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CIA collecting bulk data on money transfers, reports say

Secret program involving counter-terrorism collects and stores data on cross-border money transfers handled by firms like Western Union, according to reports. Some Americans' data is swept up.

Another secret surveillance effort that sweeps up and stores bulk data on Americans has apparently come to light -- this time involving financial records, and not the NSA but the Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA program reportedly nabs data from cross-border money transfers handled by US companies such as Western Union in an effort to discover and track the funding of terrorist efforts.

It reportedly operates under the same provision of the Patriot Act that the NSA points to in defending its massive collection of Americans' phone call records. And like the NSA program, it's also subject to guidelines set out in the now controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and to measures determined by the similarly controversial FISA court, which are meant to curtail the collection of data on American citizens.

The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times published separate reports on the program late Thursday, citing unnamed government officials. The Times report doesn't explicitly state that data on Americans is collected. The Journal report does and says that if data collected by the CIA under the program indicates the possibility of domestic terrorist activity, the agency passes that information on to the FBI to investigate.

Both publications reported that the CIA would not confirm the existence of the program, and both ran the same statement from the agency: "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."

Western Union also provided the same statement to both papers: "We collect consumer information to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act and other laws. In doing so, we also protect our consumers' privacy."

The Times notes that the CIA program "offers evidence that the extent of government data collection programs is not fully known and that the national debate over privacy and security may be incomplete." And the Journal points out that it "serves as the latest example of blurred lines between foreign and domestic intelligence as technology globalizes many activities carried out by citizens and terrorists alike."

For details, check out the Journal's story, here, and the Times' take, here.