The Central Intelligence Agency is amassing a huge database of international money transfers that includes the financial and personal data of millions of Americans, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Under the program, the Federal Bureau of Investigation works with the CIA to collect large amounts of data on international transactions of Americans and others under the agency's terror investigations.
The program is authorized by the same provision of the post-September 11 Patriot Act that allowed the National Security Agency to collect nearly all US phone records, officials familiar with the operation told the newspaper.
And like the NSA program that has caused an uproar both in the United States and abroad, the large-scale collection of data is authorized by a secret national security court known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The program therefore shows how different US spy agencies, and not just the NSA, are using the same legal authority to collect data.
The data, collected from Western Union and other US money transfer companies, includes transfers to and from the US but not solely domestic transactions. And most of the records are solely foreign, according to the newspaper.
It said some lawmakers learned about the program this summer and raised concerns over the program's occasional use of US Social Security numbers and other data to tie financial activity to a single individual.
But the program has helped uncover terror ties and financial patterns, former US government officials told the Journal.
One former official indicated that if the CIA identifies possible suspicious terror activity in the US, it informs the FBI.
Any spy agency operation under the special court's orders requires "strict compliance with the law and with those court orders," a US intelligence official was quoted as saying.
Those orders include procedures to safeguard the privacy of people in the United States, training those with access to information, bar unauthorized searches and limit how long data may be kept.
Although the CIA is barred from collecting intelligence on Americans, it can obtain data at home if it serves foreign intelligence purposes.
And the CIA program helps track terror financing around the globe, current and former US officials told the Journal.