September 15, 2013
In 2011, the NSA possessed 180 million records
through its "Follow the
The United States' NSA intelligence agency is interested in international
payments processed by companies including Visa, SPIEGEL has learned. It has
even set up its own financial database to track money flows through a
"tailored access operations" division.
National Security Agency (NSA)
widely monitors international payments, banking and credit card
transactions, according to documents seen by SPIEGEL.
The information from the American foreign intelligence agency, acquired by
former NSA contractor and whistleblower
Edward Snowden, show that the spying is
conducted by a branch called "Follow
the Money" (FTM).
The collected information then flows into the
NSA's own financial databank, called "Tracfin,"
which in 2011 contained 180 million records. Some 84 percent of the data is
from credit card transactions.
Further NSA documents from 2010 show that the NSA also targets the
transactions of customers of large credit card companies like VISA for
NSA analysts at an internal conference that year
described in detail how they had apparently successfully searched through
the US company's complex transaction network for tapping possibilities.
Their aim was to gain access to transactions by VISA customers in Europe,
the Middle East and Africa, according to one presentation.
The goal was to,
"collect, parse and ingest transactional
data for priority credit card associations, focusing on priority
In response to a SPIEGEL inquiry, however, VISA
issued a statement in which it said,
"We are not aware of any unauthorized access
to our network. Visa takes data security seriously and, in response to
any attempted intrusion, we would pursue all available remedies to the
fullest extent of the law.
Further, its Visa's policy to only provide
transaction information in response to a subpoena or other valid legal
The NSA's Tracfin data bank also contained data
from the Brussels-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial
a network used by thousands of banks to send transaction information
SWIFT was named as a "target," according to the
documents, which also show that the NSA spied on the organization on several
levels, involving, among others, the agency's "tailored access operations"
One of the ways the agency accessed the data
included reading "SWIFT printer traffic from numerous banks," the documents
But even intelligence agency employees are somewhat concerned about spying
on the world finance system, according to one document from the UK's
intelligence agency GCHQ concerning the legal perspectives on "financial
data" and the agency's own cooperations with the NSA in this area.
The collection, storage and sharing of
politically sensitive data is a deep invasion of privacy, and involved "bulk
data" full of "rich personal information," much of which "is not about our
targets," the document says.