(CEP News) Washington � Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence Stuart Levey told the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday that in the four years since his office was established, the use of financial information has become critical in the global war on terror.

Because terrorist networks must use the same systems to finance their operations as those that support global economic security and prosperity, information on illicit activity is available to investigators who know where to look, Levey said.

"Transactions by those engaged in threatening conduct typically leave a trail of detailed information that we can follow to identify key actors and map their networks," Levey explained. When his office was established in 2004, the Treasury became the first finance ministry in the world to develop in-house intelligence to use this information, he added.

"The Treasury then considers this information with an eye toward potential action," he said. "Be it a designation, an advisory to the private sector, or a conversation to alert the private sector and government officials in another country to a particular threat."

Because the Treasury's actions on an international level specifically target individuals or entities that are suspected of financing terrorist activities, Levey said it is typically easier to persuade foreign governments to co-operate in imposing sanctions.

"In the case of broad, country-wide sanctions that are often perceived as political statements, it can be difficult to persuade other governments to join us in taking action," Levey said. "It is difficult for another government, even one that is not a close political ally, to oppose isolating factors who are demonstrably engaged in conduct that threatens global security or humanitarian interests."

An example of a recent sanctions action was the Treasury's designation of Iranian national banks Melli, Mellat and Sepah as terrorism facilitators. The Treasury's actions requested other international banks cut off relations with these Iranian banks, with the aim of choking off the flow of funds to any terrorist organizations the banks might be supporting.

Additionally, strategies as these have helped with "difficult diplomatic negotiations" with hostile states such as North Korea and Iran, Levey said.

By Michelle Zimmermann, edited by Steve Campbell and Nancy Girgis