I'm sure I wasn't the only one startled a few weeks ago to hear the morning news mention, "Swift, an international banking organization." And if the reference to the global payments cooperative -- rarely, if ever, the focus of mass media reports -- wasn't startling enough, the report that followed shook any remaining morning fog from my brain.
The revelation -- first published by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times -- that since 2001 Swift has provided U.S. counterterrorism officials with access to its database and payments records has been front-page news ever since. Apart from an official statement about its compliance policy at press time, Swift executives had no further public comment on the arrangement. The White House, however, has condemned The Times, claiming that reports about the program undermine the war on terror by tipping off the enemy.
But I doubt anyone really has been "tipped off" by these reports. My guess is that anyone who has figured out how to subvert the Swift network (or any other bank-related channel) also is smart enough to understand that sooner or later the government is going to want to look at Swift records to try to track this kind of activity.
As details emerged, what I really found interesting was that anyone who knows banking was surprised to learn about the program. It would have been more shocking to learn that Swift was not being used as a resource to help identify and track terrorist funding. And it appears that Swift officials have been sensitive to the complexities and potential abuses of this information-sharing arrangement and had taken appropriate compliance and governance steps to manage it.
Once again, it seems that amid the many missteps in the efforts to understand the implications of the 9/11 attacks and prevent future terrorist attacks, for the most part the banking industry stands apart as a model of competence, responsiveness and appropriate cooperation and compliance.
Petite Rebellion Update: I won't take any credit, but shortly after the appearance of last issue's editorial -- which noted that several major department stores had eliminated petite women's clothing departments -- Saks Fifth Avenue announced it would reinstate its women's petite clothing department. A little customer insight never hurt anyone.
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio