PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Good morning. At 12:01 this morning, a major thrust of our war on terrorism began with the stroke of a pen. Today, we have launched a strike on the financial foundation of the global terror network. We will starve the terrorists of funding, turn them against one... each other, rout them out of their safe hiding places and bring them to justice.
I've signed an executive order that immediately freezes United States financial assets of and prohibits United States transactions with 27 different entities. They include terrorist organizations, individual terrorist leaders, a corporation that serves as a front for terrorism, and several nonprofit organizations. Just to show you how insidious these terrorists are, they oftentimes use nice-sounding non-governmental organizations as fronts for their activities.
We have targeted three such NGO's. We intend to deal with them, just like we intend to deal with others who aid and abet terrorist organizations. This executive order means that United States banks that have assets of these groups or individuals must freeze their accounts, and United States citizens or businesses are prohibited from doing business with them.
We know that many of these individuals and groups operate primarily overseas and they don't have much money in the United States, so we've developed a strategy to deal with that. We have developed the international financial equivalent of law enforcement's most wanted list, and it puts the financial world on notice: If you do business with terrorists, if you support or sponsor them, you will not do business with the United States of America.
I want to assure the world that we will exercise this power responsibly. But make no mistake about it: We intend to and we will disrupt terrorist networks. It's important as this war progresses that the American people understand we make decisions based upon classified information. And we will not jeopardize the sources. We will not make the war more difficult to win by publicly disclosing classified information.
JIM LEHRER: Following his statement the President took a few questions. He was asked about the evidence against Osama bin Laden.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: There is a lot of classified information that leads to one person as well as one global terrorist organization. But for those of you looking for a legal peg, we've already indicted Osama bin Laden. He's under indictment for terrorist activity. Our war is against terrorism, those who would conduct terrorist acts against the United States, those who sponsor them, those who harbor them, those who challenge freedom wherever it may exist. Now, Mr. Secretary, if you'd like to make a comment on that.
COLIN POWELL: I just might point out that he has been under indictment for the bombings of our embassy. And as we gather information, and as we talk to our friends and allies around the world, and as we get more cooperation, more information is coming in with respect to his activities and the activities of this network. Most of it is classified, and as we look through it and we can find areas that are unclassified and it will allow us to share this information with the public, we will do so. But there's no question that this network, with this gentleman at the head-- if one can call a terrorist a gentleman, just for purposes of illustration-- this guy at the head of this network, as the chairman of this holding company of terrorism, is the one who is responsible.
REPORTER: Mr. President, last week you condemned the Taliban regime and -- how concerned are you about consumer confidence right now? People are afraid to fly; they're not traveling. Are you at this point concerned that the economy has already dipped into a recession?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I want to assure the American people that the fundamentals for growth are very strong. That which made us unique in the world existed prior to September... That existed prior to September 11 exists today. We're still a nation of entrepreneurs and small business vitality. We're still a nation of innovation.
We've got a very good tax structure. And so there's no question the attacks have affected America. But I think when the investors sit back and take a hard look at the fundamentals of the economy, they'll get back in the market, I think that consumers will realize life is going on. I think people appreciate the fact that our government has come together to act in a very significant way to provide monies where necessary for... whether it be to help rebuild New York or whether it be to provide a financial basis for airlines to stay in business. And we'll come out of this, and we'll come out of it strong.
JIM LEHRER: Gwen Ifill has more on following the terrorist's money.
GWEN IFILL: For that we're joined by Joseph Kahn, the international economics correspondent for the "New York Times." So how broad is this net that the President has cast today?
JOSEPH KAHN: Well it's definitely the broadest effort that any administration has made to combat terrorism globally. The Clinton administration did make a significant push beginning in 1998 after the embassy bombings in Africa to seize the assets of Osama bin Laden. They did not actually impound any Osama bin Laden assets, though they did seize some assets of the Taliban in that effort.
This really extends it to a network that's beyond Osama bin Laden himself to associates or to people he's done terrorist transactions with in the past, including groups in Egypt, groups in the Philippines, some groups that have operated in Africa, and some charity organizations that have at one time or another had operations in the United States.
