, going back to the Trading With the Enemy Act in 1917 and ending with the Patriot Act.
The Humanitarian Assistance Facilitation Act of 2013
Section by Section Summary
To permit humanitarian assistance to civilian populations in areas of conflict or disaster when carried out in good faith and with certain safeguards.
Section 1. Short Title
The Humanitarian Assistance Facilitation Act of 2012.
The U.S. National Security Administration’s (NSA) foreign and domestic surveillance programs have been making headlines since they were first revealed in the summer of 2013. The surveillance activities range from collection of phone data to the recording of electronic communications. These programs are authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an intergovernmental body that sets anti-terrorist financing and anti-money laundering standards that it uses to assess the adequacy of laws and regulations in nearly every country in the world. Since 9/11 it has increased its focus on regulation of financial services and charities.
USAID first proposed the Partner Vetting System (PVS) in 2007. It quickly became controversial as nonprofits objected to its central provision: a requirement that prospective USAID grantees turn over personal identifying information on certain staff, leaders and sub-grantees to the U.S.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) within the U.S. Department of Treasury is tasked, in part, with ensuring that money from U.S. persons and entities does not fall into the hands of terrorist groups. An array of sanction laws have been enacted that make it a crime for money to go to certain countries (for example, Iran and Syria) and certain organizations (for example, Hamas and al-Qaeda). OFAC has the authority both to enforce these laws, by freezing the assets of any U.S. group or individual who violates them, and to provide exceptions to these laws through licenses.
Syria - Background
Since the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, a mostly peaceful mass street protest has transformed into a destructive and deadly civil war pitting the Free Syrian Army (FSA) against the Alawite-dominated security forces of President Bashar al-Assad. With the conflict raging across much of the country and difficulties getting international aid to civilians inside Syria, the humanitarian situation is described as “catastrophic” and continues to deteriorate at a rapid pace.
The U.S. government maintains two lists containing entities (State’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) & Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN)) it believes engage in terrorist activity. It is illegal to provide these groups with material support which is defined broadly in the law to include tangible goods like food or clothing, medical services, and training in conflict mediation.
But the laws designed to starve the terrorists also make it nearly impossible for humanitarian actors to reach or offer assistance to civilians living in territory controlled by a blacklisted group. That means that in conflict zones or natural disaster areas where these groups are active, providing medical services or distributing non-medicinal necessities such as clean water, tents, blankets, food can be prohibited.
Before the first government to be internationally recognized in two decades came into power in early 2013, Somalia had been a country without an effective government since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Since then, two decades of conflict, severe weather, and the lack of basic services and infrastructure have contributed to major food shortages for almost half of the country’s ten million people. Amidst the rampant insecurity and shortages, humanitarian efforts were further complicated by U.S. restrictions that prohibited aid delivery to the nearly two million civilians living in areas of the country controlled by al-Shabaab, a militant group that operates in southern Somalia, during the 2011 famine.