From the June 2006 Idaho Observer:

Bush administration has secret access to worldwide banking data

On June 23, 2006, Jeannine Aversa of The Associated Press reported that "The Bush administration has been quietly tracking people suspected of bankrolling terrorism through a secret program that gives the government access to a massive data base of international financial transactions."

Treasury Department officials claim that they obtain financial records of suspected terrorism financiers under subpoena through the international banking backdoor service known as "SWIFT." Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levy justified the snooping as " "a legal and proper use of our authorities."

Aversa quoted Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino as stating that, "Since immediately following 9/11, the American government has taken every legal measure to prevent another attack on our country. One of the most important tools in the fight against terror is our ability to choke off funds for the terrorists."

Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), is a cooperative based in Belgium that handles financial message traffic from 7,800 financial institutions in more than 200 countries and routes more than 11 million messages each day, Aversa explained. U.S. counterterrorism "experts" in the Treasury Department and the CIA query the system with the name of suspects to access their financial transaction history.

Though the counterterrorism crowd claims SWIFT is not being used to access private, individual banking transactions inside the U.S. (such as ATM transfers and bank deposits and withdrawals), it can be used for that purpose. SWIFT reportedly does not initiate any transactions, it only reports them.

"Our subpoena of terrorist-related records from Swift has provided us with a unique and powerful window into the operations of terrorist networks," Levey said.

"The existence of the program was first reported Thursday night (June 22) on the web sites of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal," Aversa reported.

While contributing to the newspaper reports, Aversa reported that "both Levey and Perino expressed concern that disclosure of the program could undermine efforts to track terrorism-related activities."

"We know the terrorists pay attention to our strategy to fight them and now have another piece of the puzzle of how we are fighting them," Perino said.

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