Two U.S. newspapers are reporting the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has been collecting records of international money transfers, using the same law the National Security Agency used to collect telephone and Internet records.
The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that former and current U.S. officials, speaking anonymously, confirmed the existence of the program.
The reports say the financial transactions program is covered under the Patriot Act, which was enacted after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The wire transfer company Western Union was mentioned in the Times report. Western Union did not confirm its participation in the program, saying only that it complies with federal laws, which require banks to report suspicious transactions.
The Times quoted an official as saying federal law requires a tie to a terrorist organization before a search of such financial transactions can be conducted, and search results must be erased after a certain number of years.
The scope of data collection undertaken by the U.S. government has begun to be revealed since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents to the web site Wikileaks earlier this year. In the past, the Obama administration has defended the revealed programs as crucial to national security.
The Times hinted in Friday's report that it has information that more such programs may come to light.