6/29/06 LOU DOBBS TONIGHT.... N Y TIMES Vs. Bush Admin....
e.VOTE report... easy to hack! (Much More)
Lou Dobbs Poll 6/29/06:
Do you believe that The New York Times, L.A. Times
and The Wall Street Journal SWIFT reports put at risk our national
Yes 19% 1577 votes
No 81% 6713 votes
Bill Keller of the New York Times:
"Publishing information is our job." (Nyt Via Ap)
Bank Data Is Sifted by U.S. in Secret
to Block Terror
By ERIC LICHTBLAU and JAMES RISEN
Published: June 23, 2006
WASHINGTON, June 22 — Under a secret Bush administration program
initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials
have gained access to financial records from a vast international
database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of
Americans and others in the United States, according to government and
Stuart Levey, an undersecretary at the Treasury Department, in a file
photo. He said the program "has provided us with a unique and powerful
window into the operations of terrorist networks."
From the Editor
Bill Keller's Letter to Readers
The executive editor of The Times responds to readers concerning the
publication of information about the government's examination of
international banking records.
Swift: Society for Worldwide Interbank
Graphic: A Money Transfer
Data provided by the program helped identify Uzair Paracha, a Brooklyn
man who was convicted on terrorism-related charges in 2005, officials
The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing
transactions of people suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda by reviewing
records from the nerve center of the global banking industry, a Belgian
cooperative that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks,
brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The records mostly
involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas and
into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions
confined to this country are not in the database.
Viewed by the Bush administration as a vital tool, the program has
played a hidden role in domestic and foreign terrorism investigations
since 2001 and helped in the capture of the most wanted Qaeda figure in
Southeast Asia, the officials said.
The program, run out of the Central Intelligence Agency and overseen by
the Treasury Department, "has provided us with a unique and powerful
window into the operations of terrorist networks and is, without doubt,
a legal and proper use of our authorities," Stuart Levey, an under
secretary at the Treasury Department, said in an interview on Thursday.
The program is grounded in part on the president's emergency economic
powers, Mr. Levey said, and multiple safeguards have been imposed to
protect against any unwarranted searches of Americans' records.
The program, however, is a significant departure from typical practice
in how the government acquires Americans' financial records. Treasury
officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas
to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad
administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative,
known as Swift.
That access to large amounts of confidential data was highly unusual,
several officials said, and stirred concerns inside the administration
about legal and privacy issues.
"The capability here is awesome or, depending on where you're sitting,
troubling," said one former senior counterterrorism official who
considers the program valuable. While tight controls are in place, the
official added, "the potential for abuse is enormous."
The program is separate from the National Security Agency's efforts to
eavesdrop without warrants and collect domestic phone records,
operations that have provoked fierce public debate and spurred lawsuits
against the government and telecommunications companies.
But all the programs grew out of the Bush administration's desire to
exploit technological tools to prevent another terrorist strike, and all
reflect attempts to break down longstanding legal or institutional
barriers to the government's access to private information about
Americans and others inside the United States.
Officials described the Swift program as the biggest and most
far-reaching of several secret efforts to trace terrorist financing.
Much more limited agreements with other companies have provided access
to A.T.M. transactions, credit card purchases and Western Union wire
payments, the officials said.
Nearly 20 current and former government officials and industry
executives discussed aspects of the Swift operation with The New York
Times on condition of anonymity because the program remains classified.
Some of those officials expressed reservations about the program, saying
that what they viewed as an urgent, temporary measure had become
permanent nearly five years later without specific Congressional
approval or formal authorization.
Data from the Brussels-based banking consortium, formally known as the
Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, has allowed
officials from the C.I.A., the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other
agencies to examine "tens of thousands" of financial transactions, Mr.
While many of those transactions have occurred entirely on foreign soil,
officials have also been keenly interested in international transfers of
money by individuals, businesses, charities and other groups under
suspicion inside the United States, officials said. A small fraction of
Swift's records involve transactions entirely within this country, but
Treasury officials said they were uncertain whether any had been
Swift executives have been uneasy at times about their secret role, the
government and industry officials said. By 2003, the executives told
American officials they were considering pulling out of the arrangement,
which began as an emergency response to the Sept. 11 attacks, the
officials said. Worried about potential legal liability, the Swift
executives agreed to continue providing the data only after top
officials, including Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal
Reserve, intervened. At that time, new controls were introduced.
Among the safeguards, government officials said, is an outside auditing
firm that verifies that the data searches are based on intelligence
leads about suspected terrorists. "We are not on a fishing expedition,"
Mr. Levey said. "We're not just turning on a vacuum cleaner and sucking
in all the information that we can."
Among the program's successes was the capture of an Al Qaeda operative
known as Hambali, believed to be the mastermind of the 2002 bombing of a
Bali resort, several officials said.
Swift and Treasury officials said they were aware of no abuses. But Mr.
Levey, the Treasury official, said one person had been removed from the
operation for conducting a search considered inappropriate.
Treasury officials said Swift was exempt from American laws restricting
government access to private financial records because the cooperative
was considered a messaging service, not a bank or financial institution.
But at the outset of the operation, Treasury and Justice Department
lawyers debated whether the program had to comply with such laws before
concluding that it did not, people with knowledge of the debate said.
Several outside banking experts, however, say that financial privacy
laws are murky and sometimes contradictory and that the program raises
difficult legal and public policy questions.
The Bush administration has made no secret of its campaign to disrupt
terrorist financing, and President Bush, Treasury officials and others
have spoken publicly about those efforts. Administration officials,
however, asked The New York Times not to publish this article, saying
that disclosure of the Swift program could jeopardize its effectiveness.
