Snow: Program vital to war on terrorism

By JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer
Fri Jun 23, 7:43 PM ET

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration said Friday an anti-terrorism program that taps into an immense international database of confidential financial records has adequate safeguards to protect Americans' privacy.

Democrats and civil liberties groups said the effort had disturbing similarities to another controversial anti-terrorism program of warrantless spying on telephone calls and e-mails.

Treasury Secretary John Snow called the financial-records effort "government at its best" and said it was "entirely consistent with our democratic values, with our best legal traditions."

The program, kept secret until it was revealed Thursday by news organizations, has been going on since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Using broad government subpoenas, the program allows U.S. counterterrorism analysts to obtain financial information from a vast database maintained by a company based in Belgium. It routes about 11 million financial transactions daily among 7,800 banks and other financial institutions in 200 countries.

"By following the money, we've been able to locate operatives, we've been able to locate their financiers, we've been able to chart the terrorist networks and we've been able to bring the terrorists to justice," Snow said. "If people are sending money to help al-Qaida, we want to know about it."

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