CIA monitors Americans’ financial activities

The Central Intelligence Agency is collecting bulk records of international money transfers, including the financial and personal data of millions of Americans.

Citing “officials familiar with the programs,” the Wall Street  Journal reported that the CIA and FBI collect financial  information when international transactions are filed through  numerous money-transfer companies, including MoneyGram and  Western Union.


As with the National Security Agency’s surveillance efforts, the  CIA’s actions are authorized under the 2001 Patriot Act and  overseen by the same Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that  has sanctioned the collection of millions of Americans’ phone  records and digital data.

As an agency that specializes in foreign intelligence gathering,  the CIA is only permitted to target American citizens in  connection to foreign activity. Officials told the WSJ that the  intent of the program is to help track the flow of money  financing terrorist organizations around the world.

The CIA does not collect information on transfers that occur  within the United States or on those that take place  bank-to-bank. The majority of the transactions recorded take  place entirely outside of the United States, the newspaper said,  but some do involve cash that enters or leaves the country. In  some cases, Social Security numbers are used in an attempt to connect the flow of money to a single individual.

According to the New York Times, the FISA courts have barred the  CIA from learning the identities of any Americans unless there is  a link to a terrorist organization. The paper also cited “several  officials” saying that multiple government-run bulk collection  programs are still working in secrecy and have yet to be  identified.

In a hearing on October 3, NSA director Keith Alexander and CIA  director James Clapper declined to discuss any surveillance  activity conducted by the government outside of the  already-public NSA program. The American Civil Liberties Union is  also currently fighting a lawsuit concerning the Freedom of  Information Act, in which the government refuses to release two  other FISA court rulings that could potentially reveal  surveillance programs beyond what the public is aware of.
“It suggests very strongly that there are other programs of  surveillance that the public has a right to know about,” said  ACLU lawyer Alexander Abdo to the Times.

The CIA refused to comment on this particular program, but it  insisted that its data collection is aimed at foreign threats and  not domestic ones.

“The C.I.A. protects the nation and upholds the privacy rights  of Americans by ensuring that its intelligence collection  activities are focused on acquiring foreign intelligence and  counterintelligence in accordance with U.S. laws,” Dean Boyd,  a spokesman for the agency told the Times.

This new collection program was inspired by the events  culminating in the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade  Center. In the lead-up to that event, Al-Qaeda successfully  transferred about $300,000 into the country without being  noticed, causing the U.S. to rethink the way it collects  intelligence.

The revelations about the CIA program come amidst numerous  reports concerning the NSA’s expanding and divisive domestic and  international surveillance program, but Juan Zarate, a White  House and Treasury official under President George W. Bush, told  the NYT that tracking financial information has traditionally  been less controversial.


“There is a longstanding legal baseline for the U.S.  government to collect financial information,” Zarate said,  though he did not comment on the CIA program in question.

While some lawmakers reportedly expressed some apprehension upon  learning about the program, Timothy Edgar, a former top privacy  lawyer who worked under both the Bush and Obama administrations,  said the time has come for the government to come clean and  reveal exactly what data it’s collecting from Americans.

“The public has a right to know about the broad outlines of  how the government is collecting information on them,” he  said to the WSJ. “As a matter of basic good governance, the  government should be more transparent about these kinds of  collection programs.”


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