Treasury official: Impact unclear from disclosure of terror tracking

The Treasury Department official tracking financial transactions made by terrorists testified Tuesday that news stories about the program were "definitely damaging" but "it remains to be seen" whether the program was ruined by the publicity.

Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey defended the administration's policy of limiting early briefings on the program to leaders of the two congressional intelligence committees -- and keeping in the dark members of the House Financial Services Oversight Subcommittee, who at a hearing Tuesday complained bitterly they were cut out until recently.

Democratic committee members were especially indignant, but even Oversight Subcommittee Chairwoman Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., said, "Many in Congress who should have been briefed by this administration were not." Kelly added, "While I appreciated the visit last week by Undersecretary Levey -- after the program's existence was reported in the media -- our oversight obligations are far from fulfilled."

Kelly asked for a classified briefing to determined how seriously the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program has been hampered and asked the Government Accountability Office to report on whether the program was conducted in accordance with law and provided enough safeguards, and whether Congress had been appropriately informed about it.

In contrast, House Financial Services Chairman Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, said he was satisfied with early briefings being limited to the intelligence committees. Levey said he followed "traditional practices" of informing the chairmen and ranking members of the two intelligence committees because the program is an intelligence operation.

Several Democrats, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, argued that much of the tracking program which involved subpoenaing data from SWIFT -- an international organization that transmits financial transfers -- was already well known. Levey replied that it is one thing to talk about tracking financial operations but that the New York Times report revealed "the sort of operational detail that was classified."

Even though some terrorists may have known the U.S. government was tracking financial transactions, "some terrorist factions were still using this transfer system," Levey said. House Financial Services ranking member Barney Frank, D-Mass., noted that he was invited to a briefing only the day before the story broke in the New York Times.

Frank said he turned down the briefing when he was told he could not discuss the program if he attended the briefing, which was only to let members know what was about to come out. Levey said Frank and others were invited out of "courtesy."

Frank told Levey, "You have rebuffed us," and said he hoped the Treasury officials' appearance Tuesday "begins a period of real cooperation."

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