They also enlisted several current and former officials, both Democrat
and Republican, to vouch for its value.
Bill Keller, the newspaper's executive editor, said: "We have listened
closely to the administration's arguments for withholding this
information, and given them the most serious and respectful
consideration. We remain convinced that the administration's
extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial
data, however carefully targeted use of it may be, is a matter of public
Mr. Levey agreed to discuss the classified operation after the Times
editors told him of the newspaper's decision.
On Thursday evening, Dana Perino, deputy White House press secretary,
said: "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."
She added: "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. We also know they adapt their methods, which increases
the challenge to our intelligence and law enforcement officials."
Referring to the disclosure by The New York Times last December of the
National Security Agency's eavesdropping program, she said, "The
president is concerned that once again The New York Times has chosen to
expose a classified program that is working to protect our citizens."
Swift declined to discuss details of the program but defended its role
in written responses to questions. "Swift has fully complied with all
applicable laws," the consortium said. The organization said it insisted
that the data be used only for terrorism investigations and had narrowed
the scope of the information provided to American officials over time.
A Crucial Gatekeeper
Swift's database provides a rich hunting ground for government
investigators. Swift is a crucial gatekeeper, providing electronic
instructions on how to transfer money among 7,800 financial institutions
worldwide. The cooperative is owned by more than 2,200 organizations,
and virtually every major commercial bank, as well as brokerage houses,
fund managers and stock exchanges, uses its services. Swift routes more
than 11 million transactions each day, most of them across borders.
The cooperative's message traffic allows investigators, for example, to
track money from the Saudi bank account of a suspected terrorist to a
mosque in New York. Starting with tips from intelligence reports about
specific targets, agents search the database in what one official
described as a "24-7" operation. Customers' names, bank account numbers
and other identifying information can be retrieved, the officials said.
The data does not allow the government to track routine financial
activity, like A.T.M. withdrawals, confined to this country, or to see
bank balances, Treasury officials said. And the information is not
provided in real time — Swift generally turns it over several weeks
later. Because of privacy concerns and the potential for abuse, the
government sought the data only for terrorism investigations and
prohibited its use for tax fraud, drug trafficking or other inquiries,
the officials said.
The Treasury Department was charged by President Bush, in a September
2001 executive order, with taking the lead role in efforts to disrupt
terrorist financing. Mr. Bush has been briefed on the program and Vice
President Dick Cheney has attended C.I.A. demonstrations, the officials
said. The National Security Agency has provided some technical
While the banking program is a closely held secret, administration
officials have held classified briefings for some members of Congress
and the Sept. 11 commission, the officials said. More lawmakers were
briefed in recent weeks, after the administration learned The Times was
making inquiries for this article.
Swift's 25-member board of directors, made up of representatives from
financial institutions around the world, was previously told of the
program. The Group of 10's central banks, in major industrialized
countries, which oversee Swift, were also informed. It is not clear if
other network participants know that American intelligence officials can
examine their message traffic.
Because Swift is based overseas and has offices in the United States, it
is governed by European and American laws. Several international
regulations and policies impose privacy restrictions on companies that
are generally regarded as more stringent than those in this country.
United States law establishes some protections for the privacy of
Americans' financial data, but they are not ironclad. A 1978 measure,
the Right to Financial Privacy Act, has a limited scope and a number of
exceptions, and its role in national security cases remains largely
Several people familiar with the Swift program said they believed that
they were exploiting a "gray area" in the law and that a case could be
made for restricting the government's access to the records on Fourth
Amendment and statutory grounds. They also worried about the impact on
Swift if the program were disclosed.
"There was always concern about this program," a former official said.
One person involved in the Swift program estimated that analysts had
reviewed international transfers involving "many thousands" of people or
groups in the United States. Two other officials placed the figure in
the thousands. Mr. Levey said he could not estimate the number.
The Swift data has provided clues to money trails and ties between
possible terrorists and groups financing them, the officials said. In
some instances, they said, the program has pointed them to new suspects,
while in others it has buttressed cases already under investigation.
Among the successes was the capture of a Qaeda operative, Riduan
Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, believed to be the mastermind of the
2002 bombing of a Bali resort, several officials said. The Swift data
identified a previously unknown figure in Southeast Asia who had
financial dealings with a person suspected of being a member of Al
Qaeda; that link helped locate Hambali in Thailand in 2003, they said.
In the United States, the program has provided financial data in
investigations into possible domestic terrorist cells as well as
inquiries of Islamic charities with suspected of having links to
extremists, the officials said.
The data also helped identify a Brooklyn man who was convicted on
terrorism-related charges last year, the officials said. The man, Uzair
Paracha, who worked at a New York import business, aided a Qaeda
operative in Pakistan by agreeing to launder $200,000 through a Karachi
bank, prosecutors said.
In terrorism prosecutions, intelligence officials have been careful to
"sanitize," or hide the origins of evidence collected through the
program to keep it secret, officials said.
The Bush administration has pursued steps that may provide some enhanced
legal standing for the Swift program. In late 2004, Congress authorized
the Treasury Department to develop regulations requiring American banks
to turn over records of international wire transfers. Officials say a
preliminary version of those rules may be ready soon. One official
described the regulations as an attempt to "formalize" access to the
kind of information secretly provided by Swift, though other officials
said the initiative was unrelated to the program.
Like other counterterrorism measures carried out by the Bush
administration, the Swift program began in the hectic days after the
Sept. 11 attacks, as officials scrambled to identify new tools to head
off further strikes.
