Counter-Terrorism: The Poison Pill From Europe


July 22, 2011: One of America's most effective counter-terrorism tools is under attack by our European allies. The United States is in danger of losing its access to money transfer information via European banks. This is because European nations don't trust the U.S. to have all that data, and not compromise someone's privacy.

After September 11, 2001, the EU (European Union) agreed to order all banks in its territory to send to the United States, in bulk, all funds transfer data. It was understood that American intelligence analysts and financial specialists would use this data only to search for terrorists. And that's how it has worked for nearly a decade. But now a growing number of European politicians want to halt the data shipments to the U.S., and do analysis in Europe, and share any terrorist related findings with the United States.

The proposal has several things going against it. First, there's the cost ($70 million to set up, and $16 million a year to operate). Then there are the different privacy and data handling standards for individual EU nations. While the current system has an American team going through the torrent of new data (and mountain of older stuff) quickly and effectively, the EU proposal would, at the very least, make any data obtained from EU banking information less complete (until it was merged with American data from the U.S. and other parts of the world) and less reliable (because some nations would hold back data or discoveries because of privacy or political concerns.)

While European intelligence experts are content with the current system, and are well aware of how much the quality of results will decline under the EU proposal, a growing number of EU politicians fear that the current system gives the United States too much control over a valuable anti-terror tool. There may also be fears that this mountain of financial data, and growing American familiarity with it, could be used to identify and prosecute corrupt politicians, government officials and business people in the EU.





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