In an effort to track the flow of terrorist money in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Treasury Department obtained data from an international cooperative that transmits information between financial institutions worldwide, both the department and the cooperative said.
The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported that the records were examined under a series of broad U.S. subpoenas, with the Times reporting that Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions.
SWIFT - the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication - links about 7,800 financial institutions around the world, including virtually every major bank and brokerage.
It provides banks with instructions on how to transfer funds - instructions which include information on the individuals sending money and the amount of money sent.
The treasury department said it had carried out "tens or hundreds" of thousands of name searches on the data.
Mr. Snow said the program had been implemented in a "highly responsible" manner, with corporate and external auditors observing the process. In a statement on its website, SWIFT said: "Swift takes its role as a key infrastructure of the international financial system very seriously and co-operates with authorities to prevent illegal uses of the international financial system.
This was echoed by Tresurary Secretary Snow, "there can't be any doubt about the fact that the program is an effective weapon in the larger war on terror," Snow told reporters Friday and in a previous statement, saying it was "not a fishing expedition, but rather a sharp harpoon aimed at the heart of terrorist activity," adding that the disclosure of the program in news reports, which prompted his statement, was "regrettable."
SWIFT said its "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 Treasury Department, the statement said. This is a good arguement from the Treasury in its own defense. How SWIFT will defend its actions to harsher criticism throughout Europe will be interesting, for it will not be so easy as it currently experienced by the Treasury. People who disagree on this point should only remember the difference in public sentiment here in the US and over in the UK when no WMD's were discovered in Iraq.
Stuart Levey, a senior Treasury official who helps conduct the terrorist finance tracking program, said at Friday's press conference that SWIFT is primarily used for overseas fund transfers and does not contain information on daily transactions conducted by U.S. citizens such as deposits, withdrawals or electronic payments. This is an important point to remember. Here is another:
As proponents and opponent’s spar, and ordinary citizens begin to hear and believe the spin, let us remember that disrupting the flow of funds (money) to al-Qaeda, in the broader scope, all terror networks, was and still remain a primary focus in this War on Terror. So as civil liberties are discussed and politicians jockey for electioneering points with voters, let us have that basic understanding clear.