According to reports – and denied by the government – The US Department of the Treasury is either creatively stretching the definition of certain laws or outright breaking them. It is likely that we will hear more about this over time.
The story goes like this. There is a part of Treasury called FINCEN or Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which, under law, receives reports of suspicious activity from banks and other financial institutions. The purpose of these reports is to detect money laundering and other financial crimes. This is all well within the law and FINCEN has been doing this for years.
There is another part of Treasury called the Office of Intelligence and Analysis or OIA. This is a foreign intelligence group tasked with gathering intelligence on foreigners.
But, under certain circumstances and with certain privacy protections, OIA can access FINCEN’s data.
But what happens if Treasury placed OIA employees inside FINCEN and those employees searched for information on U.S. citizens, possibly in violation of the law.
Treasury first issued a one sentence denial and later Treasury issued a longer two sentence denial while at the same time said that OIA and FINCEN do share important information and operate within the bounds of the law.
The Treasury Inspector General has launched a review and said that they had no further content.
On the other side of the argument, a number of Treasury employees have said, off the record, that “this is domestic spying”.
Sources said that the spying had been going on under President Obama, but has continued under President Trump.
And sources also say that officials from CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency have come to work at OIA for as little as a week, at which time they got access to information on U.S. citizens that they could not get legally without this arrangement.
To turn this completely into a soap opera, apparently last year Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence proposed transferring much of FINCEN’s work to OIA, along with the budget and staff. That certainly could upset FINCEN “whistle blowers”. They said that OIA, part of the intelligence community, could not collect information on U.S. citizens unless it complied with Executive Order 12333 issued by President Reagan and reissued by President Bush, which sets rules on collecting intel on U.S. citizens, among other rules. The EO requires certain privacy rules, approved by the Attorney General, and those rules did not exist at the time. When FINCEN asked to review those guidelines, they were, they said, removed from the conversation. These guidelines, apparently, have still not been approved by AG Sessions.
Some FINCEN employees have complained to Congress, but Congress doesn’t seem to have done much about it. Possibly in light of some publicity, they may decide it should have a higher priority.
At this point it appears to be the stuff that prime time soap operas are made of and it is completely unclear what the truth is.
Information for this post came from Buzzfeed.