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Libya sanctions: Three days to freeze $32 billion

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"They took WHAT?" (Photo by Mahmud Turkia/Getty Images)

The Washington Post just posted a great story looking inside the Treasury Department’s mad dash to freeze $32 billion in assets held by Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. Treasury employees worked nearly nonstop to quickly target Libyan assets in 72 hours — a process that would have taken weeks or months in previous years.

Several things were on Treasury’s side: Valuable lessons learned from previous economic sanctions, the discovery that the $100 million in assets they believed Gaddafi held was actually 300 times greater, and the rise of electronic banking networks that made it easier to track and crack down on the funds.

But Treasury also had dedicated public servants who seized their chance to make history, as this quote from Office of Foreign Asset Control Director Adam Szubin shows:

Szubin said the effort was “incredibly intense, but in the best way.”

“This is what we’re here to do, is for moments like this when there is a crisis. I don’t know what more you could ask as a career civil servant than the White House turning to you and saying, ‘We need you. We need you to move incredibly fast. How quickly can you deliver?’ ”

These are the kind of stories that can make it easier for agencies to recruit new employees. After all, you can’t do that in the private sector.

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State Dept.: Get out of Libya

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All hell is breaking loose in Libya, and the State Department this afternoon ordered non-essential employees and employees’ family members to evacuate the country.

In a travel warning posted online, State also advised any U.S. citizens staying in the country to avoid demonstrations and leave an area immediately if a demonstration begins.

State issued a similar warning for Egypt Feb. 1, as the protests that culminated in Hosni Mubarak’s resignation started to grow and some were concerned about the potential for violence. But the situation in Libya already is much uglier than Cairo ever was.

Hundreds of protesters may have already been killed, and there are reports that helicopters are firing into crowds and the Libyan navy is shelling Tripoli. Al Jazeera reports that two pilots — reportedly “senior colonels” — defected to Malta after refusing orders to bomb protesters. And Moammar Gaddafi may already have fled.

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