By Emily Flitter
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The leader of a Manhattan-based non-profit that tries to put pressure on Iran by publicly criticizing people and firms who do business there announced on Monday he is launching a new non-profit devoted to tracking terrorist financing.
The announcement comes less than two weeks after an unusual move by the U.S. government to intervene in a private lawsuit against the group, United Against Nuclear Iran.
Mark Wallace, chief executive of UANI, said his new group, called the Counter Extremism Project, will employ teams of translators and researchers to identify terrorist organizations around the world along with their financial backers. It will then use publicity campaigns to name and shame the backers.
Wallace's group UANI has been employing a similar name-and-shame strategy to keep people and companies from doing business with Iran until UANI is satisfied that Iran has abandoned any nuclear weapons ambitions. A Greek businessman, Victor Restis, sued UANI in federal court last year for defamation after the group claimed Restis had been exporting oil from Iran.
On Sept. 12, lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department moved to have that case dismissed, making a rare intervention in a private lawsuit and invoking the state secrets privilege.
The Justice Department lawyers claimed the suit could "cause harm to national security" if it were allowed to proceed. They did not offer any description of the nature of the secret information that might be revealed in the case.
"We want to harness the tools and lessons of many of the groups that have come before us," Wallace said at a press conference announcing the launch of the Counter Extremism Project.
He said the group, which already has operations in New York and Brussels, planned to open more offices around the world. He said it would try to "partner" with governments and "supplement" their efforts to combat terrorism, but did not give details about how that would happen.
Wallace said the group will use publicly available information as well as subscription-based data services to identify and track sources of terrorist financing.
He said private donors were funding the new group, but he declined to reveal their identities or the identities of UANI's backers, saying his decision not to disclose them was "really about safety and security rather than secrecy."
UANI and the Counter Extremism Project will have offices in the same space in Manhattan, Wallace said. The groups share some of the same advisory board members, including Gary Samore, the former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism, and August Hanning, the former director of Germany's federal intelligence service.
(Reporting By Emily Flitter; Editing by David Gregorio)