It's becoming increasingly clear that agencies like the NSA have been collecting information on American citizens as they try to monitor international communications, and according to a recent report the CIA is doing the same thing with financial transactions. The Wall Street Journal reports that the CIA has been building a large database of international money transactions in its efforts to track the funding of terrorist organizations across the globe. The activities are sanctioned by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but much like the recent revelations about online address books, US citizens are getting caught in the middle.
The program collects records from international money transfers, but that includes those that either begin or end in the United States. As such, financial and personal data for Americans sending money abroad is swept into the database. In some cases Social Security numbers may even be collected, though according to the report transactions that are solely between parties in the US are not part of the program. The resulting database then works like other similar operations we've come to learn about in recent months: after the information is collected in bulk from participating companies, information on US individuals is masked under a court-ordered mandate unless individuals have been deemed to be of important to the foreign intelligence community.
It operates under Section 215 of the Patriot Act
According to the Journal, the program was instigated in the wake of the September 11th attacks, when it was discovered that terrorists had moved around $300,000 into US-based accounts without raising any red flags. It was then institutionalized in 2006, and now operates under Section 215 of the Patriot Act — one of the statutes at the heart of the NSA's surveillance operations.
Former government officials tell the Journal that the collection program has helped discover relationships between terrorists, but that's not likely to provide much comfort to Americans who are concerned that their government has been reaching too far.