Loss of terrorist finance tracking program would be tragic mistake
By Stuart Levey, US Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence | Wednesday 03 February 2010
Before the European Parliament is a historic EU-U.S. agreement to continue the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP). This nine-month interim agreement creates a legally binding international framework, for the first time, to enable the United States and the European Union to share critical financial information needed to investigate and prevent terrorism. The agreement on the table would also provide an opportunity to negotiate a longer-term agreement, under the EU’s new Lisbon Treaty structure. A veto of this interim agreement would jeopardize a valuable and carefully constructed program that has helped make our citizens safer.
The TFTP has been much debated but remains widely misunderstood. Before a vote is cast, I would like to highlight the value, legal underpinnings, and protections of this important program, which has supplied more than 1,500 reports and countless leads to counter-terrorism investigators in Europe alone and more to other partners around the world. The TFTP has been instrumental in protecting the citizens of the United States and Europe, and it has played a key role in multiple terrorism investigations on both sides of the Atlantic. To take but one example, TFTP information provided substantial assistance to European governments during investigations into the Al Qaeda-directed plot to attack transatlantic airline flights traveling between the EU and the United States. TFTP information provided new leads, corroborated identities, and revealed relationships among individuals responsible for this terrorist plot. In September 2009, three individuals were convicted in the UK, and each was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison.
The United States is deeply committed to safeguarding the privacy of data, and we are confident that objective reviewers will find the TFTP to be consistent with the strongest traditions of European civil liberties while providing tremendous value to Europe as well as to the United States. This program has been designed and operated with unprecedented and overlapping privacy safeguards, the effectiveness of which already has been verified by an EU review led by Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière. The provisional agreement expands these protections, including by adding an additional review team to include members from independent EU Data Protection Authorities.
Terrorist groups strive to keep their activities hidden and, increasingly, to recruit operatives and use names unfamiliar to security officials. Financial records are a critical means of detecting, tracking, and disrupting such groups. The TFTP allows us to find terrorist links quickly and then share that information with appropriate authorities.
The U.S. Treasury Department issues subpoenas that enable counter-terrorism analysts and investigators to quickly obtain narrowly tailored access to the financial payment records of terrorist suspects. And that is all they can obtain. Analysts cannot even execute a targeted terrorism search through TFTP until they substantiate the particular terrorism connection being probed. Multiple legal, technological, and practical safeguards prevent officials from viewing the financial records of ordinary citizens unconnected to terrorism suspects, or even accessing any records unconnected to terrorist activity. Finally, these controls are subject to an independent review by an outside auditor.
Much is at stake. Simply put, the EU and U.S. cannot afford to handicap our investigators by preventing access to key data that are valuable, legally obtainable and subject to scrupulous review and oversight. Undetected and undeterred, terrorists will abuse the integrity and openness of the world’s financial system. The benefits of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program have been incalculable in enhancing the safety and well-being of European and American citizens. To lose the TFTP now would be a deeply regrettable and potentially tragic mistake.