One priority was to cut off the flow of money to Al Qaeda. The 9/11
hijackers had helped finance their plot by moving money through banks.
Nine of the hijackers, for instance, funneled money from Europe and the
Middle East to SunTrust bank accounts in Florida. Some of the $130,000
they received was wired by people overseas with known links to Al Qaeda.
Financial company executives, many of whom had lost friends at the World
Trade Center, were eager to help federal officials trace terrorist
money. "They saw 9/11 not just as an attack on the United States, but on
the financial industry as a whole," said one former government official.
Quietly, counterterrorism officials sought to expand the information
they were getting from financial institutions. Treasury officials, for
instance, spoke with credit card companies about devising an alert if
someone tried to buy fertilizer and timing devices that could be used
for a bomb, but they were told the idea was not logistically possible, a
lawyer in the discussions said.
The F.B.I. began acquiring financial records from Western Union and its
parent company, the First Data Corporation. The programs were alluded to
in Congressional testimony by the F.B.I. in 2003 and described in more
detail in a book released this week, "The One Percent Doctrine," by Ron
Suskind. Using what officials described as individual, narrowly framed
subpoenas and warrants, the F.B.I. has obtained records from First Data,
which processes credit and debit card transactions, to track financial
activity and try to locate suspects.
Similar subpoenas for the Western Union data allowed the F.B.I. to trace
wire transfers, mainly outside the United States, and to help Israel
disrupt about a half-dozen possible terrorist plots there by unraveling
the financing, an official said.
The idea for the Swift program, several officials recalled, grew out of
a suggestion by a Wall Street executive, who told a senior Bush
administration official about Swift's database. Few government officials
knew much about the consortium, which is led by a Brooklyn native,
Leonard H. Schrank, but they quickly discovered it offered unparalleled
access to international transactions. Swift, a former government
official said, was "the mother lode, the Rosetta stone" for financial
Intelligence officials were so eager to use the Swift data that they
discussed having the C.I.A. covertly gain access to the system, several
officials involved in the talks said. But Treasury officials resisted,
the officials said, and favored going to Swift directly.
At the same time, lawyers in the Treasury Department and the Justice
Department were considering possible legal obstacles to the arrangement,
the officials said.
In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled that Americans had no constitutional
right to privacy for their records held by banks or other financial
institutions. In response, Congress passed the Right to Financial
Privacy Act two years later, restricting government access to Americans'
banking records. In considering the Swift program, some government
lawyers were particularly concerned about whether the law prohibited
officials from gaining access to records without a warrant or subpoena
based on some level of suspicion about each target.
For many years, law enforcement officials have relied on grand-jury
subpoenas or court-approved warrants for such financial data. Since
9/11, the F.B.I. has turned more frequently to an administrative
subpoena, known as a national security letter, to demand such records.
After an initial debate, Treasury Department lawyers, consulting with
the Justice Department, concluded that the privacy laws applied to
banks, not to a banking cooperative like Swift. They also said the law
protected individual customers and small companies, not the major
institutions that route money through Swift on behalf of their
Other state, federal and international regulations place different and
sometimes conflicting restrictions on the government's access to
financial records. Some put greater burdens on the company disclosing
the information than on the government officials demanding it.
Among their considerations, American officials saw Swift as a willing
partner in the operation. But Swift said its participation was never
voluntary. "Swift has made clear that it could provide data only in
response to a valid subpoena," according to its written statement.
Indeed, the cooperative's executives voiced early concerns about legal
and corporate liability, officials said, and the Treasury Department's
Office of Foreign Asset Control began issuing broad subpoenas for the
cooperative's records related to terrorism. One official said the
subpoenas were intended to give Swift some legal protection.
Underlying the government's legal analysis was the International
Emergency Economic Powers Act, which Mr. Bush invoked after the 9/11
attacks. The law gives the president what legal experts say is broad
authority to "investigate, regulate or prohibit" foreign transactions in
responding to "an unusual and extraordinary threat."
But L. Richard Fischer, a Washington lawyer who wrote a book on banking
privacy and is regarded as a leading expert in the field, said he was
troubled that the Treasury Department would use broad subpoenas to
demand large volumes of financial records for analysis. Such a program,
he said, appears to do an end run around bank-privacy laws that
generally require the government to show that the records of a
particular person or group are relevant to an investigation.
"There has to be some due process," Mr. Fischer said. "At an absolute
minimum, it strikes me as inappropriate."
Several former officials said they had lingering concerns about the
legal underpinnings of the Swift operation. The program "arguably
complies with the letter of the law, if not the spirit," one official
Another official said: "This was creative stuff. Nothing was clear cut,
because we had never gone after information this way before."
Treasury officials said they considered the government's authority to
subpoena the Swift records to be clear. "People do not have a privacy
interest in their international wire transactions," Mr. Levey, the
Treasury under secretary, said.
Tighter Controls Sought
Within weeks of 9/11, Swift began turning over records that allowed
American analysts to look for evidence of terrorist financing.
Initially, there appear to have been few formal limits on the searches.
"At first, they got everything — the entire Swift database," one person
close to the operation said.
Intelligence officials paid particular attention to transfers to or from
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates because most of the 9/11
hijackers were from those countries.
The volume of data, particularly at the outset, was often overwhelming,
officials said. "We were turning on every spigot we could find and
seeing what water would come out," one former administration official
said. "Sometimes there were hits, but a lot of times there weren't."
Officials realized the potential for abuse, and narrowed the program's
targets and put in more safeguards. Among them were the auditing firm,
an electronic record of every search and a requirement that analysts
involved in the operation document the intelligence that justified each
data search. Mr. Levey said the program was used only to examine records
of individuals or entities, not for broader data searches.
