WASHINGTON, June 22 – 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 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 or into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database.
Viewed by the Bush administration as a vital tool, the program has played a hidden role in domestic and foreign terrorism investigations since 2001 and helped in the capture of the most wanted Qaeda figure in Southeast Asia, the officials said. The program, run out of the Central Intelligence Agency and overseen by the Treasury Department, “has provided us with a unique and powerful window into the operations of terrorist networks and is, without doubt, a legal and proper use of our authorities,” Stuart Levey, an undersecretary at the Treasury Department, said in an interview Thursday. The program is grounded in part on the president’s emergency economic powers, Mr. Levey 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.
The Bush administration has made no secret of its campaign to disrupt terrorist financing, and President Bush, Treasury officials and others have spoken publicly about those efforts. Administration officials, however, asked The New York Times not to publish this article, saying that disclosure of the Swift program could jeopardize its effectiveness. They also enlisted several current and former officials, both Democrat and Republican, to vouch for its value.
Bill Keller, the newspaper’s executive editor, said: “We have listened closely to the administration’s arguments for withholding this information, and given them the most serious and respectful consideration. We remain convinced that the administration’s extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public interest.”
Brian at Iowa Voice nails it:
The only public interest being served here is the agenda by those on the anti-war left and in the media, to tell you in mainstream America that the government is abusing you, when they’re not.
Shame on you, NYTimes.
Once again, the media puts the ‘public interest’ ahead of national security interests. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought it was in the public interest for the gov’t to be vigilant against terrorists … apparently the NYT and LAT disagree.
(Originally posted 6-22-06 at 9:29 pm ET)
- Memo to the NYT/IHT: Trying to detect unusual calling patterns is not “eavesdropping”
- NSA ‘scandal’ leak fallout continues – AT&T and Verizon being sued
- Latest NSA scandal leaves Americans unfazed
- The ACLU has a database of its own – and more NSA news
- The latest non-scandal scandal news involving the NSA
- FDR and domestic surveillance
- Sen. Russ Feingold demagogues NSA surveillance ‘scandal’
- It doesn’t get any better than Jeff Goldstein (re: Feingold’s stunt)
- Senator Russ Feingold calls for censure of Bush
- House approves Patriot Act, Senate panel rejects broad NSA inquiry
- NSA Surveillance Program ‘scandal’ – update
- Congressional probe of NSA surveillance may not happen afterall
- Admin briefs Congress on NSA surveillance
- Thomas Sowell on the NSA ‘scandal’ controversy
- NSA ‘scandal’ fallout: convicted terrorist conspirators wanting cases thrown out
- Intelligence officials: NSA leak has undermined ability to fight terrorism
- On politicizing the Patriot Act and the NSA ‘scandal’
- NYT: NSA scandal is worse than WWII Japanese internment camps
- Link between disposable phone sale surge and NSA leak?