The Corner

More Heavies Needed

Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey (last name rhymes with “heavy”) has been levying the finances of Iran, North Korea and al-Qaeda for years. News comes this morning that he’ll soon be leaving his post.

The White House assures no change in policy, but if you believe that “people are policy,” you can’t help but feel differently.

Levey left the Justice Department in 2004 to become the first head of Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. He was always cutting new paths. Keeping Levey at his post was perhaps the best move of Obama’s transition.

Levey appeared often before my committee in public and classified sessions. He has heard out my views in private, and is good about picking up the phone and giving a heads-up before Treasury takes action. This didn’t change with administrations. He views Congress as a potential ally, not a headache — at least that was my perception. His successor should take note. We want to help.

The undersecretary travelled relentlessly to financial capitals in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, giving foreign financial institutions a choice: “If you conduct certain business with Iran, you risk losing access to the U.S. financial system,” a near commercial death sentence. His title of “Treasury Undersecretary” and reputation as a “heavy” gave this campaign of “persuasion” muscle. His successor needs to make his name too in London, Hong Kong, and Dubai.

As I’ve documented, Levey’s hardball tactics were honed on North Korea. By publicizing its counterfeiting and drug running, and spotlighting Macau’s Banco Delta Asia as its facilitator, Treasury led banks around the world to stop business with North Korea, freezing out Pyongyang from the international financial system. Regrettably, a fading Bush administration State Department, desperate for a diplomatic deal, ordered the boot off North Korea’s financial neck. So today North Korea drives ahead with its nuclear weapons program and diplomacy languishes.

We face serious nonproliferation and terrorist threats. Levey leaves behind a new set of potentially powerful financial tools. Will the Obama administration give them full force?

No one is indispensible, so the saying goes, but this one sure feels like a loss.

Rep. Ed Royce is a Republican from California.

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