Friday, June 23, 2006

CIA/Treasury Program Accesses Bank Data

This is probably how the CIA was able to discover and empty some of the foreign bank accounts of Saddam Hussein and his sons immediately preceding the March 2003 attack on Iraq.

The New York Times is saying it only targets suspected Al-Qaeda associates.

Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials.

The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry, a Belgian cooperative that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas and into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database...

The program is grounded in part on the president's emergency economic powers, (Stuart Levey, an under secretary at the Treasury Department) said, and multiple safeguards have been imposed to protect against any unwarranted searches of Americans' records.

The program, however, is a significant departure from typical practice in how the government acquires Americans' financial records. Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication)...

Swift's database provides a rich hunting ground for government investigators. Swift is a crucial gatekeeper, providing electronic instructions on how to transfer money among 7,800 financial institutions worldwide. The cooperative is owned by more than 2,200 organizations, and virtually every major commercial bank, as well as brokerage houses, fund managers and stock exchanges, uses its services. Swift routes more than 11 million transactions each day, most of them across borders...

Treasury officials said Swift was exempt from American laws restricting government access to private financial records because the cooperative was considered a messaging service, not a bank or financial institution.

But at the outset of the operation, Treasury and Justice Department lawyers debated whether the program had to comply with such laws before concluding that it did not, people with knowledge of the debate said. Several outside banking experts, however, say that financial privacy laws are murky and sometimes contradictory and that the program raises difficult legal and public policy questions...

L. Richard Fischer, a Washington lawyer who wrote a book on banking privacy and is regarded as a leading expert in the field, said he was troubled that the Treasury Department would use broad subpoenas to demand large volumes of financial records for analysis. Such a program, he said, appears to do an end run around bank-privacy laws that generally require the government to show that the records of a particular person or group are relevant to an investigation.

"There has to be some due process," Mr. Fischer said. "At an absolute minimum, it strikes me as inappropriate."...

Because of privacy concerns and the potential for abuse, the government sought the data only for terrorism investigations and prohibited its use for tax fraud, drug trafficking or other inquiries, the officials said.

Looking too closely in those directions probably would have resulted in unwanted attention being focused on friends or associates of the administration.

4 Comments:

Blogger jmnlman said...

the strange thing is all the whining about making a public from the ministrations perspective. Can't exactly see how knowing about this the terrorists could avoid it unless I suppose they bank elsewhere.

6/23/2006 7:31 PM  
Blogger Meatball One said...

LOL, Je conviens. That thought has crossed my meatballian mind many a time.

Finger print forensics are old news but it still catches the best of the crooks.

6/23/2006 8:41 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...

jmnlman:

An effort to elude this type of surveillance is probably why they have increasingly relied on converting their lucre into gold and diamonds.

6/23/2006 8:54 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...

M1:

The boyz aren't gonna do anything that interferes with their skullduggerous moneymaking wayz.

6/23/2006 8:59 PM  

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