Follow the Money: NSA Monitors Financial World, Part 1

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark, September 16, 2013 (Photo Gallery).

The NSA monitors banks and credit card transactions — sometimes in apparent violation of national laws and global regulations. The European SWIFT financial transaction network is being tapped on different levels, internal documents from the US spy agency show.

In the summer of 2010, a Middle Eastern businessman wanted to transfer a large sum of money from one country in the region to another. He wanted to send at least $50,000 (€37,500), and he had a very clear idea of how it should be done. The transaction could not be conducted via the United States, and the name of his bank would have to be kept secret – those were his conditions. 

Though the transfer was carried out precisely according to his instructions, it did not go unobserved. The transaction is listed in classified documents compiled by the US intelligence agency NSA that SPIEGEL has seen and that deal with the activities of the United States in the international financial sector. The documents show how comprehensively and effectively the intelligence agency can track global flows of money and store the information in a powerful database developed for this purpose.

“Follow the Money” is the name of the NSA branch that handles these matters. The name is reminiscent of the famous catchphrase by former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, the whistleblower known as “Deep Throat” who offered the information to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters investigating the Watergate scandal in 1972.

Financial transfers are the “Achilles’ heel” of terrorists, as NSA analysts note in an internal report. Additional fields of activity for their “financial intelligence” include tracking down illegal arms deliveries and keeping tabs on the increasingly lucrative domain of cybercrime. Tracing international flows of money could help reveal political crimes, expose acts of genocide and monitor whether sanctions are being respected.

Data Access vs. International Laws: … //

… Monitoring SWIFT: … //

… EU Compromise Violated by US:

NSA documents from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden now show that the compromise reached with the EU is apparently being circumvented by the US. A document from the year 2011 clearly designates the SWIFT computer network as a “target.” The secret data collection also involves the NSA department for “tailored access operations.”

According to the documents, one of the various means of accessing the SWIFT information has existed since 2006. Since then, it has been possible to read the “SWIFT printer traffic from numerous banks.”

In the wake of revelations that the NSA bugged the EU embassies in New York and Washington, the attack on SWIFT could be the next major stress test for relations between the US government and the European Union. The NSA failed to comment on the latest allegations before SPIEGEL’s printing deadline on Friday.

Late last week, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström said that the Americans should “immediately and precisely tell us what has happened, and put all the cards on the table.” If it’s true “that they share information with other agencies for purposes other than those outlined in the agreement … we will have to consider ending the agreement,” the Swede said after Brazilian broadcaster TV Globo first reported on the attack on SWIFT on Sept. 8.
Jan Philipp Albrecht, a Green Party representative in the European Parliament, spoke of an “open breach of law.” Four out of seven factions in the European Parliament have joined the growing number of calls to suspend the agreement.

The conflict is also particularly sensitive because the documents reveal the close involvement of the US Treasury in selecting the program’s spying targets. Indeed, according to the documents, there is an exchange of personnel in which NSA analysts are transferred for a number of months to the relevant department in the US Treasury.
(full text).

Part 2: Spying on Banks and Credit Card Firms.

Links:

Codename ‘Apalachee’: How America Spies on Europe and the UN, on Spiegel Online International, by Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark, August 26, 2013 (Photo Gallery): President Obama promised that NSA surveillance activities were aimed exclusively at preventing terrorist attacks. But secret documents from the intelligence agency show that the Americans spy on Europe, the UN and other countries …;

(see also: Welcome to our new blog: politics for the 99%).

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