13. FinCEN: A POTENTIAL THREAT TO PRIVACY AND PROPERTY

A new Treasury Department agency has been set up by the Bush Administration to strengthen law enforcement through cross-referencing and analysis of financial, commercial, law enforcement and intelligence databases. The new agency is named Financial Crime Enforcement Network or FinCEN . FinCEN did its part for the recent Persian Gulf war effort, according to Money Laundering Alert (MLA), a financial law enforcement newsletter published out of Miami, Florida.

FinCEN did this by assisting another Treasury agency, the Office of Foreign Asset Control, in their White House-assigned task of "beginning the process of identifying Iraqi assets in the U.S." FinCEN provided information that "led OFAC to freeze 11 bank accounts and assets in California, Georgia, and New York, as well as corporate assets and a $3.5 million real estate parcel."

MLA continued, "The properties belonged to people suspected (emphasis added) of being fronts for Saddam Hussein...". Some critics consider such seizure of property to be a denial of due process, a Sixth Amendment right.

FinCEN obtained the information through what MLA refers to as FinCEN's "three major databases." The first is of "financial information and intelligence such as that contained in the federal cash reporting Forms 4789 and 8300." The second contains "commercial data, such as corporate and property ownership records from state sources." The third holds "law enforcement case files and intelligence from the various federal agencies." The political newsletter Washington Report, contends that FinCEN can "invade over 100 U.S. and private financial databases, IRS and DEA records, Customs Reports, land and real estate data, (and) census records."

FinCEN was established in 1990 with $13.4 million in funding. The agency has apparently blossomed since the naming of Brian M. Bruh, a former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Criminal Investigation at the IRS and chief investigator for the Tower Commission, as director in March 1990. At that time, MLA reported that FinCEN employed 65 people, half "detailed" by the IRS and the Customs Service. It was anticipated that "a total staff complement of 200" would include "representatives" from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, an Firearms, the Secret Service, the Postal Inspectors, the DEA, unspecified "help" from the Defense Intelligence Agency and a "liaison" with the CIA.

The potential impact on the Fourth Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens by a new federal agency created specifically to compile comprehensive asset holdings data on anyone suspected of wrongdoing should be explored by the national press.

SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: SCOTT SOMOHANO

SOURCE: MONEY LAUNDERING ALERT, P.O. Box 011390, Miami, FL 33101-1390,
DATE: April 1991
TITLE: "FinCEN's Financial Missiles Strike Iraq, Saddam"
AUTHOR: Charles A. Intriago, Esq.

SOURCE: WASHINGTON REPORT, PO Box 10309, St. Petersburg, FL 33733,
DATE: September 1991
TITLE: "Editorial"
AUTHOR: William A. Leavell

SOURCE: U.S. GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE Washington, DC 20548,
DATE: 3/18/91
TITLE: GAO/GGD-91-53 FinCEN

COMMENTS: Project Censored first read about the obscure Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) in an editorial in a small publication titled Washington Report. Washington Report is a four-page monthly newsletter published by Editors Release Service in St. Petersburg, Florida. The editor, William A. Leavell, warned his readers "Have you ever heard of 'FinCEN?' No? You are not supposed to know about 'FinCEN.' Why? Because what it does is reported to violate the U.S. Constitution's 4th Amendment guarantee of your right to privacy." Leavell told Project Censored that he was tipped to FinCEN by a good source in the intelligence community he has known for many years.

Project Censored researchers discovered that FinCEN, a Treasury Department agency, was established, with little fanfare or media interest, in 1990 and already had played a role in the Gulf War effort. The problem is that FinCEN potentially threatens the Fourth Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens since it is authorized to compile extensive financial data on anyone who is suspected of wrongdoing.

Leavell, a staunch supporter of the Bill of Rights and a virulent opponent of censorship, believes "the FinCEN" operation is a violation of existing law and the Constitution "and a serious invasion of privacy. He added that information about FinCEN was made available to the major electronic and print media but that they "elected to ignore it." Leavell warned that "Censorship serves those in power and those who benefit from the existing political and financial 'establishment'."