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CIA Creating Vast Database of American's Personal Financial Records: Report

'Collected data goes beyond basic financial records and uses Social Security numbers to tie financial activity to a specific person

Jon Queally, staff writer

The Central Intelligence Agency is amassing a huge database of international money transfers that includes the financial and personal data of millions of Americans, The Wall Street Journal reportedThe Central Intelligence Agency is amassing a huge database of international money transfers that includes the financial and personal data of millions of Americans, The Wall Street Journal reported. (Photo: AFP/File)

Claiming the same authority as the NSA does for its bulk collection of domestic internet and phone data, the clandestine Central Intelligence Agency is compiling a "vast database" that includes the personal financial records of Americans, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In a news story published Friday, the Journal reporting shows the CIA program "collects information from U.S. money-transfer companies including Western Union" and that  some of the data goes "beyond basic financial records, such as U.S. Social Security numbers, which can be used to tie the financial activity to a specific person."

According to the Journal, the program

is carried out under the same provision of the Patriot Act that enables the National Security Agency to collect nearly all American phone records, the officials said. Like the NSA program, the mass collection of financial transactions is authorized by a secret national-security court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The CIA, as a foreign-intelligence agency, is barred from targeting Americans in its intelligence collection. But it can conduct domestic operations for foreign intelligence purposes.

As has been shown in other cases, it is the CIA's collusion with the FBI, which operates under different rules when it comes to domestically obtaining or handling the personal data of American citizens, that makes these kind of databases most troubling to privacy and civil liberty advocates.

As the ACLU warned from its very inception, the U.S. Patriot Act would allow the CIA to (once again) turn its spying capabilities on Americans by permitting "a vast array of information gathering on U.S. citizens from school records, financial transactions, Internet activity, telephone conversations, information gleaned from grand jury proceedings and criminal investigations."


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In the years since, and as the revelations made possible by NSA whistleblower now show more clearly than ever, that expanded role of domestic spying by the CIA, the FBI, and other agencies has only grown and become more codified over the years.

Additionally, the role of private corporations—in this case wire transfer companies or other financial service providers—are being compelled by legal orders to hand over the information of their customers without their consent or knowledge.

As the Journal reporting adds:

Details about money transfers are kept by the companies providing the service; that information is turned over to the CIA under court orders. Former officials named wire-transfer giant Western Union as a participant.

The full roster of participants couldn’t be learned. Other large, global money-transfer companies include MoneyGram; there are numerous smaller firms. [...]

The data is obtained from companies in bulk, then placed in a dedicated database. Then, court-ordered rules are applied to “minimize,” or mask, the information about people in the U.S. unless that information is deemed to be of foreign-intelligence interest, a former U.S. official said.

It us unclear, however, how oversight of these operations has been conducted because, as the Journal reporting indicates, lawmakers were only made aware of this program during inquiries that followed in the wake of the Snowden documents in the last several months.


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