Treasury Notes

 Treasury’s Role in Advancing U.S. National Security

By: Hagar Chemali


 On Monday, Treasury and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) co-hosted a symposium entitled “TFI@10: The Evolution of Treasury’s National Security Role,” on the role of financial tools in advancing U.S. national security.  This symposium marked the 10th anniversary of the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) and convened senior Administration officials, former government and Congressional leaders, foreign policy experts, and representatives from the private sector and media for discussions on the use of financial levers and the importance of upholding financial transparency, protecting the U.S. financial system, and using financial intelligence in achieving national security interests and advancing foreign policy objectives. 

In his opening remarks, Secretary Jacob J. Lew reviewed how the U.S. government had shifted its approach to national security after the events of September 11 to focus on the importance of disrupting the finances and funding operations of terrorist organizations.  He outlined the Department’s role in strengthening this new national security strategy and its work over the last decade.  

“TFI has opened up a new battlefield for the United States, one that enables us to go after those who wish us harm without putting our troops in harm’s way or using lethal force.  Without a doubt, their accomplishments have made our country, and our world, safer.” said Secretary Lew.  “And this administration has been particularly creative and innovative in using this approach – both because of the changing international landscape and our determination to use all the tools at our disposal to advance our strategic interests.”


Keynote speakers and panelists covered a breadth of issues, including TFI’s important work over the past decade in disrupting and dismantling the financial networks of terrorists and drug traffickers, the evolution of financial tools in securing national security, efforts to uphold financial transparency, and the role of financial intelligence.  Key excerpts are included below:

Tom Donilon, Distinguished Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Former National Security Adviser

“Treasury is at the table and has been at the table for addressing some of our most important security issues, national security issues – whether it be the terrorist threat, or it be the North Korea challenge, or the non-proliferation challenge in Iran… a really important point… goes to the point of the strength of being at the center of the world financial system here in terms of our ability to do these things.  In many ways, even our unilateral steps become multilateral steps… it is way beyond, as the Treasury Secretary says, way beyond trade limitations, trade embargoes, quite targeted and exceedingly effective.”

Video: TFI@10: Panel 1: Leveraging Financial Tools to Advance National Security​

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough

“The threats we face obviously, as you’ve been discussing and living, are increasingly complex.  It’s our job to stay at least one step ahead of them.  That means using every tool at our disposal, every element of our national power to protect ourselves and our allies, and to stop bad actors of all kinds, whether they're political regimes, terrorist networks, or solitary extremists.  We have to be innovative and adaptive, always willing to consider new ideas and revise our approach as needed… Ten years ago when this unit was created, the notion of using financial tools to stop terrorism and international crimes was still pretty new, and frankly, it was seen as an issue of defense.  Today, it's a core asset of our national security and it has us on offense.”

Stephen Hadley, Chairman of the Board, U.S. Institute of Peace and former National Security Adviser

“I think the sanctions were one of a series of tools in terms of diplomatic isolation, in terms of things directed at their [Iran] program.  I think it's been a very successful, coordinated, policy of pressure. I think it did bring them[Iran] to the table. ”  

Video: TFI@10: Panel 2: Financial Intelligence: Redefining and Reshaping National Security​


Neal Wolin, Former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury

“The global financial system of which the U.S. sort of stands right in the center, I think, depends importantly for its robustness and strength on making sure that the illicit flows are kept to minimum, are not present. That the kinds of integrity principles, which really stand at the foundation of what TFI does are well-observed. And so apart from all of the national security implications, it is critically important for the world's economy and for the world’s financial system that these kinds illicit activities… have a light shone on them and their activity be scrutinized, and to whatever extent possible, eliminated.”

Video: TFI@10: Increasing Financial Transparency and Protecting the U.S. Financial System

Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen presided over the event and concluded the symposium with remarks highlighting the challenges ahead.  He stated, “today’s conversation also has illuminated some of the key challenges that we will face in the future as we continue to employ – and increasingly rely upon – financial measures to help achieve our core foreign policy and national security goals…First is the challenge posed by the changing nature of the terrorist financing…Second is the challenge to the international community’s ability to impose targeted, conduct-based financial sanctions…Third, is the challenge to financial transparency posed by new technologies, including new payment methods, such as mobile banking, and new methods of payment, such as virtual currencies…Fourth, we will face the ongoing challenge of balancing our need for timely, accurate, and specific financial intelligence with legitimate demands for privacy, both by American citizens and foreigners.”  


Back at Treasury later in the day, Secretary Lew and Under Secretary Cohen gathered TFI staff from across all of its offices for an appreciation ceremony on the Treasury steps. Both delivered their heartfelt thanks to every member of TFI, honoring their service and hard work in keeping our country safe.

Hagar Chemali is the Spokesperson for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the United States Department of the Treasury.​​​​​​

Posted in:  Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
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