Treasury Dept. probes confidential bank transactions.

Treasury Dept. probes confidential bank transactions.

Treasury Dept. probes confidential bank transactions.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 23 2006 5:37 AM

Following The Money

The New York Times and the Los Angeles Timeslead, the Washington Post leads its print edition, and the Wall Street Journal tops its business and finance news box with the news that the Treasury Department and the CIA have been secretly combing international bank transaction records for nearly five years in an ad hoc program the administration considers a key weapon in the war on terror. Officials say that the program, which has let the government view thousands of Americans' financial transactions without individual, court-ordered warrants or subpoenas, has seen limited and targeted usage, and has been crucial in tracking terrorist finance networks. USA Today leads and everybody else stuffs the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling that businesses which retaliate against employees who file discrimination complaints can be held financially liable for their actions.

The information in question, mainly records of international wire transfers, is obtained from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a Belgian organization that is integral in facilitating international wire transfers and other financial transactions. The administration first sought access to the SWIFT records weeks after the 9/11 attacks, and has been pulling records on a monthly basis via broad administrative subpoenas—otherwise known as "national security letters"—ever since.

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The records are stored in a vast Treasury database, the use of which, Treasury officials claim, is vigorously regulated. An outside auditor was hired to insure that the information is only accessed for anti-terrorism purposes, and Treasury officials maintain that the program "is not a 'fishing expedition,' but rather a sharp harpoon aimed at the heart of terrorist activity."

But is this particular brand of whaling legal? Officials use President Bush's invocation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to justify the program, and Treasury lawyers say that, since SWIFT isn't a bank, it's not prohibited from sharing transaction records. Critics, however, call the program "inappropriate." Legal or not, only the LAT mentions that, because al-Qaeda has long since conducted its financial transactions via less formal means, the program has only been "marginally successful" in tracking al-Qaeda's money.

It's unclear exactly how badly a world marketplace that relies on SWIFT to securely facilitate its financial transactions is going to take this news. In a press release, SWIFT claims it was merely complying with compulsory subpoenas—an excuse might not wash with its clients, apparently all of whom were ignorant of what was going on.

Interestingly, it was a Wall Street exec who apparently suggested the program to administration officials. Why would the famously reticent financial industry want to spill once-confidential information? The NYT thinks that some finance execs, having lost friends in the WTC collapse, "saw 9/11 not just as an attack on the United States, but on the financial industry as a whole." Or, as a movie poster might say, Markets vs. Mullahs: This Time it's Personal.

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The Supreme Court decision strengthens Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which used vague language in prohibiting employers from taking revenge on workers who claimed discrimination, often making it functionally impossible for employees to win retaliation cases in court. Writing for the Court, Justice Stephen Breyer defined illegal retaliation as any action that would make an employee less likely to want to file a complaint in the first place.

The Senate resoundingly rejected two Democrat-sponsored measures calling for a rollback of troops in Iraq, everyone reports. Senate Republicans stood nearly unanimous against both measures, with only Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., voting for Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.'s call for an eventual troop withdrawal. Senate Democrats responded by unveiling a large, blank poster headlined by the words "The Bush Plan in Iraq." Oh, burn!

Everybody reports that seven Muslim men were arrested for participating in an embryonic plot to attack Chicago's Sears Tower, America's tallest building. The men, at least five of whom were American citizens, were arrested in Miami, where they had apparently been living in a warehouse while training for the assault.

The NYT off-leads news that the Securities and Exchange Commission is reportedly investigating one of America's oldest hedge funds—Pequot Capital Management, which claims $7 billion in holdings—on charges of insider trading. Meanwhile, the former SEC lawyer who headed the investigation claims that his abrupt and unexplained firing last September was politically motivated.

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The Post fronts news that a book-length report on the Jack Abramoff tribal lobbying scandal released yesterday by the Senate Indian Affairs committee says that Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio, lied to a Senate committee about his knowledge of and involvement with a Texas tribe represented by Abramoff. The report also notes how former Christian Coalition honcho Ralph Reed received over $5.3 million from various Abramoff-represented tribes. Great photo of Ney, Reed, and an inexplicably bloated and unshaven Abramoff on a 2002 Scotland golf getaway.

The LAT is alone in fronting news of a National Academy of Sciences study which concluded that the global warming crisis is, um, real.

The Post goes inside with news that the House voted to drastically cut the estate tax—only 2800 estates in the country would remain taxable—while giving the president a line-item veto over earmark spending measures. A NYT editorial calls the estate-tax bill "unfair and grounded in intellectual dishonesty."

The LAT fronts a great look at the alarmingly violent Mexican narcotics industry, where drug kingpins are fronting small, heavily armed private militias to combat state anti-drug forces.

MySpace Friends Do Not Count: USAT fronts a recent study showing that one-quarter of Americans say they have no close friends, an almost 150% increase from when the same survey was conducted in 1985.