Despite the controls, Swift executives became increasingly worried about
their secret involvement with the American government, the officials
said. By 2003, the cooperative's officials were discussing pulling out
because of their concerns about legal and financial risks if the program
were revealed, one government official said.
"How long can this go on?" a Swift executive asked, according to the
Even some American officials began to question the open-ended
arrangement. "I thought there was a limited shelf life and that this was
going to go away," the former senior official said.
In 2003, administration officials asked Swift executives and some board
members to come to Washington. They met with Mr. Greenspan, Robert S.
Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, and Treasury officials, among others,
in what one official described as "a full-court press." Aides to Mr.
Greenspan and Mr. Mueller declined to comment on the meetings.
The executives agreed to continue supplying records after the Americans
pledged to impose tighter controls. Swift representatives would be
stationed alongside intelligence officials and could block any searches
considered inappropriate, several officials said.
The procedural change provoked some opposition at the C.I.A. because
"the agency was chomping at the bit to have unfettered access to the
information," a senior counterterrorism official said. But the Treasury
Department saw it as a necessary compromise, the official said, to "save
The above information was on the United Nations website
and has been recently removed.
SWIFT is the financial industry-owned co-operative
supplying secure, standardised messaging services and
interface software to 7,800 financial institutions in
more than 200 countries. SWIFT's worldwide community
includes banks, broker/dealers and investment managers,
as well as their market infrastructures in payments,
securities, treasury and trade.
Copyright © S.W.I.F.T. SCRL ("SWIFT"), Avenue Adèle 1,
B-1310 La Hulpe, Belgium
SWIFT statement on compliance policy
Published on 23 June 2006
Following recent press coverage, Chairman, Deputy
Chairman and CEO provide statement to SWIFT community
To the SWIFT community:
There is an article in the June 23 edition of New York
Times, the Wall Street Journal and other US newspapers
on terrorism investigations and the role of SWIFT. Let
us begin by underscoring SWIFT’s commitment to the
highest standards of integrity, confidentiality and
availability of the messaging data we transmit on behalf
of our members and users.
As you may know from the User Handbook and swift.com,
SWIFT has a longstanding history, beginning in the
1990s, of cooperating with authorities such as central
banks, treasury departments, law enforcement agencies
and international organisations such as the Financial
Action Task Force (FATF) in their efforts to prevent
misuse of the financial system. Our members support this
The following, also available in Dutch, French and
German, is SWIFT’s official statement on the article:
Statement on Compliance by SWIFT
SWIFT is the industry owned cooperative supplying
secure, standardised messaging services and interface
software to over 7,800 financial institutions worldwide.
SWIFT is solely a messaging intermediary for
transmitting secure and confidential financial messages
between financial institutions. SWIFT is not a bank, nor
does it hold accounts of any customers.
SWIFT takes its role as a key infrastructure of the
international financial system very seriously and
cooperates with authorities to prevent illegal uses of
the international financial system. Where required,
SWIFT has to comply with valid subpoenas. SWIFT’s
compliance policy is published on www.swift.com.
In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, SWIFT
responded to compulsory subpoenas for limited sets of
data from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the
United States Department of the Treasury. Our
fundamental principle has been to preserve the
confidentiality of our users’ data while complying with
the lawful obligations in countries where we operate.
Striking that balance has guided SWIFT through this
process with the United States Department of the
SWIFT negotiated with the U.S. Treasury over the scope
and oversight of the subpoenas. Through this process,
SWIFT received significant protections and assurances as
to the purpose, confidentiality, oversight and control
of the limited sets of data produced under the
subpoenas. Independent audit controls provide additional
assurance that these protections are fully complied
All of these actions have been undertaken with advice
from international and U.S. legal counsel and following
our longstanding procedures on compliance, established
by our Board.
SWIFT is overseen by a senior committee drawn from the
G-10 central banks and has informed them of this matter.
SWIFT values the trust that our members have placed in
us for more than 30 years and we will continue to work
vigorously to protect and maintain that confidence.
What we have written should give our community a better
sense of how seriously SWIFT takes its responsibilities
and how we have tried to deal with these matters in the
most professional manner. The SWIFT Board and Executive
have done their utmost to get the right balance in
fulfilling their obligations to the authorities in a
manner protective of the interests of the company and
Leonard H. Schrank, CEO, SWIFT
Yawar Shah, Chairman of the Board, SWIFT
Stephan Zimmermann, Deputy Chairman, SWIFT
Media representatives can contact SWIFT’s press office
* Europe: +32-2-655-3740 and +32-2-655-3243
* US: c/o The Glover Park Group +1-202-337-0808 and
Submitted by davidswanson on Thu, 2006-06-29 15:30.
Catch David Swanson of AfterDowningStreet.org from 5:40
to 6:00 p.m. ET on Friday
Bush and Co. Attack NYT for "Leaking"
Posted by Tracy Russo on June 27, 2006 at 03:48 PM
Yesterday the President, Vice President and various GOP
Administration officials slammed The New York Times for
reporting on the US monitoring of SWIFT transactions.
They attacked the paper for "leaking" the details of the
program. But apparently that program has already been
reported on and it's existence
isn't exactly news:
Reports on US monitoring of SWIFT transactions have been
out there for some time. The information was fairly well
known by terrorism financing experts back in 2002. The
UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group , on which I
served as the terrorism financing expert, learned of the
practice during the course of our monitoring inquiries.
