Press Trust of India
New York, 15 November
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is secretly building a huge database of international money transfers both into and out of the USA, including the financial and personal data of millions of Americans, despite concerns about surveillance programmes.
The CIA is secretly collecting bulk records of money transfers handled by companies like Western Union under the same law used by the National Security Agency for its huge database of phone records of Americans, a report in ‘The New York Times’ said.
“The CIA financial records programme, which the officials said was authorised by provisions in the Patriot Act and overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, offers evidence that the extent of government data collection programmes is not fully known and that the national debate over privacy and security may be incomplete,” the report said.
Purely domestic transfers or bank-to-bank transactions appear to be kept out of the data collection, several officials said.
The officials suggested that the surveillance court had imposed rules withholding the identities of any Americans from the data the CIA sees, requiring a tie to a terrorist organisation before a search may be run, and mandating that the data be discarded after a certain number of years.
Other US officials did not acknowledge whether the programme exists.
Several officials said more than one other bulk collection programme has yet to come to light, the report stated.
“The Intelligence community collects bulk data in a number of different ways under multiple authorities,” one unnamed intelligence official was quoted as saying in the report.
While declining to confirm if such a programme exists, CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency conducts lawful intelligence collection aimed at foreign and not domestic activities and this is subject to extensive oversight.
“The CIA protects the nation and upholds the privacy rights of Americans by ensuring that its Intelligence collection activities are focused on acquiring foreign Intelligence and counter-Intelligence in accordance with US laws,” he told the Times.
Juan Zarate, a White House and Treasury official under former President George W Bush, said unlike telecommunications information, there has been less sensitivity about collection of financial data since the government already gathers information on large transactions under the Bank Secrecy Act.
“There is a longstanding legal baseline for the US government to collect financial information,” Mr Zarate said.
A spokeswoman for Western Union did not directly say whether it had been ordered to turn over records in bulk, but said the company complies with legal requirements to provide information. “We collect consumer information to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act and other laws. In doing so, we also protect our consumers privacy,” spokesperson Luella Chavez D Angelo said.
A Justice Department white paper on the NSA’s call records programme, released in August, said communications logs are “a context” in which “collection of a large volume of data” is necessary to enable investigators to analyse links between terror suspects and their associates.
Lawmakers on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have been trying to gain more information about other bulk collection programmes.
In September, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking if the administration was collecting bulk records aside from phone data. He has yet to get a response.
Senators Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, had sought full accounting of every other national security programme that involves bulk collection of data at home or abroad, government officials said.