US Trolled Bank Records

According to an article published yesterday in the NYT, the government secretly reviewed bank transaction data following 9/11 in order to trace ties to terrorist organizations. In the pursuit of quick results, however, some concerns for jurisprudence may have been cast aside as ballast. Reports Times:

    “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…”

The name of the Belgian co-op that analyzed the transactions? Swift.

Data gleaned helped catch several al-Qaida operatives, but, to burnish a chestnut, at what price freedom?

“Bank Data Secretly Reviewed by U.S. to Fight Terror” [NYT]


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  1. Paul says:

    It’s funny that your article title says “without subpoenas” and the text you quote says “relying on…subpoenas.”

    What’s troubling about this article in the NYT is that here is a program that the NYT alleges is perfectly legal, is helping us to catch terrorists, and even still, Bill Keller decided “classified, schmassified” and that he would be the ultimate decider on what should be secret and what not.

    “What price freedom?” If, as the article you cited alleges, the program was legal, could you tell me what price you paid? (I’m assuming you don’t count the capture of al-Qaida operatives a “price.”)

  2. Ben Popken says:

    You’re right, the post title is wrong and will be changed from, “US Trolled Bank Records Without Subpoenas.”

    As far as price?

    “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.”

  3. SpecialK says:

    The potential for abuse is always enormous. The police have guns, right? Why, they could just run out into the street right now and just start shooting at random people and claiming it’s for our own good. But they don’t.

    The program is legal. The program WAS classified. Thank God Bill Keller wasn’t running The Times prior to D-Day.

    As pointed out elsewhere on the right half of the blogosphere, the times wants terrorism to be tacked as a legal issue, using intelligence and legal tactics, rather than militarily and such. Until the government actually uses intelligence and legal tactics that is.

  4. Paul says:

    Ben, I’ll grant you the potential for abuse is there. But this article doesn’t allege abuse. Since they briefed all the right members of congress, they put in legal safeguards to try and prevent abuse, and have “tight controls,” haven’t they done EVERYTHING the NYT said they should have done with the wiretapping issues? I don’t see any kind of scandal here, and all I see is newspaper trying to complain that we worked within the law to successfully capture the enemy.

  5. konstantConsumer says:

    doesn’t this seem like the phone tapping thing, though. remember how at first it was “just called originating from overseas.” Then, it was calls from the US to overseas. and, of course, the truth was that it was pretty much everyone’s calls. If this is the true extent of the finacial searching, then fine. but i’ve moved past trusting this government a LONG time ago.

  6. Ben Popken says:

    Paul, you have a good point, and I think mine was more that the shotgun approach to subpoenas is, while legal, disquieting.

  7. ModerateSnark says:

    I agree it may be possible that everything was technically legal and appropriately targeted so far, but, like konstantConsumer, I’m skeptical about whether this operation has stayed, or will continue to stay, within the limits we’ve been told about.

    Hey, I can reuse part of a comment I placed elsewhere on (don’t worry, I won’t overdo this):

    And this will continue as long as the public accepts the logic that:
    > The president has virtually unlimited power in a time of war.
    > The war on terror is a time of war.
    > The war on terror isn’t ending anytime soon, if ever, so get used to it.

    More examination of this issue at

  8. Ben Popken says:

    Arthur writes:

    “What has not been stressed is that SWIFT is not used for individuals. It is used for processing money transfers, stock transfers and bond transfers from companies, governments, banks, insurance companies and NGO’s. What we essentially had on file was the holdings for almost all our clients and the clearance data for these transactions dating back for years. We had to keep all this on file to satisfy all the governmental regulations on taxations, etc.

    What the NY Times has essentially done is open up to the terrorists the trails of all their transactions and how the banking procedures of money laundering was done for them by the system. They have essentially stopped dead the ability to track this money and keep it from being put in the hands of our worst enemies. Whether the terrorists might have guessed that their money was being transferred is a moot point. The NY Times had told them that their worst fears have been realized and that they need to find another way to move money around the world. They know it for sure now. Thank you, Bill Keller, and when the nice young man or woman from down the street is killed by one of these terrorists I can thank you for that as well.”

  9. ModerateSnark says:

    Yeah, right, Arthur.

    Terrorists and criminals were only guessing that efforts were being made to track their money, and now they know for sure.

    So now they’ll quit using companies, governments, banks, insurance companies, and NGO’s to hold and move their money, and start using all the other easy ways to handle huge sums.

    Bad guys will just physically ship paper money, jewels and precious metals around. Could it be that efforts are already being made to monitor that, too?

    Oh, no. Now I have tipped them off, and they will stop using physical valuables and use all the other easy ways to store and move money.

    We have to stop all this information in the liberal press! It’s not just the terrorists; even worse, the public might get smart and figure out what is going on! Let’s try and shut down the New York Times by pointing out all the blood on its hands!

    I think your arguments are working, Arthur! Doesn’t it feel great going after the Times? It’s a great way to return the favor to the guys in D.C. who not only go above and beyond the law to fight terror, but have done so much more for us, what with the giant tax cuts, and the passing of the war-on-terror cost onto future generations!

    – – I guess I went beyond moderately snarky here, but I felt a need to vent – –