The information was incorporated in our report to the UN
Security Council in December 2002. That report is still
available on the UN Website. Paragraph 31 of the report
“The settlement of international transactions is
usually handled through correspondent banking
relationships or large-value message and payment
systems, such as the SWIFT, Fedwire or CHIPS systems
in the United States of America. Such international
clearance centres are critical to processing
international banking transactions and are rich with
payment information. The United States has begun to
apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify
suspicious transactions. The Group recommends the
adoption of similar mechanisms by other countries.”
So just a memo to the President and his pals: It's not a
leak if people already know about it. And that goes double
if it's the UN that has already told people.
Reports of US Monitoring of SWIFT Transactions Are Not
New: The Practice Has Been Known By Terrorism Financing
Experts For Some Time
By Victor Comras
New York Times Story on US monitoring of
(Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial
Telecommunication) transactions certainly hit the street
with a splash. It awoke the general public to the practice.
In that sense, it was truly new news. But reports on US
monitoring of SWIFT transactions have been out there for
some time. The information was fairly well known by
terrorism financing experts back in 2002. The
UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group
, on which I
served as the terrorism financing expert, learned of the
practice during the course of our monitoring inquiries. The
information was incorporated in our
report to the UN Security Council in December 2002. That
report is still available
(UN Doc down) on the UN Website. Paragraph
31 of the report states:
“The settlement of
international transactions is usually
handled through correspondent banking
relationships or large-value message and
payment systems, such as the SWIFT,
Fedwire or CHIPS systems in the United
States of America. Such international
clearance centres are critical to
processing international banking
transactions and are rich with payment
information. The United States has begun
to apply new monitoring techniques to
spot and verify suspicious transactions.
The Group recommends the adoption of
similar mechanisms by other countries.”
Suggestions that SWIFT and other similar
transactions should be monitored by
investigative agencies dealing with
terrorism, money laundering and other
criminal activity have been out there for
An MIT paper discussed the pros and cons of
such practices back in 1995. Canada’s
Financial Intelligence Unit,
FINTRAC,, for one, has acknowledged
receiving information on Canadian origin
SWIFT transactions since 2002. Of course,
this info is provided by the banks
While monitoring SWIFT-handled transfers
is a useful tool in identifying and tracking
certain suspicious transactions, its
importance should not be overstated. The
information in SWIFT’s hands is no better
than the information which it is provided by
the banks handling the transactions at both
ends. And there is already an obligation on
banks in the US and Europe to report all
“suspicious transactions” The problem is
and the corresponding FIUS in other
countries have simply been overwhelmed by
the enormous amount of transactions that are
reported to them (see
my earlier blog) Another problem is that
European Banks are just getting around to
providing (and requiring) information, such
as names, account numbers and addresses of
originators and recipients of transactions
channeled or handled by them through SWIFT
or other international transfer facilitators
my earlier blog). And most banks outside
of Europe, the United States and other
OECD countries, still do not require, or
verify, such information.
The fact is that there is really very
little privacy today when it comes to the
international transfer of funds. That is why
criminal networks, money launderers and
terrorist groups have increasingly turned to
and cash couriers
for such transactions.
Patriotism and the Press
Sign In to E-Mail This Print Save Published: June 28, 2006
Over the last year, The New York Times has twice published reports about
secret antiterrorism programs being run by the Bush administration. Both
times, critics have claimed that the paper was being unpatriotic or even
aiding the terrorists. Some have even suggested that it should be
indicted under the Espionage Act. There have been a handful of times in
American history when the government has indeed tried to prosecute
journalists for publishing things it preferred to keep quiet. None of
them turned out well — from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the time when
the government tried to enjoin The Times and The Washington Post from
publishing the Pentagon Papers.
As most of our readers know, there is a large wall between the news and
opinion operations of this paper, and we were not part of the news
side's debates about whether to publish the latest story under
contention — a report about how the government tracks international
financial transfers through a banking consortium known as Swift in an
effort to pinpoint terrorists. Bill Keller, the executive editor, spoke
for the newsroom very clearly. Our own judgments about the uproar that
has ensued would be no different if the other papers that published the
story, including The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, had
The Swift story bears no resemblance to security breaches, like
disclosure of troop locations, that would clearly compromise the
immediate safety of specific individuals. Terrorist groups would have
had to be fairly credulous not to suspect that they would be subject to
scrutiny if they moved money around through international wire
transfers. In fact, a United Nations group set up to monitor Al Qaeda
and the Taliban after Sept. 11 recommended in 2002 that other countries
should follow the United States' lead in monitoring suspicious
transactions handled by Swift. The report is public and available on the
United Nations Web site.
But any argument by the government that a story is too dangerous to
publish has to be taken seriously. There have been times in this paper's
history when editors have decided not to print something they knew. In
some cases, like the Kennedy administration's plans for the disastrous
Bay of Pigs invasion, it seems in hindsight that the editors were
over-cautious. (Certainly President Kennedy thought so.) Most recently,
The Times held its reporting about the government's secret antiterror
wiretapping program for more than a year while it weighed administration
Our news colleagues work under the assumption that they should let the
people know anything important that the reporters learn, unless there is
some grave and overriding reason for withholding the information. They
try hard not to base those decisions on political calculations, like
whether a story would help or hurt the administration. It is certainly
unlikely that anyone who wanted to hurt the Bush administration
politically would try to do so by writing about the government's
extensive efforts to make it difficult for terrorists to wire large sums
From our side of the news-opinion wall, the Swift story looks like part
of an alarming pattern. Ever since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has
taken the necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned
it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive branch,
exempt from the normal checks and balances of our system of government.
It has created powerful new tools of surveillance and refused, almost as
a matter of principle, to use normal procedures that would acknowledge
that either Congress or the courts have an oversight role.
