Lebanese banks could soon implement a global banking communication system that would allow third-parties – like the US government – access to its financial data.
In 2012, a Dutch businessman found out that his money transfer to a German counterpart, made through a German bank, had been appropriated by the Americans. While the sum of $26,000 was not huge, this incident had many implications regarding the extent of Washington’s reach in the world of “counter-terrorism.”
To justify the move, US authorities claimed the funds in question were intended as payment for a shipment of Cuban-imported cigars. Since the communist island state is subject to a US embargo, the Dutch businessman had broken US law.
The problem here does not lie in the pretext invoked by the US authorities, but rather in the mechanism that allowed them to detect and confiscate the funds. Indeed, this was only possible because they can manipulate the ‘secure’ interbank system operated by Belgium-based SWIFT, or Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication.
Starting in 2001, the US administration launched a foreign espionage program targeting SWIFT databases and transactions as part of its global “war on terror.” The scheme remained secret until 2006 when exposés ran in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Los Angeles Times.
The newspapers revealed that the program was a joint initiative by the US Department of the Treasury and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The program would later lead to the arrest of key members of al-Qaeda, such as Riduan Isamuddin (known as Hambali) in 2003, and other suspects involved in money laundering.SWIFT denied all involvement in, or knowledge of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP). A Euro-American controversy ensued over the program’s legitimacy until the issue was settled following extensive visits by US officials, including Vice President Joe Biden in 2009.