The US Treasury Secretary, John Snow, said a programme that tracks millions of financial transactions is not an invasion of Americans' privacy but "government at its best" and vital to anti- terrorism operations.
Mr Snow said yesterday that the programme, run by the CIA and overseen by the Treasury Department, was "responsible government. It's effective government. It's government that works. It's entirely consistent with democratic values, with our best legal traditions."
In the weeks following the 11 September terror attacks, Treasury officials obtained access to an extensive financial database - the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift. The co-operative, based in Belgium, handles financial message traffic from thousands of financial institutions in more than 200 countries
"It's important to understand that very significant protocols and safeguards have been put in place in a co-operative way between Swift and the Treasury Department," Mr Snow said.
The once-secret programme has drawn protests from Democrats in the US Congress, who say it raises concerns about intrusions on privacy and who see it as the latest step in an aggressive expansion of executive-branch powers by the Bush administration.
Mr Snow defended the newly disclosed programme, saying it was an effective tool in tracking the financial op-
erations of terrorists. "By following the …