U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger has been tapped to help lead a new bipartisan task force studying how to cut off terrorism funding.
In his short time in Washington, the North Carolina Republican has carved out a niche for himself as a voice in the fight against terror.
As chair of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, he’s hosted international security forums and recently published a manual, using information largely from Ready.gov, on how Americans can prepare for an attack.
Last week, he was selected to serve as vice chairman of the House Financial Services Committee’s new bipartisan Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing.
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“Wars cost money,” Pittenger said in an interview. “Our objective is to identify those sources and intercept them as we can.”
Pittenger sees taking down terrorists’ financial capabilities as probably the best method in deterring the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and other radical groups. His work has drawn the notice of both Republican leaders and even some Democrats. During a floor speech in December on unrelated legislation, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., took a moment to compliment Pittenger on his work combating terrorism financing.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, credited Pittenger with leading on the issue and pushing for the formation of the task force.
“He’s been active in calling for stronger efforts to intercept the ISIS convoys of stolen oil and helping lead in sanctions against Boko Haram,” Hensarling said.
The task force will serve an oversight role, Hensarling said. Members will hold several meetings, some classified, and issue a report this fall with recommendations on steps Congress can take. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., is the ranking member on the task force.
Several federal agencies are involved in combating terrorism financing, particularly the Treasury Department, which leads the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program.
Officials at the Treasury Department were not immediately available for comment, but Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told members of the House Financial Services Committee earlier this month in a hearing that the agency is working with governments of other countries to isolate these funding channels.
The United States is joining the Counter-ISIL Finance Group, a coalition of 26 governments aimed at stopping the financing of Islamic State. The U.S. also has led airstrikes targeting refineries and convoys that have disrupted the group’s ability to sell oil to the black market.
Pittenger said one area where improvements could be made is in the sharing of key information between agencies, such as Treasury and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
John Cohen, who until last summer was the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s counter-terrorism coordinator and now is a professor at Rutgers University, described the current terrorism environment as the most complex since 9/11. He said disparate groups of varying sizes and resources appear to be working independently, but all are committed to a common ideological cause.
He said the task force could assess the new “terrorism dynamic” and help integrate the work of various federal agencies and bodies, including the CIA, FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who are all working on different aspects of the problem.
“Sometimes when you’re locked in the day-to-day flow of operational activities, you don’t always have the opportunity to step back and look at the bigger picture,” he said.