The Central Intelligence Agency is gathering the details of financial transactions made by millions of Americans, using the Patriot Act to force companies to divulge records about millions of money orders and transfers.
Only international cash instruments such as money orders seem to be covered by the program reported by The New York Times. Bank transactions don’t seem to be affected.
Instead, the CIA targeted money transfer companies like Western Union which many immigrants use to send money back to the old country. The agency’s excuse for the program is that such transfers can be used for terrorist financing.
“There is a longstanding legal baseline for the US government to collect financial information,” Juan Zarate, a former White House and Treasury Official, told The Times. Zarate refused to acknowledge the existence of the CIA collection program.
CIA Monitoring of Financial Transactions Detailed
Even though it doesn’t divulge any sources The Times article details the CIA’s monitoring of money transfers. Some of the information includes:
- Section 215 of the Patriot Act gives the federal government the power to pressure businesses to turn over records for counterterrorism purposes.
- The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA Court; which authorized NSA metadata collection efforts, granted unidentified federal agencies permission to use this power on at least two occasions.
- When the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked to see details of the ACLU rulings, it was denied permission. The ACLU is suing the government to get details of those rulings.
- Even though Western Union is the only company named in the article it is safe to assume that Western Union’s main competitor, MoneyGram, has also been targeted.
- Western Union would not confirm or deny it was being forced to turn over records. “We collect consumer information to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act and other laws,” Western Union spokeswoman Luella Chavey D’Angelo told The Times. “In doing so, we also protect our customers’ privacy.”
Federal Agencies Could be Monitoring Your Financial Transactions
The Western Union program could be the tip of the iceberg. Federal agencies could be monitoring all or most of the financial transactions of most Americans.
“It suggests very strongly that there are other programs of surveillance that the public has a right to know about,” ACLU lawyer Alexander Abdo said of the CIA effort.
The CIA and other federal agencies also could be monitoring bank transactions, stock transactions, investment accounts and online money transfer services such as PayPal. Federal agencies could even be monitoring freelance services such as Elance and auction sites like eBay.
National Security Agency Director General Keith B. Alexander, in testimony before Congress, admitted in Congressional testimony that such programs exist. Alexander was responding to a question from US Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) who wanted a list of all surveillance programs.
“You know, that’s of course a global thing that others use as well, but for ours, it’s just that way,” Alexander responded.
Alexander may have been referring to the Global Telecoms Exploitation initiative in which the GCHQ (the British equivalent of NSA) tapped the fiber-optic cables through which most electronic financial transactions move. The British newspaper The Guardian has alleged that GCHQ’s efforts were actually funded by the NSA.
If critics of the NSA are correct, all of our financial transactions could be monitored by intelligence or law enforcement agencies.