European Parliament Vote Undermines Counterterrorism Efforts
By Dennis Lormel
Since shortly after 9/11, the U.S. Treasury Department has run a successful terrorist financing investigative program in conjunction with the CIA and FBI. The program known as the Terrorist Financing Tracking Program (TFTP) has not only benefited the U.S. but has served to provide valuable financial intelligence to European law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as well as agencies in other parts of the world. According to Stuart Levey, Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, U.S. Treasury Department, the TFTP provided more than 1,500 reports and countless leads to counterterrorism investigators in Europe and more to other countries. This included information provided during the investigation of the foiled 2006 Al-Qaeda plot to attack transatlantic flights between Europe and the U.S.
Unfortunately, the European Parliament overlooked the important value of the TFTP regarding international counterterrorism efforts when it voted to nullify an agreement between the U.S. and the European Council that would have allowed the U.S. to have access to financial data stored with the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). In this situation, an interesting question manifests itself. Did the European Parliament bite its nose to spite its face?
SWIFT provides electronic messaging services that direct financial transactions worth trillions of dollars a day among over 8,300 financial institutions in 208 countries. SWIFT maintained an information storage facility in the U.S. Following 9/11 and until January 2010, when SWIFT moved the storage facility to Switzerland, the U.S. Treasury Department served administrative subpoenas on SWIFT giving Treasury access to SWIFT messaging information on a monthly basis.
The information accessed by the U.S. government was tightly monitored by independent auditors. The TFTP was only able to access terrorist specific financial data. In 2003, the SWIFT Governing Board visited senior U.S. government officials to ensure the integrity of the program. French Judge Jean Louis Bruguiere recently reviewed the TFTP. He concluded the program was effective and contained sufficient privacy safeguards.
Because of the move to Switzerland, the U.S. negotiated a deal with the European Council to continue to maintain access to SWIFT data in order to sustain the TFTP. This deal was made in November, 2009. The European Council is composed of the heads of European States.
The European Parliament is an elected body that usually acts in conjunction with the European Council. However, in this case the European Council acted without including the European Parliament. Consequently, for the right or wrong reason, The European Parliament voted against an important anti-terrorism program. Let’s hope they didn’t bite their nose to spite their face.