- The Washington Times - Friday, February 12, 2010

In the second blow to U.S. anti-terrorism cooperation with allies in as many days, the European Parliament on Thursday rejected a deal to allow Washington access to key banking and financial data needed for disrupting terrorist money flows.

The decisive vote against a proposed agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, followed a British court’s release Wednesday of previously secret and damaging information on the treatment of a former Guantanamo Bay detainee by U.S. interrogators.

“We are disappointed by the result of the vote,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters. “It’s a setback for our efforts and disrupts an important counterterrorism program.”

Tracking terrorist financing is a vital tool in fighting global extremism, and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush administration began a secret program that transferred millions of pieces of personal information from the U.S. offices of the bank transfer company SWIFT to U.S. authorities.

Despite anger in the European Parliament when the program was revealed publicly in 2006, it has produced more than 1,500 tips to European governments and “numerous other leads,” Mr. Crowley said. The proposed deal would have formalized the SWIFT data flow.

The United States has bilateral accords enabling information-sharing with various countries around the world, including in Europe, but U.S. officials say an EU-wide agreement would be much more effective.

“We’ll have to consider how to proceed, but it’s encouraging that many governments in Europe want to work with us on this program,” Mr. Crowley said. “It’s no secret that Europe and the U.S. approach privacy issues differently.”

Privacy concerns were the main reason for the deal’s rejection, and Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said the assembly wants more safeguards for civil liberties to make sure that human rights are not compromised in the name of security.

In recent days, top U.S. officials, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, had called dozens of commission and parliament members to lobby in favor of the deal.

Thursday’s vote exposed disagreements between the legislature and the commission, which tried to approve the deal in November - a day before the EU’s new Lisbon treaty came into force - to avoid the new requirement of parliamentary consent. However, after an outcry, the commission backed down.

In a statement after the vote, the commission said it “regrets the fact that the highly valuable information that this instrument would have provided for the fight against terrorism will not be available.” It also said it is determined to negotiate a new long-term agreement with Washington.

Divisions on the matter among the commission’s members could also be detected Thursday.

“I remain convinced that the [SWIFT] program enhances the security of our citizens,” said Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom. “We need to cooperate with our U.S. partners in order to fight terrorism effectively.”

However, Viviane Reding, commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, said the commission “is accountable” to parliament and “needs to respect” the vote’s outcome.

“I believe that the full involvement of national data-protection authorities in the negotiations of the long-term SWIFT agreement will give citizens further assurances about the proportionality and the correct implementation of the agreement, particularly with regard to its data-protection safeguards,” she said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide