The Treasury Department has admitted that it assisted law enforcement in catching people involved in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach by urging banks to comb through customers’ private transactions using terms like “MAGA” and “Trump” as part of a surveillance scheme intended to combat money launderers but used to track down Jan. 6ers.
Tthe Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the US Treasury Department’s financial crime-fighting unit, engaged in “pervasive financial surveillance” by distributing documents to banks that listed keywords that could be used to flag private financial transactions of potential Jan. 6 suspects for law enforcement.
The documents also purportedly provided instructions for banks to use indicators such as “the purchase of books (including religious texts)” and subscriptions to media with “extremist views.”
The startling allegations that FinCEN compelled banks to monitor their customers’ private transactions for suspicious charges based in part on political and religious expression drove Republican senators to seek answers.
Among these was Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, who pressed Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and FinCEN director Andrea Gacki for answers in a Jan. 19 letter, claiming that, if true, the allegations “represent a flagrant violation of Americans’ privacy and the improper targeting of U.S. citizens for exercising their constitutional rights without due process.”
Biden’s Treasury Secretary on Thursday skirted several questions from Republicans about why her department directed banks to search Americans’ financial data after January 6 for ‘extremists.’
Federal investigators in Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) urged US banks to search customer transactions for key terms such as ‘MAGA’ and ‘Trump,’ as well as explicitly ‘monitoring’ Trump supporters and Americans who visit outdoor retailers like Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Bass Pro Shops, as well as those who purchased religious literature like Bibles.
Did you shop at Bass Pro Shop yesterday or purchase a Bible?
If so, the federal government may be watching you.
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) January 18, 2024
“Did you shop at Bass Pro Shop yesterday or purchase a Bible? If so, the federal government may be watching you,” Jordan posted on X in January, when news first broke of the surveillance tactics.
“We now know the federal government flagged terms like ‘MAGA’ and ‘TRUMP,’ to financial institutions if Americans completed transactions using those terms,” he wrote in another post. “What was also flagged? If you bought a religious text, like a BIBLE, or shopped at Bass Pro Shop.”
The article generated furious Republican opposition against the Biden administration, with many demanding explanations regarding the government’s eavesdropping tactics.
Yellen was also challenged about her agency’s surveillance demands this week during two hearings on Capitol Hill.
“Has Treasury … instructed financial institutions to search Americans’ legal transactions in attempts to surveil their purchases?” Republican Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) asked Yellen at a hearing Tuesday.
“Well we received a letter from you I believe on this topic and we intend to investigate fully,” Yellen claimed.
“Are they instructing financial institutions to search Americans’ legal transactions in attempts to surveil their purchases?” Wagner asked again.
“I promise a thorough look into everything,” the secretary remarked.
“This is really concerning, and I would hope you get to it just as quickly as possible, Madam Secretary,” Wagner fumed.
During a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Thursday, Republican Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) scolded the secretary over Treasury’s unconstitutional surveillance of Americans.
“FinCEN was created to stop money laundering and not to spy on Americans,” he said. “It was not created for political motivations.”
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) also grilled Yellen, but she claimed the surveillance program had started before she became secretary and she would look into it.
“I will get back to you with more detailed information when I’ve had a chance to study this thoroughly,” she told the Tennessee Republican.
Republican senators also excoriated Yellen for the Treasury’s unfreezing of $6 billion of funding to Iran, which is backing proxies to attack U.S. troops in the Middle East.
Follow Kyle Becker on X @kylenabecker.