The CIA has used the post-9/11 Patriot Act not only to conduct extensive surveillance on Internet and phone communications but also on international money transfers, it has emerged.

Current and former government officials confirmed that companies such as Western Union and MoneyGram may have been the focus, especially for transactions originating abroad and potentially financing terror-related operations on U.S. soil. The Agency has also been monitoring smuggled cash and credit and debit card use.

Speaking to The New York Times, which broke the story, one intelligence officer said, “The intelligence community collects bulk data in a number of different ways under multiple authorities.”

While it has long been known that the U.S. Treasury monitors financial flows that may be linked to terror organisations, officials suggested that the full extent of the CIA’s role may not have been disclosed until now.

The Times report quoted officials saying the Agency’s financial records plan “was authorised by provisions in the Patriot Act and overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”Further, it was clarified that the data scooped up by the CIA “does not include purely domestic transfers or bank-to-bank transactions,” and the FISA Court had “imposed rules withholding the identities of any Americans from the data the CIA sees, requiring a tie to a terrorist organisation before a search may be run, and mandating that the data be discarded after a certain number of years.”

The revelations come in the wake of hearings in the Congress where the heads of the intelligence community, including NSA chief Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, were grilled over whether rules were flouted in the NSA’s surveillance of Internet and telephone communications.

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