The latest leak from Edward Snowden, published Sunday by the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, revealed yet another secret NSA surveillance program called “Follow the Money” designed to monitor international payments, banking and credit transactions. Snowden also alleged that the NSA monitored transaction of major credit card companies.
According to the documents leaked by Snowden, the National Security Agency collected financial data in a database called “Tracfin.” He says the NSA had about 180 million records stored in Tracfin in 2011. The documents allege that 84 percent of the data was credit card transactions.
The NSA leak names the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a Brussels-based network used by thousands of banks for secure transmissions, as a target for Follow the Money. The NSA collected data from SWIFT in Tracfin, and tapped into printer traffic of numerous banks.
Snowden also leaked slides from a presentation at a 2010 internal conference of NSA analysts on monitoring credit card companies like Visa Inc. (NYSE:V). Follow the Money aimed to access the transactions of Visa customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The slides described in detail how the NSA has successfully tapped into Visa’s network to search through transactions in order to “collect, parse and ingest transactional data for priority cred card associations, focusing on priority geographic regions,” according to Der Spiegel.
Visa, however, told Der Spiegel that it was impossible for the NSA to collect data from its networks.
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Snowden also revealed documents from GCHQ that showed that the UK intelligence agency had misgivings about the NSA’s Follow the Money program. The GCHQ questioned the legality of monitoring bulk data of personal financial information that didn’t necessarily pertain to national security risks.
These concerns apparently led the GCHQ to cut back its cooperation with the NSA in Follow the Money.
Earlier this year, Snowden revealed that the NSA was monitoring Verizon cell phone calls, and using programs called PRISM and XKeyscore to track online activities. More recently, Snowden revealed secret decryption programs from the NSA and GCHQ named Bullrun and Edgehill, respectively.
A Visa spokesperson responded to IB Times with the following comment:
“With respect to the claims in the Der Spiegel article, we are not aware of any unauthorized access into 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, it’s Visa’s policy to only provide transaction information in response to a subpoena or other valid legal process.”