Tags: cia | nsa | money | spying

Report: CIA Spies on Americans' Money Transfers

Thursday, 14 Nov 2013 10:19 PM

By Cathy Burke

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The database of a 9/11-inspired CIA program collecting information on international money transfers includes the financial and personal information of millions of Americans, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The program is carried out under the same provision of the Patriot Act that enables the National Security Agency to collect American phone records, and is authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Journal reported.

The Journal reported the surveillance court authorized the FBI to work with the CIA to collect information on international transactions — including those of Americans — as part of the Central Intelligence Agency's anti-terror probes.

The money-transfer program was apparently inspired by details of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror plot, in which the al Qaeda hijackers moved some $300,000 to U.S.-based bank accounts without arousing suspicion, the Journal noted.

The Journal pointed out 9/11 plot "facilitator" Ramzi Binalshibh made a series of transfers, totaling more than $10,000, from Germany to the U.S., where they were collected by hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi. Two transfers were through MoneyGram and two through Western Union.

After the attacks, the CIA worked with Western Union, which voluntarily helped set up a program to collect data on money transfers between the U.S. and overseas, as well as purely foreign exchanges, the Journal noted.

And since then, the Journal reported, the CIA program has been useful in discovering terrorist relationships and financial patterns, and when there's suspected terror activity in the U.S., the information is passed to the FBI.

The records don't include any domestic-only transactions; most of the records are exclusively foreign, the Journal reported.

But the data include money transfers to-and-from the U.S., and in some cases, goes beyond basic financial records — such as Social Security numbers, the newspaper reported.

It's that aspect that raised concerns among lawmakers who found out about the program over the summer, the Journal reported.

The CIA declined to comment on specific programs but said its operations comply with the law and face oversight from Congress, the FISA Court and internal watchdogs.

The FBI declined to comment.

The Journal said wire-transfer giant Western Union participated in the program, but the full roster of participants wasn't known.

"We collect consumer information to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act and other laws," Western Union spokeswoman Luella D'Angelo told the Journal, naming a law that requires banks to report suspicious transactions. "In doing so, we also protect our consumers' privacy and work to prevent consumer fraud."

A spokeswoman for MoneyGram, another large money-transfer company, told the Journal, "We have reporting obligations related to suspicious transactions, money laundering and other financial crimes around the world.

"The laws to which we are subject generally prohibit us from discussing details," she said, adding: "We value our customers' privacy and work hard to protect it."

Money-transfer companies are "highly, highly aware of their obligations under the Patriot Act," Robert Pargac of Navigant Consulting Inc. told the Journal.

But like the NSA collection of phone data, some critics believe it's time Patriot Act snooping became more transparent.

"The public has a right to know about the broad outlines of how the government is collecting information on them," Timothy Edgar, a former top privacy lawyer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Council in the Bush and Obama administrations, told the Journal.

"As a matter of basic good governance, the government should be more transparent about these kinds of collection programs."

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