The revelation that CIA agents and treasury officials had been secretly monitoring financial transactions routed through Swift, the Brussels-based banking cooperative, caused uproar. It followed intense controversy – and a number of law suits from civil liberty organisations – provoked by the disclosure in the New York Times last December that George Bush had instructed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and emails of Americans without court oversight.
Under the banking surveillance programme, disclosed on Thursday night on the websites of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal, agents from the US treasury department and CIA gained access to a trove of international financial transactions.
Although the White House has often spoken of the importance of disrupting terrorist financial networks, it had not previously revealed its methods. But John Snow, the treasury secretary, said yesterday the administration had not intruded unduly on Americans’ privacy.
“It’s entirely consistent with democratic values, with our best legal traditions,” he told a press conference.