GWEN IFILL: Well, that's a pretty broad net. So how do you go about specifically freezing the assets in so many different locations?
JOSEPH KAHN: Well, I think probably the headline here is not so much the sheer quantity of assets that they're likely to get. In fact, that figure could be pretty minimal because most of the people that are on this list, there's 27 individuals and groups and charity organizations -- have been watched by authorities for some time now, and the likelihood of them keeping large assets either in banks or property in the United States or Europe is pretty small. What it does restrict them from doing is using the financial system as intermediaries for transactions, transferring money to people, using the United States or overseas stock, bond, commodity markets, things with which you need to have relationships with established commercial banks.
GWEN IFILL: How much clout does the United States have in enforcing or urging foreign countries or foreign banks to participate in this exercise? Or is this something that the United States can only guarantee with U.S.-controlled, U.S.-held interests?
JOSEPH KAHN: No. I think it's very likely that all of our European allies, all of our Asian allies will more or less immediately cooperate with this effort. If it were a much broader network than the one we have seen today, then you could start to meet resistance, but the names of groups and individuals they targeted today, I think, are fairly well known terrorist organizations, and most major commercial banks here or abroad would be taking precautions to sever any business ties with them.
GWEN IFILL: How do we know who those groups are, who these charities are, for instance?
JOSEPH KAHN: The Bush administration is saying very little to support their contention that these groups are connected to bin Laden. They're calling that classified information. But a lot of these groups have been named in one way or another in court cases in connection with the first World Trade Center bombing and the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. They're known through the Middle East. They're not surprising names. So they've been fairly scrupulous in targeting, in this initial round, groups that have had long associations with Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden.
GWEN IFILL: You just suggested a moment ago that, in fact, there's not a whole lot of money actually to be found and not a whole lot of assets to be found by this kind of seizure, but this kind of freezing. So how do we know that this kind of action that the President outlined today will actually end up having its intended goal, which is starving bin Laden's network?
JOSEPH KAHN: Well, if the goal of this is to make it impossible for terrorists to stage new bombings in the future, it's likely to fail. This is not an instant lightning strike against terrorism that it's going to wipe it off the face of the earth. It's really just a first step that would hinder their ability to do that. The first World Trade Center bombing, according to FBI estimates, cost them only $20,000. The latest attacks in New York and Washington may have cost only $200,000. That's not the kind of money that you need to use huge international financial institutions to be able to move around.
GWEN IFILL: Is it also true that a lot of that money is exchanged or passed around in cash, not in traceable bank transactions?
JOSEPH KAHN: Yes, I think that's true. There's an Islamic underground banking network, which is known by its Hindi name called the Hauula, which is an anonymous trust system for passing money throughout the world without really intersecting with the commercial banking system at all. The administration is trying to register, force Hauula agents to register in order to try to control that network. But that's really a different effort than the one we heard about today.
GWEN IFILL: Is the effort today tied by the other conversation that was going on at the White House today, which is whether the evidence against bin Laden has to be shown in order to get these other countries to participate -- especially Muslim nations?
JOSEPH KAHN: I think that in this initial round, the likelihood that banks or foreign governments would resist the effort to seize these assets is fairly unlikely.
GWEN IFILL: Evidence or not.
JOSEPH KAHN: Without providing some broad white paper about the evidence. These are fairly well known terrorist groups who have been linked to previous activities. So I think banks will probably double check to make sure they don't have dealings with these people. I think in that sense, it will be successful. What -- the test will come when they try to broaden the net even further than what they did today. This was just a first step. And to be successful every time you hear about an organization, a charity, an individual who is connected to the network, you'd want to add that person to the list. In those subsequent rounds you could start to meet objections including, in some cases quasi-legitimate or fully legitimate organizations that sue the United States in court in order not to be denied access to the banking system.
GWEN IFILL: All right. Just the first step. Joseph Kahn, thank you very much for joining us.
JOSEPH KAHN: Thank you.