A report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy documents that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided funds to institutions controlled by Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in defiance of guidelines issued by President Bush and Congress

The institute revealed that USAID has failed to screen applicants for U.S. funding to ensure that they were not linked to Hamas and other groups on the State Department terrorist list.

“An aid organization by nature and design, USAID is focused more on dispersing aid than on vetting the partner and subpartner organizations through which that aid is distributed on the ground,” the institute said in a report entitled “Better Late Than Never:Keeping USAID Funds out of Terrorist Hands,” authored by former Treasury Department official Matthew Levitt.

The url for the report is: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC05.php?CID=2653

Until 2003, USAID approved U.S. funding for charities in the West Bank linked to Hamas, the report said. The institute cited so-called charity committees in the West Bank towns of Hebron, Jenin, Kalkilya, Nablus and Tulkarm.

USAID relayed the unspecified funds despite a November 2001 memorandum sent by the FBI to the Treasury Department that warned against any such allocations. In March 2002, documents seized from Palestinian offices by Israel’s military exposed additional Hamas links to these charities.

In March 2007, Congress demanded an explanation for USAID’s allocation of more than $140,000 to the Hamas-controlled Islamic University of Gaza. At that time, the State Department claimed that it was not violating the Treasury Department’s ban, citing an assessment by the U.S. embassy and the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem that the Islamic University was “independent.”

“But the university’s extensive ties to Hamas were publicly available and well documented at the time USAID vetted it,” the report said. “Yet, only after congressional and media scrutiny exposed the taxpayer-funded awards to the Hamas-linked institution was USAID funding for the university terminated.”

The report also showed how USAID failed to sufficiently examine the background of applicants. In many cases, USAID lacked basic information on individuals and organizations, which hampered any screening effort. “USAID did not even establish procedures to verify the accuracy of individual’s names, such as requiring some official identification document,” the report said.

In March 2006, USAID eliminated a requirement to periodically reevaluate aid recipients after initial clearance, the report said. Levitt, citing a study by the Government Accountability Office, wrote that USAID’s new policy ensured that the State Department would remain “unaware” of Hamas and other insurgency takeovers of Palestinian charities. Under pressure from Congress, USAID has demanded that aid applicants provide details of principal officers and other employees.

“A truly robust system of vetting USAID partners is vital to promoting U.S. foreign policy and facilitating continued U.S. aid in places such as the West Bank and Gaza,” the report said.