7-21 Tracking Terrorist Transfers
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- So what's the big deal about revealing that our government is tracking international financial transactions of suspected terrorists?
My guess is that any terrorist network big enough to be transferring money internationally knows that if it does it through a financial institution it can be, and will be, tracked.
And it also seems that the big newspapers that broke the story would have someone on staff who knows that a Belgian company routes financial transactions throughout the world. And, of course, that company maintains a vast database of all those transactions -- 11 million a day.
So by going to one source, the government can track the financial dealings of suspected terrorists and terrorist organizations. The only problem with that is that the government can put anyone it wants on the suspected terrorist list.
From press reports, it appears to not be quite that easy. The government has to subpoena the records from the Belgian firm, which probably could refuse to cooperate. But it is doing so, reportedly to help out with the war on terror.
This sounds suspiciously like the government efforts to track personal telephone and e-mails. Since practically everyone uses the telephone and many of us now have e-mail, that places a lot more people's privacy in jeopardy.
Most of us don't make international transactions. The Treasury Department says that is all it is tracking. But some of us get caught in the web anyway.
I'm fairly certain that I am caught in it. Several years ago, when returning from a foreign trip, I was asked by an immigration agent if I had been transferring large sums of money internationally.
When he entered my name into his computer, evidently it indicated that a John Miller had been doing such a thing, maybe in a suspicious manner. Yes, John is my real name.
A simple "no" allowed me to proceed. I thought it odd that I got through so easily after a question like that. It must have been that I looked absolutely harmless.
A crack investigative reporter might have asked the agent that question, but I had a connecting flight to catch and wasn't going to risk having him decide maybe he had been too easy on me.
The incident took place prior to 9/11 and prior to the George W. Bush administration. That strongly suggests to me that the government has been checking international money transfers for some time.
I can't be the only person ever to be asked that question, which suggests to me that the word must have gotten around long ago among terrorists and at least a few people in the media must have been aware that the feds are following the money.
So both sides of the issue are overplaying their hand. The surveillance wasn't that big a secret and announcing it did not constitute treason, as some have suggested. The New York Times took most of the heat for releasing the info, however reports indicate the Wall Street Journal and other papers also released it.
But it's an election year, so Democrats will condemn the surveillance and the Bush administration will make a big deal about catching seven terrorists in Miami who were planning to bring down the Sears Tower. They didn't even have the money for a bus ticket to Chicago.
Meanwhile, I've been delayed at airports the past two years while they double check my identity. I was given a letter telling me I am on the watch list.
I've filled out the requested form from the Transportation Security Administration and submitted notarized copies of every document I possess, including my plastic voter identification card from Rebecca Vigil-Giron.
I still get delayed and can't check in by computer or at curbside, but at least I know I'm not likely to be detained like some of the horror stories I've heard.
But now the TSA doesn't tell me why I'm on their list.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) email@example.com