Friday, March 21, 2008

Protecting us from... Spitzer?

Now, I don't want to come off as defending any of the actions of a Mr. Mark Spitzer, but this story in Newsweek really sent a shiver down my spine...

Some background first: I was still working on the "Hill" when the so-called "Patriot Act" was passed through Congress without the slightest bit of debate or oversight (with the huge exception of the good senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold who will always be my hero for said act), and knew even then from the language and lack of significant sunset provisions that it was going to be a catastrophic loss for civil liberties in this country.

I've heard the arguments about "Oh we're just trying to give Police and intelligence the same tools they have to fight organized crime", I call bullshit on you right there... Go back and research how the RICO act was passed originally. The same type of scare tactics and fear-mongering that was needed to pass RICO, was running rampant through the US right after 9/11, thus we were perfectly tuned sheep ready to have the Patriot act shoved down our throats (for our own protection of course).

Now than, one of the fine lines in the Patriot Act (or "provision") gives the Treasury Dept authority to demand more and more financial records from banks regarding their customers:

Congress wanted to help the Feds identify terrorist money launderers. But Treasury went further. It issued stringent new regulations that required banks themselves to look for unusual transactions (such as odd patterns of cash withdrawals or wire transfers) and submit SARs—Suspicious Activity Reports—to the government. Facing potentially stiff penalties if they didn't comply, banks and other financial institutions installed sophisticated software to detect anomalies among millions of daily transactions. They began ranking the risk levels of their customers—on a scale of zero to 100—based on complex formulas that included the credit rating, assets and profession of the account holder.

Again, this is vitally important information to prevent Terrorists from getting lower interest rates than good ole patriotic Americans on credit cards I'm sure, but it gets even better.

The new scrutiny resulted in an explosion of SARs, from 204,915 in 2001 to 1.23
million last year. The data, stored in an IRS computer in Detroit, are accessible by law-enforcement agencies nationwide. "Terrorism has virtually nothing to do with it," says Peter Djinis, a former top Treasury lawyer. "The vast majority of SARs filed today involve garden-variety forms of white-collar crime." Federal Prosecutors around the country routinely scour the SARs for potential leads.

So essentially what we're seeing here is law-enforcement admitting that this new regulation in place has absolutely nothing to do with catching actual terrorists. It was a new rule put in place to make things easier to to catch another type of criminal altogether.

This is the most egregious form of lawmaking that anyone could possibly participate in, and in my opinion makes every lawmaker that voted for this bill unqualified to represent any Americans interest, much less the constitutional ideals they should strive for.

Oh, but here's the funny part...

Last summer New York's North Fork Bank, where Spitzer had an account, filed a
SAR about unusual money transfers he had made, say law-enforcement and industry sources who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the probe. One of the sources tells NEWSWEEK that Spitzer wasn't flagged because of his public position. Instead, the governor called attention to himself by asking the bank to transfer money in someone else's name. (A North Fork spokesperson says the bank does not discuss its customers.) The SAR was not itself evidence that Spitzer had committed a crime. But it made the Feds curious enough to follow the money.
Spitzer was actually busted by the Patriot act while trying to wire money for prostitution... I can't even think of words to describe how damn funny that is.

Truth is always far stranger then fiction.

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