What is OFAC?
What is OFAC and what does it do?
The Office of Foreign Assets Control administers and enforces economic sanctions programs primarily against countries and
groups of individuals, such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers. The sanctions can be either comprehensive or selective,
using the blocking of assets and trade restrictions to accomplish foreign policy and national security goals.
How long has OFAC been around?
The Treasury Department has a long history of dealing with sanctions. Prior to the War of 1812, Secretary of the Treasury
Gallatin administered sanctions imposed against Great Britain for the harassment of American sailors. In 1861, during the
Civil War, Congress passed a "Trading With the Enemy Act," which prohibited transactions with the Confederacy,
called for the forfeiture of goods involved in such trade, and provided a licensing regime under rules and regulations administered
by Treasury. The Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917 ("TWEA") made that Civil War legislation "modern"
for World War I.
OFAC is the successor organization to the Office of Foreign Funds Control (the "OFFC"), which was established
at the advent of World War II following the German invasion of Norway in 1940. The OFFC's initial objective in acting under
TWEA was to prevent Nazi use of occupied countries' holdings of foreign exchange and to prevent forced repatriation of funds
belonging to nationals of those countries. These controls were later extended to protect assets of other invaded countries.
After the United States formally entered World War II, the OFFC became the major American program of economic warfare against
the Axis powers, blocking enemy assets and prohibiting foreign trade and financial transactions. Those assets would also
serve as a future source of war reparations.
The OFFC program was administered by the Secretary of the Treasury throughout the war. After the cessation of hostilities,
most foreign property subject to protective blocking was gradually released by licenses under the Foreign Funds Control
Regulations. Most enemy property was vested by the U.S. Government during and immediately after the war. Responsibility
for administering the FFC Regulations was transferred to the Attorney General (Office of Alien Property), effective October
1, 1948. All matters relating to the World War II vesting program remain at the Justice Department under the supervision
of the Office of Alien Property Custodian. OFAC itself was formally created in December 1950, following the entry of China
into the Korean War, when President Truman declared a national emergency under TWEA and blocked all Chinese and North Korean
assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction.