Germans in Hysterics Over Terrorist Money Tracking Program

In the last few days, the German media and German politicians have been on an angry rampage against America’s Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP). The cause for their agitation are reports that the EU plans to continue permitting U.S. intelligence agencies access to some of the bank transfer data stored by the inter-bank network SWIFT.

“In a ‘blitz’ action,” the margin of maneuver of U.S. terror-investigators is supposed to have been “massively extended.” The talk is of “highly-sensitive bank data” and of “American snoops [Schnüfflern]” who will be permitted “to spy on the entire range of transactions.” There is supposedly no dependable legal basis for the program and one “fears abuse.” All of the above according to Spiegel Online in an article titled “EU Allows the U.S. to Spy on Bank Accounts”.

On the nightly news on Germany’s ZDF public television, star news presenter Klaus Kleber felt that it was relevant to inform his audience that the SWIFT server in the USA is located “right nearby” the CIA headquarters. ZDF’s “terrorism expert” Elmar Theveßen could placidly affirm that only a single arrest had ever been facilitated by the program.

Horst Seehofer, governor of Bavaria and head of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), describes the EU concessions as an “absolute abomination [Unding]” and a “scandal.” Guido Westerwelle, chair of Germany’s economically liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), deems the TFTP to be “completely unacceptable” and has demanded that “the project must be stopped.” Peter Schaar, Germany’s federal commissioner for data protection, believes that “the Americans” will in the future also be monitoring bank transfers from Hamburg to Cologne. Green Party politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit went so far as to warn of a “putsch” against the project in the European parliament. Old habits die hard.

Even for German standards, it is remarkable how unscrupulously falsehoods are being fired off at readers and television viewers. What an amazing concentration of paranoia, hysteria, and ignorance.

The TFTP is a program that the U.S. established in 2001 with Belgium, Spain, and other European countries, in order to trace the money flows of terror networks. The program was initially kept secret. No laws were broken and extensive precautionary measures were taken in order to assure that civil rights would not be violated. A super power’s military might is no help to it in the fight against terror networks. The conflict is not about destroying armies, but rather terror cells. The challenge is to identify the latter. In this connection, intelligence on money flows -– on the origins of payments that known or suspected terrorists receive, or on the destination of payments from known terror sponsors –- is of existential importance. Thanks to TFTP, it has been possible to uncover the ties between potential terrorists and their sponsors by following money flows.