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David S. Cohen, Undersecretary, Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen, Undersecretary, Terrorism and Financial Intellige... David S. Cohen, Undersecretary, Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen, Undersecr...

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2013 Security / Treasury Department

David S. Cohen, Undersecretary, Terrorism and Financial Intelligence

photo of Nancy Cook
July 16, 2013

Cohen's job sounds like something out of a James Bond movie, minus the fancy cars and attractive sidekicks. He oversees the work of roughly 750 government employees across agencies that track so-called illicit finance, both internationally and in the U.S.; as a result of their findings, they also propose economic sanctions against countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Cohen spends his days trying to track the flow of money that's used to buy drugs or weapons of mass destruction, or uncovering money-laundering schemes. It's a unique niche within the seemingly staid Treasury Department—and one that did not exist pre-9/11. "I like to describe what we do as protecting the U.S. financial system from the risk of illicit finance," he says. Cohen arrived at his position through a fairly typical D.C. path: law school, a court clerkship, and several years in a private law firm. He first worked at the Treasury Department toward the end of the Clinton administration, in the general counsel's office alongside Neal Wolin, Treasury's current deputy secretary. He returned again in 2009 after seven years at a D.C. law firm, where his work focused on anti-money-laundering and on sanctions compliance, as well as civil and criminal investigations. Cohen, 50, grew up in Massachusetts and holds an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a law degree from Yale.

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