The Swift program, like the wiretapping program, has been under way for
years with no restrictions except those that the executive branch
chooses to impose on itself — or, in the case of Swift, that the banks
themselves are able to demand. This seems to us very much the sort of
thing the other branches of government, and the public, should be
nervously aware of. We would have been very happy if Congressman Peter
King, the Long Island Republican who has been so vocal in citing the
Espionage Act, had been as aggressive in encouraging his colleagues to
do the oversight job they were elected to do.
The United States will soon be marking the fifth anniversary of the war
on terror. The country is in this for the long haul, and the fight has
to be coupled with a commitment to individual liberties that define
America's side in the battle. A half-century ago, the country endured a
long period of amorphous, global vigilance against an enemy who was
suspected of boring from within, and history suggests that under those
conditions, it is easy to err on the side of security and secrecy. The
free press has a central place in the Constitution because it can
provide information the public needs to make things right again. Even if
it runs the risk of being labeled unpatriotic in the process.
The Public Editor
Secrecy, Security, the President and the Press
Sign In to E-Mail This Print Single Page Save By BYRON CALAME
Published: July 2, 2006
THE Bush administration's unusually harsh attacks on The New York Times
for exposing a secret banking-data surveillance program have turned a
glaring spotlight on the paper's decision to publish the article.
The flood of reader e-mails reacting to the June 23 article has left
hundreds of messages in various newsroom in-boxes at The Times. Roughly
1,000 e-mails have come to me, about 85 percent of them critical of the
decision to publish the story and a large fraction venomous. It was time
to take a close look at the handling of the article in search of
My close look convinced me that Bill Keller, the executive editor, was
correct in deciding that Times readers deserved to read about the
banking-data surveillance program. And the growing indications that this
and other financial monitoring operations were hardly a secret to the
terrorist world minimizes the possibility that the article made America
The banking-data surveillance program, set up in 2001, is run out of the
Central Intelligence Agency and overseen by the Treasury Department. It
provided access to records of transactions routed through a Belgian
consortium by banks and financial institutions around the world. More
than 11 million transactions involving about $6 trillion are routed
daily through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial
Telecommunication, or Swift.
So what were the most solid reasons to publish the story?
There was a significant question as to how secret the program was after
five years. "Hundreds, if not thousands, of people know about this," Mr.
Keller said he was told by an official who talked to him on condition of
anonymity. The 25 bankers from numerous nations on the Swift board of
directors, and their predecessors going back to 2001, knew about the
arrangement. So did some consortium executives and staff members — a
group that probably expanded during this period. Starting in 2003, Swift
representatives had to be stationed alongside any government
intelligence official searching the data.
Further support for the conclusion that the Swift program hasn't
remained totally hidden from terrorists, or anyone else, emerged last
week. A former State Department official who has served on a United
Nations counterterrorism group pointed to a 2002 United Nations report
noting that the United States was monitoring international financial
transactions. Swift and similar organizations were mentioned in the
publicly available report, although there were no details. "The United
States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify
suspicious transactions," the report noted.
The Times's June 23 article "awoke the general public" to the Swift
program and "in that sense, it was truly new news," Victor Comras, the
former State Department official, wrote on The Counterterrorism Blog
last week. "But," he added, "the information was fairly well known by
terrorism financing experts back in 2002."
The administration has sometimes invited press attention to its effort
to track terrorist financing. In September 2003, Treasury Secretary John
W. Snow and a team of his aides took reporters from The Times and other
papers on a six-day tour on a military aircraft "to show off the
department's efforts," Mr. Keller and Dean Baquet, the editor of The Los
Angeles Times, noted in a joint Op-Ed commentary that appeared
yesterday. The aides "discussed many sensitive details of their
monitoring efforts, hoping they would appear in print and demonstrate
the administration's relentlessness against the terrorist threat,"
according to the two editors.
Another reason Times editors were right to proceed with the 3,550-word
Swift story was the skimpy Congressional oversight of the program.
Secrecy is vital for intelligence and national security programs, but so
is oversight by the courts or elected legislators. The Swift program,
however, doesn't seem to have any specific Congressional approval or
formal authorization. The Treasury Department has not provided a list of
who in Congress was informed, or when, The Times has reported.
Eric Lichtblau, one of the two reporters who wrote the Swift story, told
me the administration briefed a limited number of Congressional leaders
— apparently from both parties, but not the full intelligence or banking
committees — toward the beginning of the program. It wasn't until the
Treasury Department learned that The Times was working on the story, Mr.
Lichtblau said, that the administration apparently briefed all members
of the intelligence committees. Whether there are official standards
established for the Swift program or not, the weak Congressional
oversight over the past five years deserved public scrutiny.
The most fundamental reason for publishing the article, of course, was
the obligation of a free press to monitor government and other powerful
institutions in our society. "Our default position — our job — is to
publish information if we are convinced it is fair and accurate," Mr.
Keller wrote in a letter to readers posted online last weekend, "and our
biggest failures have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough
or to report fully enough." He added:
"The question we start with as journalists is not 'why publish?' but
'why would we withhold information of significance?' We have sometimes
done so, holding stories or editing out details that could serve those
hostile to the U.S. But we need a compelling reason to do so."
What about the administration's reasons for demanding that The Times not
Mr. Keller said the "central argument" senior officials gave against
publishing the Swift article was that international bankers would stop
cooperating. In his weekend letter, he cited two reasons that argument
didn't stop him from publishing the story: First, the consortium
provides data to comply with administrative subpoenas issued by the
Treasury Department — a legal obligation. "Second, if, as the
administration says, the program is legal, highly effective, and well
protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little
trouble defending it." So far, Swift hasn't publicly indicated any
intention to stop cooperating.
