The "invisible when there is a crisis" Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has been unusually evasive in his Parliamentary Written Answer to the questions regarding the SWIFT financial communications network scandal, tabled by Dr. Vincent Cable, the Liberal Democrat MP and frontbench Treasury spokesman.
Written answers Tuesday, 25 July 2006:
Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecoms
Vincent Cable (Twickenham, Liberal Democrat)
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer
(1) what agreements exist between the Government and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication;
(2) whether tracking financial transactions involving British citizens by counter-terrorism officials through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication programme has been legally reconciled with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998;
(3) how many financial transactions have been tracked (a) in total and (b) by counter-terrorism officials using the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication programme in each year since 1997; and if he will make a statement;
(4) how many UK bank accounts have been frozen by his Department (a) as a counter-terrorism measure and (b) for other reasons as a result of financial transactions tracked using the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication programme in each year since 1997;
(5) to what UK financial regulation the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication programme is subject;
(6) what discussions the Government have had with its US counterparts to ensure the privacy of UK citizens who may have had their financial transactions viewed as part of US counter-terrorism investigations in conjunction with the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication.
Edward Balls (Economic Secretary, HM Treasury)
A total of 388 individuals and 181 entities are legally prevented from raising, moving or using funds in the UK pursuant to UN Security Council Resolutions 1267 (1999), 1333 (2000) and 1390 (2002) relating to the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network and UNSCR 1373 (2001). A total of 152 bank accounts in the UK have been frozen pursuant to the UK's international obligations under these Resolutions.
What have the UN Resolutions got to do with the SWIFT financial communications network ?
Were all these bank accounts and assets frozen as a result of UK Government access to SWIFT or not ?
Surely that was not the only source of intelligence ?
See also our previous blog article and comments following Gordon Brown's speech to the Royal United Services Institute on February 13th 2006.
It has been the policy of successive governments not to comment on specific security matters.
That feeble excuse should not be allowed to apply to general questions about the effect of foreign intelligence agencies on the security and privacy of British citizens and on the international reputation of the UK financial and banking industries !
The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) is an industry owned cooperative. It is headquartered in Belgium. I refer the hon. Member to the statement posted by SWIFT on its own website some years ago on compliance (www.swift.com/index.cfm?item_id=6149) and the statement more recently on 23 June 2006 (www.swift.com/index.cfm?item_id=59897) which stated that "In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, SWIFT responded to compulsory subpoenas for limited sets of data from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the United States Department of the Treasury."
This totally evades Question 1) and Question 5) which ask about United Kingdom financial regulation of SWIFT and not US or Belgian financial regulations or arrangements.
The UK Government are aware of the arrangement between the US Government and SWIFT.
Note the weasel words "are aware of". Since when has the Uk government been so aware ? Since 2001 when the US intelligence agencies and the US treasury put the pressure on SWIFt, or since 2003, when SWIFT insisted on some vague legal framework to cover themselves, or just since the New York Times revelations a few weeks ago ?
Has there been a similar "arrangement" between SWIFT and the UK Government, sidestepping the Financial Services Authority and the the Data Protection Act etc. and allowingspeculative bulj data mining of all of our financial data , rather than narrowly targeted criminal or intelligence investigations into specific terrorist suspects?
Has this data been used in non-terrorist investigations ?
Has there been any "insider trading" fraud as a result ?
Surely such evasiveness in answering a Written Parliamentary Question breaks the Ministerial Code and Civil Service Code?