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Financial privacy: what would Kerry do?

Posted by Richard on June 28, 2006

Hugh Hewitt has been a bit, um, put out by the New York Times’ disclosure of terrorist finance tracking. Today, Hewitt pointed out that the Gray Lady had a different attitude in a September 2001 editorial (emphasis added):

The Bush administration is preparing new laws to help track terrorists through their money-laundering activity and is readying an executive order freezing the assets of known terrorists. Much more is needed, including stricter regulations, the recruitment of specialized investigators and greater cooperation with foreign banking authorities. There must also must be closer coordination among America’s law enforcement, national security and financial regulatory agencies.…If America is going to wage a new kind of war against terrorism, it must act on all fronts, including the financial one.

The contrast between what the Times said then and now triggered something in my on-again, off-again memory. After refreshing that memory a bit, I have a question for the New York Times and its supporters: Would this story have been pursued — and published despite administration pleas — during a Kerry administration?

You see, if history is any guide, a President John Effin’ Kerry would not only have authorized the same SWIFT program monitoring — he’d have pushed for much more aggressive and far-reaching monitoring than Bush authorized, and he’d have put far fewer privacy and civil liberties safeguards in place.

On Sept. 26, 2001, Kerry testified on money laundering and terrorism before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. An adaptation of that prepared statement appeared in a DLC publication a couple of months later. It began:

There can be no war on terrorism without declaring a war on money laundering. Only Osama bin Laden’s vast resources allow him and al-Qaida to pay the living expenses of sleeper terrorists for years on end and move them around the world. This global terrorist network has a financial ledger that more closely mirrors that of a Fortune 500 multinational corporation than that of an isolated fanatic.

To defeat this new kind of terrorist, we must cut off the money that supports him. The United States must lead an aggressive effort at home and around the world to eliminate the ways in which dirty money flows through the banking system to finance new criminal enterprises. 

A burning desire to destroy all vestiges of financial privacy has been one of the enduring traits of Kerry’s character for almost his entire political career. When the Patriot Act was originally debated, Kerry fought strenuously to strengthen government access to financial records and weaken financial privacy protections. John Berlau’s 2004 Reason article, John Kerry’s Dark Record on Civil Liberties, documented the Senator’s long-standing hostility toward encryption and privacy, and his enthusiasm for financial transaction monitoring and asset forfeiture. For instance:

Many on the left and right worried about overreach from the federal "Know Your Customer" regulations of 1997-98, which would have required banks to monitor every customer’s "normal and expected transactions." Those proposed rules were eventually withdrawn after the ACLU, the Libertarian Party, and other groups generated more than 100,000 comments in opposition. But from his writings and statements, John Kerry seemed worried that the regulations did not go far enough.

Kerry then expressed his belief that bank customers are entitled to essentially zero privacy. "The technology is already available to monitor all electronic money transfers," he wrote (emphasis added). "We need the will to make sure it is put in place."

A 2004 Money Laundering Alert article, which detailed Kerry’s many years of anti-money-laundering advocacy, noted (emphasis added):

The Kerry Amendment to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 (S. 3697) was “a good example fairly early on that showed what Kerry was willing to take on,” said Bruce Zagaris, a Washington, D.C. lawyer and publisher of International Enforcement Law Reporter. …

The amendment called for Treasury to negotiate information-sharing agreements with foreign countries covering money laundering cases and currency transactions over $10,000. …

Kerry introduced four more money laundering-related bills in 1989. They included legislative proposals to create a money laundering advisory commission, make U.S. currency traceable by electronic scanning, improve money laundering intelligence and revoke charters of banks involved in money laundering. …

“Senator Kerry has long taken the view that U.S. national security requires us to have the ability to trace funds on a global basis when someone has engaged in criminal or terrorist activity,” said Jonathan Winer, a former State Department enforcement official who was Kerry’s Senate counsel and legislative assistant.

Months before 9/11, Kerry sponsored the International Counter-Money Laundering and Foreign Corruption Act, which would have authorized Treasury to require financial institutions to file suspicious activity reports on transactions involving any person or jurisdiction deemed a primary money laundering concern. Financial institutions would have been required to identify the owner of any account opened or maintained by a foreign person.

The bill, which did not pass, was criticized for giving Treasury too much power. After 9/11, however, Kerry was a major player in getting these provisions incorporated into the USA Patriot Act...

Do you recall anyone in the Democratic Party denouncing Sen. Kerry’s lack of respect for civil liberties and financial privacy? Neither do I.

Do you think if Kerry were President today, Al Gore, Russ Feingold, Max Baucus, and various other politicians, talking heads, and media pundits would be calling him a criminal and suggesting censure or impeachment? Me neither.

Do you suspect that in a Kerry administration, we’d never even know about such intelligence operations because the liberal/leftist career employees in the State Department, CIA, NSA, etc., would keep their mouths shut instead of doing everything in their power to bring the administration down? Yeah, me too.

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