The spy agency's financial records program, which past and current officials said was authorized under the Patriot Act and overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, does not include solely domestic transfers or interbank transactions, The New York Times reported Friday.
One official said the surveillance court imposed rules that withhold the identities of any Americans from the data the CIA sees, require a link to a terrorist organization before a search may be conducted and mandate data be discarded after a certain time period.
Former U.S. government officials familiar with the program said it is helpful in uncovering terrorist relationships and financial patterns, The Wall Street Journal reported. If a CIA analyst discovers possible suspicious terrorist activity in the United States while searching the data, the analyst provides that information to the FBI, a former official said.
Several officials also said there are more than one bulk collection program.
"The intelligence community collects bulk data in a number of different ways under multiple authorities," an intelligence official told the Times.
CIA spokesman Dean Boyd declined to confirm the existence of the international fund transfer program but said the agency conducts lawful intelligence collection aimed at foreign activities, which is subject to extensive oversight, the Times said.
"The CIA protects the nation and upholds the privacy rights of Americans by ensuring that its intelligence collection activities are focused on acquiring foreign intelligence and counterintelligence in accordance with U.S. laws," he said.
Juan Zarate, a White House and treasury official in the George W. Bush administration, said there isn't as much sensitivity generated about collecting financial data, partly because the government collects information on large transactions under the Bank Secrecy Act.
"There is a longstanding legal baseline for the U.S. government to collect financial information," Zarate told the Times.
Companies that provide the transfer service keep details about the transfers and that information is turned over to the CIA under court orders, the Journal said.
Former officials said wire-transfer giant Western Union participated but the Journal said the full list of participants could not be determined.
"We collect consumer information to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act and other laws," Western Union spokeswoman Luella D'Angelo said. "In doing so, we also protect our consumers' privacy and work to prevent consumer fraud."