Treasury Department Wing Latest To Be Accused Of Domestic Spying

from the just-dipping-into-the-domestic-stream-until-someone-says-stop dept

Some more domestic spying taking place, this time by financial regulators. While the US Treasury Department is well within its legal wheelhouse to investigate domestic financial wrongdoing, its Office of Intelligence and Analysis is only supposed to monitor financial activity occurring outside of the US. The OIA has apparently been helping itself to domestic financial records, as Jason Leopold reports.

Over the past year, at least a dozen employees in another branch of the Treasury Department, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, have warned officials and Congress that US citizens’ and residents’ banking and financial data has been illegally searched and stored. And the breach, some sources said, extended to other intelligence agencies, such as the National Security Agency, whose officers used the Treasury’s intelligence division as an illegal back door to gain access to American citizens’ financial records.

The US Treasury Department has responded to the allegations raised by several anonymous sources, claiming Leopold's article is basically bullshit.

“The BuzzFeed story is flat out wrong. An unsourced suggestion that an office within Treasury is engaged in illegal spying on Americans is unfounded and completely off-base.”

The department claims any sharing of data between the domestic-focused Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and the OIA is completely legal. The NSA made a similar claim about its perusing of domestic financial data. But those claims seem a little hollow now that the Treasury Department's Inspector General has announced an investigation into this information sharing.

In some cases, the information shared had been properly redacted. But officials claim OIA personnel simply found ways to obtain the blacked-out data.

Some sources have also charged that OIA analysts have, in a further legal breach, been calling up financial institutions to make inquiries about individual bank accounts and transactions involving US citizens. Sources said the banks have complied with the requests because they are under the impression they are giving the information to FinCEN, which they are required to do.

That's how the backdoor works. When identifying information is redacted, the OIA just calls up the financial institution and asks for more information about unnamed accounts until it has enough to nullify built-in minimization procedures.

And there's more. It appears OIA is passing along domestic banking data to other foreign-facing agencies like the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency. According to Leopold's sources, this has gone on for years. It's only coming to light now because FinCEN officials have begun complaining about the apparent privacy violations.

This has drawn the attention of Sen. Ron Wyden, who is now demanding answers from the Treasury Department.

“If true, those allegations would represent a serious abuse of spying powers to gather Americans’ financial information,” Senator Ron Wyden’s spokesman, Keith Chu, said in a statement: “Sen. Wyden plans to get to the bottom of what happened and take a close look at whether the rules currently protecting the privacy of Americans are strong enough and adequately enforced.”

This is something Wyden does well: dogged pursuits of information pertaining to intelligence community misconduct. Unfortunately, the intelligence community maintains a pretty solid stiff arm, which tends to put years between Wyden's questions and their eventual answers. Throw in some national security concerns, and the agencies involved are likely to be permitted to go dark for as long as possible.

The years of infighting between FinCEN and the OIA appear to be causing collateral damage. Another Leopold report from a couple of weeks ago covers a bizarre incident at the Treasury Department as FinCEN analysts attempted to dig through financial data for anything of interest that might have helped investigators track down participants in the recent London terrorist attack.

When the officials got to their secure operations center in Northern Virginia that Saturday night, they discovered that everyone on duty had been blocked from the classified networks their response depended upon. They couldn't open links emailed by the FBI about the suspected terrorists they were supposed to be chasing. They couldn't begin following the threads connecting those suspects to the people who had been funding and supporting them.

The lack of access for personnel within the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network — never before reported — cost antiterrorism forces on both sides of the Atlantic crucial time in identifying and pursuing the people and networks around the attackers, according to sources and documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News.

One possible explanation for the lockout may be the ongoing feud between FinCEN and the OIA. The OIA grants access to FinCEN, which allows it to piece together paper trails from both domestic and foreign banking data. If the OIA wanted to keep FinCEN out, it easily could. The other explanation is human error: unrenewed network security keys.

Whatever is happening isn't pretty. Human errors like these can result in lost human lives. If there's a turf war happening, the latest claims about OIA malfeasance are only going to result in less cooperation during critical times which, again, will possibly result in the loss of lives.

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Filed Under: backdoor surveillance, financial records, fincen, oia, surveillance, treasury

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  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 11 Oct 2017 @ 4:55am

    All your financial data are belong to U.S.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Oct 2017 @ 5:22am

    anyone like to comment on the number of those being spied on are high ranking officials in, for example, the banking industry and how many are ordinary citizens, earning less per year than the absolute minimum required to actually feed, clothe and house themselves? could it be 0 compared to 'as many as we feel like'? that sounds about right to me!

    what a disaster the USA is turning into, where there is more spying on more citizens and more removal of freedom and privacy than almost every other country on the Planet!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 11 Oct 2017 @ 5:50am


    Government Agency? [X} CHECK
    Spies on all data it can? [X] CHECK
    Lies about it? [X] CHECK

    Looks like SOP to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sok Puppette (profile), 11 Oct 2017 @ 6:30am

    There's no excuse for FinCEN to exist.

    Of course it's going to be "abused" like this; that's completely obvious and unsurprising.

    But its official "use" is illegitimate mass spying in the first place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Oct 2017 @ 9:47am

    Releasing information

    Sources said the banks have complied with the requests because they are under the impression they are giving the information to FinCEN

    Why were they under that impression? Did the callers claim it? Can I just call up a bank, say I'm FinCEN, and get information?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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