US National Security Agency

CIA using same law as NSA to secretly monitor money transfers

Intelligence agency using same law as NSA deploys for its huge phone database, suggesting government surveillance is more widespread

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 11:06pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 3:59am

The CIA is secretly collecting bulk records of international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union - including transactions into and out of the United States - according to current and former government officials.

The agency is using the same law that the National Security Agency uses for its huge database of phone records - provisions in the Patriot Act overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court - they say.

The CIA financial records programme offers evidence that the extent of government data collection programmes is not fully known and that the national debate over privacy and security may be incomplete.


The data does not include purely domestic transfers or bank-to-bank transactions, several officials said. Another, while not acknowledging the programme, suggested that the surveillance court had imposed rules withholding the identities of any Americans from the data the CIA sees, requiring a tie to a terrorist organisation before a search may be run, and mandating that the data be discarded after a certain number of years. The court has imposed several similar rules on the NSA call logs programme.

Several officials also said more than one other bulk collection programme had yet to come to light. "The intelligence community collects bulk data in a number of different ways under multiple authorities," said one intelligence official.

Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the CIA, declined to confirm whether such a programme existed but said that the agency conducted lawful intelligence collection aimed at foreign - not domestic - activities and that it was subject to extensive oversight.

"The CIA protects the nation and upholds the privacy rights of Americans by ensuring that its intelligence collection activities are focused on acquiring foreign intelligence and counterintelligence in accordance with US laws," he said.

There have been hints in congressional testimony, declassified documents, and litigation that the NSA programme - which was disclosed by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor - is not unique in collecting records involving Americans.

A Justice Department "white paper" on the NSA's call records programme, released in August, said that communications logs were "a context" in which the "collection of a large volume of data" was necessary for investigators to be able to analyse links between terrorism suspects and their associates. It did not say that call records were the only context that meets the criteria for bulk gathering.

In hearings on Capitol Hill, government officials have repeatedly avoided saying that phone logs - which include date, duration and numbers of phone calls, but not their content - are the only type of data that would qualify for bulk collection under the Patriot Act provision. In a little-noticed exchange late in an October 3 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, General Keith Alexander, the NSA director, appeared to go further.

At the hearing, Senator Mazie Hirono asked Alexander and James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, a sweeping question: "So what are all of the programmes run by the NSA or other federal agencies" that used either Section 215 of the Patriot Act or another surveillance law that allows warrantless wiretapping of phone and emails?

Alexander responded by describing, once again, the NSA's call records programme, adding, "None of that is hid from you." Clapper said nothing.

Moments later, Alexander interjected that he was talking only about what the NSA was doing under the Patriot Act provision and appeared to let slip that other agencies were operating their own programmes.

"You know, that's of course a global thing that others use as well, but for ours, it's just that way," Alexander said.