Plan for Terror Screening of Aid Groups Cut Drastically

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By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Bush administration has decided to sharply scale back its plan to screen U.S. foreign aid contractors around the globe for potential terrorism connections, deciding instead to begin with a pilot program involving aid recipients in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip before expanding it worldwide.

The decision, announced Tuesday at a meeting of U.S. officials and representatives of nonprofit groups, was made after lawmakers and several large aid organizations said that the global screening requirements were onerous and unwarranted. An official of the U.S. Agency for International Development had earlier promised to defer the program, which initially was to have taken effect Monday.

The global screening program, initially described in a July 17 Federal Register notice, would have required that all nongovernmental organizations seeking funds from the agency provide detailed information about key personnel, including phone numbers, birth dates and e-mail addresses.

That information was to have been reviewed by intelligence and law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, to ensure that there were no connections with individuals or groups associated with terrorism or threats to national security. It would have affected thousands of individuals in nonprofit groups, charities, religious organizations, colleges, universities and private corporations.

At the presentation Tuesday, USAID officials said they would initially carry out a "pilot vetting program" with recipients of grants and contracts in the West Bank and Gaza, according to materials presented at the meeting and made available to The Post by a contractor organization on the condition that it not be identified.

While awaiting results from the pilot program, the administration will review comments it receives through the end of next month and seek input from Congress and the foreign aid fund community, the officials said.

The global vetting idea grew out of a congressional amendment in 2003 that required the secretary of state to "take all appropriate steps" to ensure that U.S. funds in the West Bank and Gaza do not reach any person or group that "advocates, plans, sponsors, engages in or has engaged in terrorist activities."

A subsequent Government Accountability Office report criticized USAID's implementation of that program. Also pushing USAID to take action, according to its Tuesday presentation, was a recent report by Palestinian Media Watch, an Israel-based organization, that Al-Quds Open University -- a U.S. aid recipient -- "hosts branches of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations."

The organization said the university had received in $100,000 in 2006 in "in-kind" aid from USAID, and it also complained that USAID planned to provide $2.4 million in scholarships for about 2,000 Palestinian students without a guarantee that recipients are not "members of the Hamas or Islamic Jihad student unions, have participated in their events, or have given any support to Hamas or Islamic Jihad, including voting for them in the council elections."


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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