Domestic Spying – Bank Info

This page is a collection of info about the Bush Administration’s monitoring of bank account and money transfer information as it traveled through a European “messenger service” called SWIFT. I fully expect that this is only the beginning of the story. Feel free to pass along any other links, info, and research you may have on the topic. This page is under construction!

Posts from Lift While Climbing:

9/29/06: Bank Spying Update

6/27/06: Privacy International Files Suit (Against SWIFT)

6/24/06: Finance Expert: The Bank Data Spying Program Has Been Public

6/23/06: Snow: I Got Your Legal Authority, I Got It Right Heeeere

Outside Posts, Blogosphere & Indymedia:

6/27/06: Dennis Persica writes, “ Consider the implications of this hypothetical scenario: Agents search the files inside The New York Times building. Perhaps some of those files are carted out; maybe even computer drives are taken. Such a scenario would make the Pentagon Papers dispute look like a minor disagreement among gentlemen… If it wanted to get really tough, the government could treat the Times as an enemy collaborator, seal off its headquarters and move toward seizing its assets.” When the FBI Raids The Times.

6/27/06: TruthDig writes about “A Disgraceful Attack on The New York Times” arguing that, “The Bush administration’s jihad against newspapers that reported on a secret program to monitor the personal-banking records of unsuspecting citizens is more important than the original story.”

6/26/06: John Nichols of the Nation writes writes, “Leaks about plans for troop redeployment are fine with the president because they could help him and his congressional allies politically. Leaks about the administration spying on citizens, on the other hand, are ‘disgraceful’ because they could cause the president and his Republicans acolytes political harm.

LALARRY lays out the three tongue-in-cheek reasons not to be worried about the program. Oversight is done from three angles:

  1. A private banking consortium headquartered in Brussels that told the governement here’s all the data take what you need, but had veto power over what the govt could see. The govt cited one instance where one search was inappropriate by the auditiors. But it did not cite any instance where SWIFT officials said the US officials would have to present more evidence before getting access to specific transaction data.
  2. A renowned private consulting firm, Booz Allen, operating on a government contract.
  3. Lawyers from the Department of Treasury and the Department of Justice, the depts. in the executive branch authorizing and conducting the operations.

6/24/06: Pundita writes that the SWIFT info is likely to be used to catch “US companies creating undocumented offshore shell corporations, international crime syndicates doing money laundering, and rouge regimes purchasing stuff for nukes.”

6/23/06: Reports of US Monitoring of SWIFT Transactions Are Not New: The Practice Has Been Known By Terrorism Financing Experts For Some Time, Counterterrorism Blog

6/23/06: U.S. Government Terrorist Financing Initiative Involving SWIFT, Counterterrorism Blog

Outside Posts, MSM:

6/27/06: Bush condemns leak of bank program, CNN

6/25/06: Bush May Allow Wiretapping Review: Specter, Boston Globe (“I believe there needs to be judicial oversight on wiretapping where you hear conversations where there is an expectation of privacy,” Specter said. “There is not the same privacy interest in bank records.”)6/25/06: Financial Search Raises Privacy Concerns, WaPost

6/25/06: Letter From Bill Keller (Editor of the NY Times) On The Times Banking Records Report, NY Times (“The question we start with as journalists is not ‘why publish?’ but ‘why would we withhold information of significance?'”)

6/23/06: Bank Data is Siften By U.S. in Secret to Block Terror, NY Times6/21/06: Book: First Data Gave Feds Records, Denver Post

Outside Posts, Sources and Resources:

The Center for Media and Democracy’s Sourcewatch project has a page tracking the subject. This includes a large number of links to articles.

Booz, Allen, Hamilton: The private company hired to sift the bank data acquired from SWIFT for the administration. At least one of their employees has already been removed due to improper usage of this mined data. R James Woolsey (Former CIA director), Richard Pearle (formerly of Pentagon’s Civilian Defense Board), Dov Zakheim (former Pentagon comptroller) are all afiiliated with the company. The Salon has a good piece on Booz Allen called, “Grand Old Profiteering.”

