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June 2006
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Secret, possibly illegal government spy program used to identify drug transactions

It’s simply the latest in the series of stories that reveal the administration’s mistaken belief that the 911 terrorists crashed into and destroyed the Constitution instead of the World Trade Center. This one has to do with secret investigations of international (and including domestic) financial transactions.
As reported in the Washington Post:

U.S. counterterrorism officials obtained the financial records from an international banking cooperative called the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications. SWIFT, as it is known, is owned and controlled by nearly 8,000 commercial banks in more than 20 countries that use its services.
SWIFT is headquartered in Brussels, but much of its operations are based in the United States, where knowledge of the government’s secret access to its data was not widespread. Of officials at three large U.S. banks who agreed to speak about the program, only one said his institution had knowledge of it before yesterday.

Government officials have gone on the offensive since the program was revealed, saying that the safeguards were strict and that it was “responsible.” That’s all very nice, but in this country, we have this system of government that uses multiple branches checking up on each other, just to be on the safe side. Even that tends to be rather anemic in its protections, but to expect us to “just trust” one branch? That’s outright stupidity.
Interestingly, while the program was to catch terrorists, that’s not all they found…

When information appeared that indicated a non-terrorist crime, such as money laundering or drug trafficking, [Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey] said the source of the information was “sanitized” before it was passed to other law enforcement agencies.

That’s right… “it was passed to other law enforcement agencies.”
This goes against the notion that the program was specifically limited to terrorism. If they found other crimes, they didn’t say “Oh, that’s outside the parameters — we’ll have to forget about it.” No, they passed it on without revealing that the information had come from a secret, probably illegal spy program.
And don’t think that this is necessarily limited to going after the big fish. When you’re conducting a program that involves scouring databases, there’s all sorts of searches you can do. (For instance, what if they did a search of financial transactions between the U.S. and Canada of an amount close to what a package of marijuana seeds from Marc Emery might cost?) Paranoid? Maybe. But that’s what happens when a branch of the government says “Trust me.”
The thing is, the government already has a huge resource of tools for going after financial transactions. Judges will give them a warrant to search any financial information based on the flimsiest of suspicions. But even that is too much of a restriction for this administration. They’re not interested in the hard (and effective) work of investigation. They’re casting a wide net and trolling.
That’s not only illegal and un-American, but … it’s unsportsmanlike.

[Thanks to A Newer World]

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