The European Union has renewed its commitment to work with the United States and the international community in curbing the flow of money to terrorist organizations worldwide.
The E.U. Council of Ministers on Monday approved a nine-month data transfer deal with the U.S., allowing American counter-terrorism officials to access European financial transaction data. Under the agreement, which will come into force on February 1, 2010, investigators will be able to request names, addresses, national identification numbers, and other personal data related to financial messages. This type of international cooperation has been and will continue to be invaluable as the U.S. operates its Terrorist Finance Tracking Program ("TFTP").
The existence of the TFTP was disclosed by the New York Times on June 23, 2006, when it revealed that the U.S. government had a program which enabled it to access the SWIFT transaction database after the September 11 attacks. SWIFT, a Belgium-based bank with offices in the U.S. that handles approximately 15 million bank transactions daily for more than 9,000 banks, admitted that they had responded to Treasury Department subpoenas and granted access to bank transactions in order to help anti-terrorism operations. Although public condemnation of the program was harsh, it has continued in operation because both U.S. and European officials recognize its efficacy.
The TFTP has been an integral part of the U.S. counter-terrorism efforts since the September 11 attacks. As Treasury under-secretary Stuart Levey explained in discussing the program:
"During the past eight years, the TFTP has provided invaluable leads in many major terrorism investigations, contributing greatly to our ability to thwart deadly terrorist attacks around the world."
Data gathered by the TFTP assisted in a number of domestic and international counter-terrorism operations including:
· The 2003 capture of al Qaeda operative Hambali, believed to be the mastermind behind the 2002 Bali bombing.
· The 2005 conviction of a Brooklyn man who was laundering money to al Qaeda in Pakistan.
· The 2007 investigation into the financial activities of Islamic Jihad Union in Germany, which led to the arrest and conviction of IJU members planning attacks in Germany.
· The 2009 convictions of three individuals for plotting to attack transatlantic flights in the United Kingdom
The extension of this program, even though limited in scope, reflects recognition on the part of the European Union that terrorist financing is a global program that must be combated through comprehensive, multilateral agreements.