The Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and other United States government spy agencies could receive full access to huge amounts of financial data on Americans and others who do banking in the United States, according to a report from the Reuters news agency.
Reuters reports its personnel have read a March 4 Treasury Department document that describes a developing plan by the Obama administration to allow government spy agencies to obtain, track and analyze the financial records of anyone with a bank account in the United States. The CIA and other spy agencies have never been allowed to operate inside the nation’s borders except in rare case-by-case instances.
“It is very troubling. We seem hell-bent on dismantling our liberties, all in the name of ‘security,'” said Patrick Barron, a banking industry consultant who also teaches in the Graduate School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
‘Police State Powers’
“It is police state powers, which are antithetical to the U.S. Constitution. We need our federal representatives and senators to put an end to it and our state governments to protect banks within their states from these incursions on liberty. It is hard to find the words to describe how alien this is to Americans,” Barron said.
“This is indeed new ground and expanded powers of snooping around, and we should be concerned about this sort of ever-creeping surveillance state activity, especially when it comes to financial data, about which we have high expecatations of privacy and very high stakes,” said Steven G. Horwitz, professor of economics at St. Lawrence University and author of two books, one of them Monetary Evolution, Free Banking, and Economic Order (Westview, 1992).
“It’s also another example of using ‘national security’ and threats of terrorism and drugs and organized crime to break down the expectations of privacy that Americans have had with private-sector institutions,” he said. “The open-ended war on terror will never be over, and the demands for more restrictions on privacy will, unfortunately, continue.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation already has access to such information, and financial institutions are required to report suspicious activity and personal transactions that top $10,000. But the FBI is a domestic law enforcement agency, not a spy agency that operates independently of the U.S. military and with a budget whose details not even members of Congress see, and with agents who have helped overthrow and prop up foreign governments and have been implicated in kidnappings and murders overseas.
“For these reports to be of value in detecting money laundering, they must be accessible to law enforcement, counter-terrorism agencies, financial regulators, and the intelligence community,” Reuters quoted the Treasury planning document.
‘Joint Worldwide Intelligence’
The plan would link the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network database “with a computer network used by U.S. defense and law enforcement agencies to share classified information called the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System,” Reuters wrote.
“It’s troubling when information is collected for one purpose under one set of requirements and is redirected for another use,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel for the Rule of Law Program at the Constitution Project, a nonprofit watchdog group.
“It certainly should raise concerns over whether there are adequate safeguards to protect information and the thresholds” for collection of information on individuals. “We don’t know if we have these safeguards.”
77 Fusion Centers
Franklin said there are 77 “fusion centers” in the United States – information-gathering and analysis centers the federal government began creating in 2003 under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to share information among government bodies including the CIA, FBI, U.S. military, and state and local police.
“We have concerns about the standards for them to be gathering information and sharing it and whether there is a sufficient predicate in place before they start creating files on somebody as a potential terrorist,” Franklin said.
A spokesman for the American Bankers Association said he was unfamiliar with the Reuters report and could not comment.
“It is interesting that the Fourth Amendment talks of the right of people to be ‘secure’ in their papers and property from the government, yet now, in a sick, Orwellian bastardization of the language, the government purports to assume the authority to peep into as many everyday activities of its citizens as possible under the guise of ‘security,'” said Adam Summers, senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation. “Centralized information is centralized power.”