For me, the most substantial argument against running the story was the
acknowledgment that the Swift program was letter-of-the-law legal, had
helped catch some terrorists and had a clean record on privacy abuse.
But full-bore oversight would have had to be part of that picture to
make a convincing case that the program deserved to continue in secrecy,
with its access to Swift's mother lode of financial data.
Often obscured in the past week's hot rhetoric over The Times's decision
to publish the Swift article were the occasions when the paper's editors
have chosen to hold or modify a story when warned by government
officials that lives or national security might be endangered. "Few
people are aware when we decide to hold an article," noted Mr. Keller
and Mr. Baquet in their joint commentary. Apart from The Times's
decision to hold the December story about the National Security Agency's
warrantless eavesdropping for more than a year, it turns out the paper
has decided not to publish stories that "might have jeopardized efforts
to protect vulnerable stockpiles of nuclear material," according to the
joint commentary. The Times has also held stories about "highly
sensitive counterterrorism initiatives that are still in operation," the
Op-Ed piece noted.
"There is no magic formula, no neat metric for either the public's
interest or the dangers of publishing sensitive information," the two
editors concluded. "We make our best judgment."
The best judgment of these two editors served their readers well in the
case of the Swift story. In the face of intense administration pressure
in a country that's unusually polarized politically, they correctly
decided to make sure their readers were informed about the banking-data
A Secret the Terrorists Already Knew
E-MailPrint Save By RICHARD A. CLARKE and ROGER W. CRESSEY
Published: June 30, 2006
COUNTERTERRORISM has become a source of continuing domestic and
international political controversy. Much of it, like the role of the
Iraq war in inspiring new terrorists, deserves analysis and debate.
Increasingly, however, many of the political issues surrounding
counterterrorism are formulaic, knee-jerk, disingenuous and purely
partisan. The current debate about United States monitoring of transfers
over the Swift international financial system strikes us as a case of
over-reaction by both the Bush administration and its critics.
Going after terrorists' money is a necessary element of any
counterterrorism program, as President Bill Clinton pointed out in
presidential directives in 1995 and 1998. Individual terrorist attacks
do not typically cost very much, but running terrorist cells, networks
and organizations can be extremely expensive.
Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist groups have had
significant fund-raising operations involving solicitation of wealthy
Muslims, distribution of narcotics and even sales of black market
cigarettes in New York. As part of a "follow the money" strategy,
monitoring international bank transfers is worthwhile (even if, given
the immense number of transactions and the relatively few made by
terrorists, it is not highly productive) because it makes operations
more difficult for our enemies. It forces them to use more cumbersome
means of moving money.
Privacy rights advocates, with whom we generally agree, have lumped this
bank-monitoring program with the alleged National Security Agency
wiretapping of calls in which at least one party is within the United
States as examples of our government violating civil liberties in the
name of counterterrorism. The two programs are actually very different.
Any domestic electronic surveillance without a court order, no matter
how useful, is clearly illegal. Monitoring international bank transfers,
especially with the knowledge of the bank consortium that owns the
network, is legal and unobjectionable.
The International Economic Emergency Powers Act, passed in 1977,
provides the president with enormous authority over financial
transactions by America's enemies. International initiatives against
money laundering have been under way for a decade, and have been aimed
not only at terrorists but also at drug cartels, corrupt foreign
officials and a host of criminal organizations.
These initiatives, combined with treaties and international agreements,
should leave no one with any presumption of privacy when moving money
electronically between countries. Indeed, since 2001, banks have been
obliged to report even transactions entirely within the United States if
there is reason to believe illegal activity is involved. Thus we find
the privacy and illegality arguments wildly overblown.
So, too, however, are the Bush administration's protests that the press
revelations about the financial monitoring program may tip off the
terrorists. Administration officials made the same kinds of complaints
about news media accounts of electronic surveillance. They want the
public to believe that it had not already occurred to every terrorist on
the planet that his telephone was probably monitored and his
international bank transfers subject to scrutiny. How gullible does the
administration take the American citizenry to be?
Terrorists have for many years employed nontraditional communications
and money transfers — including the ancient Middle Eastern hawala
system, involving couriers and a loosely linked network of money brokers
— precisely because they assume that international calls, e-mail and
banking are monitored not only by the United States but by Britain,
France, Israel, Russia and even many third-world countries.
While this was not news to terrorists, it may, it appears, have been
news to some Americans, including some in Congress. But should the press
really be called unpatriotic by the administration, and even threatened
with prosecution by politicians, for disclosing things the terrorists
In the end, all the administration denunciations do is give the press
accounts an even higher profile. If administration officials were truly
concerned that terrorists might learn something from these reports, they
would be wise not to give them further attention by repeatedly
fulminating about them.
There is, of course, another possible explanation for all the outraged
bloviating. It is an election year. Karl Rove has already said that if
it were up to the Democrats, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would still be alive.
The attacks on the press are part of a political effort by
administration officials to use terrorism to divide America, and to
scare their supporters to the polls again this year.
The administration and its Congressional backers want to give the
impression that they are fighting a courageous battle against those who
would wittingly or unknowingly help the terrorists. And with four months
left before Election Day, we can expect to hear many more outrageous
claims about terrorism — from partisans on both sides. By now, sadly,
Americans have come to expect it.
