September 24, 2023

President Joe Biden makes remarks on the April job report in the East Room of the White House in Washington, United States, May 7, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden puts global anti-corruption efforts at the heart of US foreign policy and issues a new policy to federal agencies to prioritize efforts to address the issue.

The instructions came in the form of a memorandum published Thursday on the National Security Study, the first of Biden’s presidency. The memo officially identifies the fight against corruption as a key national security concern.

The memo is important because it publicly tells federal agencies that they need to “improve their anti-corruption game,” said an administrative officer, speaking to reporters about the background to the policy.

The memo leads a 200-day multi-agency review to improve anti-corruption measures, culminating in a report and recommendations to the President.

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The official said large parts of the policy will focus on financial crime, including steps to modernize existing anti-corruption laws to combat cryptocurrencies and cybercrime.

“We view crypto as a means of illicit funding,” said the official, “but these new moves are by no means limited to new technologies like crypto.”

The official also said the effort would likely include updates to the Bank Secrecy Act, the primary means law enforcement agencies can use to keep track of how money flows through financial institutions.

“We will look for ideas on how these systems can be modernized to respond to new technology,” said the official. The memo does not name individual countries, specific currencies, or specific types of assets.

According to the memo, the federal government will also “robustly” implement the new rules introduced in January that require American companies to report their beneficial owners to the Treasury Department. This is part of an effort to “reduce offshore financial secrecy, improve information sharing and, if necessary, identify the need for new reforms”.

The memo also identifies the need to combat strategic corruption by foreign organizations and governments “and their domestic collaborators”, in part by “closing loopholes used by these actors to interfere with democratic processes in the United States and abroad” .

This is a barely disguised reference to the efforts of Russia, Iran and other opponents in recent years to exploit loopholes in the laws regulating foreign lobbying and political activities to fund disinformation campaigns and influence US elections.

The anti-corruption fight is part of a broader change towards a new “foreign policy for the middle class”. The strategy, developed in part by Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, emphasizes how foreign and domestic politics can be integrated into a new middle ground between traditional conservative and liberal approaches to global affairs.

Middle class foreign policy aims to ensure that globalization, trade, human rights and military power are used for the benefit of working Americans, not just for billionaires and multinational corporations, but not for abstract ideological reasons either.