“It Was No Secret We Were Tracking Wire Transfers,” Says Rep. Maloney at Hearing
WASHINGTON, DC – At a House Financial Services subcommittee hearing today on the terrorist finance tracking program, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY-14) submitted the following statement:
“Our oversight is legally required under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), the law that the Administration is using to support this initiative, but the Administration has kept us in the dark. Although Treasury started subpoenaing data from SWIFT in October 2001, only three present Members of this body were informed about the program before May 11, 2006. Even though this committee has jurisdiction, most of us learned about this program only when The New York Times published its article on June 23 of this year. Apparently Congressional notification only occurs when The New York Times is delivered to our offices.
“The Administration’s intentional failure to consult with Congress for five years, even though it is clearly required by the law they argue supports this program, is part of a very disturbing pattern. As the Chairman of the Intelligence Commitee, Congressman Hoekstra, noted recently, the Administration needs to be reminded that keeping Congress informed of intelligence programs is not optional, it is a legal requirement. Congressman Hoekstra’s comments echo those of the Supreme Court in reviewing the Guantanamo bay tribunals: the Administration needs to remember that in this country, there are three branches of government, not one.
“The majority were in a big rush last week to pass a resolution asserting that the program is legal and that it has made significant contributions to the fight against terrorism. I hope that is true. But since we haven’t been told about this program, I don’t see how any Member can be sure. Reportedly, at least two lawsuits have been filed challenging the program, and even Administration officials reportedly had doubts about the use of administrative subpoenas to create a huge data base rather than to obtain narrowly targeted information.
“After the Times brought this program to our attention, the Administration condemned the paper in no uncertain terms. These are the same type of charges - leveled against the same paper - that we heard about the Pentagon Papers.
“But despite the statements of the President and Secretary Snow, no one was exactly surprised that the U.S. government is monitoring international wire transfers.
“There are innumerable statements by Administration officials and in the press since 9/11 that the United States was doing exactly that to catch terrorists. In just a few days, the interns in my office were able to compile an extensive list of publicly available quotes describing what we were doing in this regard since 9/11 and how we were doing it. They come from the national and international press, from legislative hearings, from speeches, from books and TV shows. They include statements before the Committee, statements from you, Mr. Levey.
“Some are quite specific. For example:
Ten days after 9/11 the Baltimore Sun reported that the National Security Agency was electronically intercepting wire transfers through SWIFT – though the article noted that this wouldn’t have caught the hijackers.
In January of 2002, Richard Spillenkothen, Director of the Banking Supervision and Regulation Division at the Fed, testified to the Senate Housing and Urban Affairs Committee that the government was regularly subpoenaing wire transfer records from Fed Wire, a service similar to SWIFT. I quote from his testimony: ‘Starting on September the 17th , the New York Reserve Bank, at the request of law enforcement and pursuant to subpoenas, began searching the records of Fed Wire, the Federal Reserve’s large dollar electronic payment system, for information related to terrorist acts.’
“Even TV fiction picked it up. As one of my interns found, the issue was a central part of a ‘West Wing’ episode on May 15, 2002. This was the episode in which President Bartlett had to decide whether to violate diplomatic immunity when he finds out that the Defense Minister of Qumar is actively financing terrorism. In case you missed the show that night , the way that the Bartlett Administration discovers the ugly truth about the Defense Minister is that the NSA tracks wire transfers into the account of a known terrorist from a Qumari bank in which the Minister was the controlling partner.
“In short, it was no secret we were tracking wire transfers. Any terrorist with a DVD player and an interest in popular American television would have figured that out by now. In fact, they have – at least that is the conclusion of former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind in his book, the One Percent Doctrine. Released two days before the Times story, this is an in-depth description of how the U.S. worked with Western Union to track international wire transfers through that company. Suskind concludes that by 2003 most suspected terrorists had wised up and were no longer using wire transfers at all.
“Since it made possible proper Congressional oversight, the Times article played a useful purpose. But those in the financial sector, or those interested in evading scrutiny of their financial transactions, knew shortly after 9/11 – if not even before – that the US was monitoring wire transfers. Really, the only news on June 22nd was that the Administration had once again kept Congress in the dark.
“Tracking how terrorists get money is absolutely critical to fighting terrorism. No one disputes that. In fact, the irony of this situation is that in the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004, this Committee gave Treasury authority to issue regulations requiring banks to track international wire transfers. We want Treasury to do that. But we want it done according to the law, and with full Congressional oversight.
“I look forward to the testimony.”