Richard A. Clarke and Roger W. Cressey, counterterrorism officials on
the National Security Council under Presidents Bill Clinton and George
W. Bush, are security consultants.
editor of The Times responded to
secretary says terrorists will
Snow's Letter to Keller
defended his publication of the
Representative Peter King,
chairman of the homeland
security panel. (pdf)
Behind Bush's Fury, a Vow Made in 2001
E-MailPrint Reprints Save By SCOTT SHANE
Published: June 29, 2006
WASHINGTON, June 28 — Ever since President Bush vowed days after the
Sept. 11 attacks to "follow the money as a trail to the terrorists," the
government has made no secret of its efforts to hunt down the bank
accounts of Al Qaeda and its allies.
Skip to next paragraph
Damage Study Urged on Surveillance Reports (June 28, 2006)
Bush Says Report on Bank Data Was Disgraceful (June 27, 2006)
Court Review of Wiretaps May Be Near, Senator Says (June 26, 2006)
Cheney Assails Press on Report on Bank Data (June 24, 2006)
Bank Data Is Sifted by U.S. in Secret to Block Terror (June 23, 2006)
But that fact has not muted the fury of Mr. Bush, his top aides and many
members of Congress at the decision last week by The New York Times and
other newspapers to disclose a centerpiece of that hunt: the Treasury
Department's search for clues in a vast database of financial
transactions maintained by a Belgium-based banking consortium known as
Speaking at a fund-raising event in St. Louis for Senator Jim Talent,
Mr. Bush made the news reports his central theme.
"This program has been a vital tool in the war on terror," Mr. Bush
said. "Last week the details of this program appeared in the press."
Mr. Bush received a prolonged, standing ovation from the Republican
crowd when he added, "There can be no excuse for anyone entrusted with
vital intelligence to leak it — and no excuse for any newspaper to print
On Thursday, the House is expected to take up a Republican resolution
supporting the tracking of financial transactions and condemning the
publication of the existence of the program and details of how it works.
The resolution says Congress "expects the cooperation of all news media
organizations in protecting the lives of Americans and the capability of
the government to identify, disrupt and capture terrorists by not
disclosing classified intelligence programs." Democrats are proposing a
variant that expresses support for the treasury program but omits the
language about the news media.
The director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, has ordered
an assessment of any damage to counterterrorism efforts from the
disclosures, but the review is expected to take months, and its findings
are likely to remain classified.
Experts on terror financing are divided in their views of the impact of
the revelations. Some say the harm in last week's publications in The
Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal may have been
less in tipping off terrorists than in putting publicity-shy bankers in
an uncomfortable spotlight.
"I would be surprised if terrorists didn't know that we were doing
everything we can to track their financial transactions, since the
administration has been very vocal about that fact," said William F.
Wechsler, a former Treasury and National Security Council official who
specialized in tracking terrorism financing.
But Mr. Wechsler said the disclosure might nonetheless hamper
intelligence collection by making financial institutions resistant to
requests for access to records.
"I wouldn't be surprised if these recent articles have made it more
difficult to get cooperation from our friends in Europe, since it may
make their cooperation with the U.S. less politically palatable," Mr.
Though privacy advocates have denounced the examination of banking
transactions, the Swift consortium has defended its cooperation with the
counterterrorism program and has not indicated any intention to stop
cooperating with the broad administrative subpoenas issued to obtain its
A former federal prosecutor who handled major terrorism cases, Andrew C.
McCarthy, said he believed that the greatest harm from news reports
about such classified programs was the message that Americans could not
"If foreign intelligence services think anything they tell us will end
up in the newspapers, they'll stop sharing so much information," said
Mr. McCarthy, now a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of
Democracies in Washington.
Mr. McCarthy said he thought the Swift disclosure might encourage
terrorist plotters to stop moving money through the banking system,
depriving the United States and its allies of a valuable window on their
activities. "Methods they assumed were safe they now know are not so
safe," he said.
But Bob Kerrey, a member of the 9/11 commission and former Democratic
senator from Nebraska, took a different view, saying that if the news
reports drive terrorists out of the banking system, that could actually
help the counterterrorism cause.
"If we tell people who are potential criminals that we have a lot of
police on the beat, that's a substantial deterrent," said Mr. Kerrey,
now president of New School University. If terrorists decide it is too
risky to move money through official channels, "that's very good,
because it's much, much harder to move money in other ways," Mr. Kerrey
A State Department official, Anthony Wayne, made a parallel point in
2004 before Congress. "As we've made it more difficult for them to use
the banking system," Mr. Wayne said, "they've been shifting to other
less reliable and more cumbersome methods, such as cash couriers."
As such testimony suggests, government agencies have often trumpeted
their successes in tracking terrorist funding. President Bush set the
tone on Sept. 24, 2001, declaring, "We're putting banks and financial
institutions around the world on notice — we will work with their
governments, ask them to freeze or block terrorists' ability to access
funds in foreign accounts."
Since then, the Treasury Department has produced dozens of news releases
and public reports detailing its efforts. Though officials appear never
to have mentioned the Swift program, they have repeatedly described
their cooperation with financial networks to identify accounts held by
people and organizations linked to terrorism.
Working with "our allies abroad and our partners in the private sector,"
an April news release said, "Treasury follows the terrorists' money
trails aggressively, exploiting them for intelligence."
Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, convened a hearing
in 2004 where Treasury officials described at length their efforts,
assisted by financial institutions, to trace terrorists' money. But he
has been among the most vehement critics of the disclosures about the
Swift program, saying editors and reporters of The New York Times should
be imprisoned for publishing government secrets.
In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. King said he saw no contradiction.
"Obviously we wanted the terrorists to know we were trying to track
them," Mr. King said. "But we didn't want them to know the details."
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