TCS Daily

Go, Don't Go

By Judy Bachrach - October 18, 2010 4:47 PM

This article first appeared in World Affairs.

I know you're worried about terrorist plots, but you can stop right now. At least you can if you're living in the United States, where the government is taking two vital measures to put a halt to all that danger and fretting.

In the first place, the Obama administration wants to force all US banks to report electronic money transfers, however tiny, into and out of the country so that Uncle Sam can keep track of every last thing everyone in this nation -- I mean in Pakistan -- is doing at any time. So imagine how much more commission your bank is going to gouge you for the pain and anguish of compliance when you next try to send 30 birthday euros to your four-year-old niece in France.

Also -- just a little aside: the most feared avenue of international transactions happens to be the "hawala" system: an informal bank-avoidance method of passing around money from one broker to another that is extremely popular in Muslim nations. It leaves almost no traces, which is actually the point. In Pakistan, for instance, hawala exchanges are estimated to account for about $15 billion in transfers.

For instance, just this year, according to the US Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York, Mohammad Younis and some Pakistani cohort transferred thousands of dollars in cash, hawala-style, to a guy who ultimately pled guilty to trying to blow up Times Square. Younis wasn't ever told the money was being used for that purpose: many hawala goals are evidently on a need-to-know basis. But Faisal Shahzad, the incompetent bomb detonator, got the Taliban cash last April far more easily and with far less fuss than he would have at, say, Chase.

The government's second terrorism cure: informing its citizens that Europe these days is a pretty dangerous place to visit -- in fact, some German national of Afghan origin told interrogators as much at Bagram air base -- but a place Yankee tourists should thoroughly enjoy seeing firsthand nonetheless. (Real quadruple-negative quote from Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management: "We are not, repeat not, telling Americans not to go to Europe. We're not saying don't visit major tourist attractions.")

Do four "nots" in a single quote equal "What, Me Worry?"

Apparently not.

Simultaneous explosions planned in France and Britain. Consternation in Deutschland after British intelligence overheard a conversation between two Euro nationals on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border about where to shop for the very best plastique. EU security ministers rushing to Luxembourg for a meeting this week.

Now about those 30 euros you want to send to France: don't forget to jot down your niece's social security number. The government is watching.


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