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US Representative Peter King (Republican, New York), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has called the New York Times "treasonous" for informing the public about another secret Bush Administration counter-terrorist program, the Associated Press reports.

"We're at war, and for the Times to release information about secret operations and methods is treasonous," King reportedly told the wire service.

King has also called for the US Department of Justice (DoJ) to investigate the Times and prosecute the reporters, editors and publisher on any and all charges they can dream up.

The program in question uses vast amounts of data supplied by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift), a Belgium-based hub for international bank transactions. It receives transaction messages from approximately 200 countries, and the USA has been sifting the data in search of patterns indicating terrorist financing.

The US has used broad subpoenas to obtain the data, as Swift is not set up to provide targeted information. US Treasury secretary John Snow said Swift officials volunteered to give the US access to the entire database. US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales hastened to add that the program is perfectly legal.

And in terms of US law, Gonzales, who has been an apologist for torture and mass wiretapping, might be telling the truth for a change. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 authorises the President to initiate financial investigations of this nature, although perhaps not with the sort of broad, electronic dragnet approach in use at the moment. Still, there doesn't seem to be much risk for the White House under US law.

As for the laws of other countries whose citizens have been affected, that is another matter entirely. According to Reuters, the Belgian government has already launched an investigation into the data transfer, which may be illegal under local law. It's possible that other countries will follow suit. The European Commission is reportedly backing away from any regulatory responsibility, citing a lack of appropriate legislation, and pushing the issue back into the hands of member states. The wind-up could be that Swift will find itself regulated to death, although a whitewash seems the more likely outcome.

In the context of secret, CIA-run prisons in Poland and Romania, and numerous CIA rendition flights through European airports, neither of which has been investigated adequately, this massive exposure of banking data does not appear destined to become much of a cause. Fortunately for the Bush Administration, Europe appears quite content to know as little as possible about US interference in its various institutions. ®

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