Under a secret Bush administration program started soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the U.S., reports the New York Times. Data provided by the program helped identify Uzair Paracha, a Brooklyn man convicted on terrorism-related charges in 2005, officials said. They said the program is limited to tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda by checking records from the center of the global banking industry, a Belgian cooperative that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges, and other institutions. The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas and into and out of the U.S. Most routine transactions within the U.S. are not in the database.
The program, run out of the Central Intelligence Agency and overseen by the Treasury Department, “has provided us with a unique and powerful window into the operations of terrorist networks and is, without doubt, a legal and proper use of our authorities,” said Stuart Levey, an under secretary at the Treasury Department. Many safeguards have been imposed to protect against any unwarranted searches of Americans’ records, he said. The program departs from typical practice in how the government gets 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 from the cooperative, known as Swift.