Right to Financial Privacy Act: “The Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978 protects the confidentiality of personal financial records by creating a statutory Fourth Amendment protection for bank records. The Act was essentially a reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1976 ruling in United States v. Miller, where the Court found that bank customers had no legal right to privacy in financial information held by financial institutions. 425 U.S. 435 (1976). Generally, the RFPA requires that federal government agencies provide individuals with a notice and an opportunity to object before a bank or other specified institution can disclose personal financial information to a federal government agency, often for law enforcement purposes.” The Electronic Privacy Information Center has a great one-page primer on the Act.

SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications): Institution that allowed access of bank records to the Bush Administration. At least one class action lawsuit has been filed against SWIFT for privacy violation. SWIFT’s letter to its members after the public disclosure of its participation in this program is available here.

Government’s use of private info:

Solveig Singleton of the libertarian Cato Institute testified before Congress:

Government cannot be trusted with the power to collect complex and private facts about our lives without a showing of probable cause. History shows that government will not observe safeguards intended to prevent the abuse of the power to collect information:

During World War II, U.S. census data was used to identify Japanese-Americans and place them in internment camps.

When Social Security numbers were introduced in 1935, the public was repeatedly assured that they would be used only to ensure that workers were paying the payroll tax; they are now used throughout the federal government and private sector for many purposes entirely unrelated to social security.

In 1995 over 500 Internal Revenue Service agents were caught illegally snooping through tax records of thousands of Americans, including personal friends and celebrities. Only five employees were fired for this misconduct.

In response, the IRS developed new privacy protection measures. These measures were useless, with hundreds of IRS agents being caught in early 1997, again snooping through the tax records of acquaintances and celebrities.

The Clinton administration reportedly obtained hundreds of FBI files, including those of:

  • Billy R. Dale: Fired Travel Office Director
  • Marlin Fitzwater: Bush’s press secretary
  • Ken Duberstein: Reagan’s chief of staff
  • James Baker: Bush’s secretary of state
  • Tony Blankley: Newt Gingrich’s spokesman
  1. […] With all the huffy-puffy chest-pounding against the NYTimes disclosure of the administration’s domestic bank spying program (”it put Americans in danger because terrorists are now more aware of how we’re tracking them!”) it seems the Wall Street Journal somehow flew under the radar for an even more direct endagerment of Americans abroad. […]

  2. […] Back in June, Liftwhileclimbing did some reporting on a program between U.S. authorities and Belgian Financial records company SWIFT, in which data regarding financial transactions was turned over to U.S. authorities in the name of “anti-terrorism.”  Today, Washington Post gave an update of the situation: A secret U.S. program to monitor millions of international financial transactions for terrorist links violated Belgian and European law and will have to be changed, the Belgian government said Thursday. The decision, announced by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, came as the country’s Data Privacy Commission released a 20-page report finding that the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, had improperly turned over data from millions of global financial transactions to U.S. anti-terrorism investigators. […]

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  4. Hello, I am plaintiffs’ counsel in Walker v. SWIFT, Northern District of Illinois.

    Today, almost one year exactly since the day the NYT broke the story, a Chicago judge has ruled against SWIFT on its motion to dismiss this case. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs have standing to sue and can pursue their claims alleging violations of the Fourth Amendment and Right to Financial Privacy Act.

  5. The U.S. government has allowed agencies to screw around with bank data and even change the balance of accounts. When the targeted citizen goes to the bank for business he/she can be arrested for some kind of financial crime which could make them open for investigations. Bank of American is one of the banks that work with the FBI and has done this more than once. The bank isn’t prosecuted for fraud and the FBI is too busy investigating the poor person accused of a federal financial crime to even be looked at as breaking the law. They did this against revolutionary and radical groups in the 60’s.

  6. I can’t believe how far privacy invading has gone in the U.S. over the past 7 years.

    Im so glad i live in Canada.
    Although its not all good here either.
    Especially because – sorry not attacking anyone personally – the Damn freakin USA is always on our back putting pressure on us to do things their way, especially when it comes to movement/travelling along the border. I hate being bossed around like this.

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