The Treasury Department has admitted that it helped law enforcement catch people involved in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach by urging banks to comb through the private transactions of customers using terms like “MAGA” and “Trump” as part of a surveillance scheme intended to fight money launderers but used to hunt Jan. 6-ers.
In January, The Epoch Times reported on allegations that the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)—the U.S. Treasury Department’s financial crime-fighting unit—was accused of engaging in “pervasive financial surveillance” by circulating materials to banks that listed keywords that could be used to flag private financial transactions of potential Jan. 6 suspects for law enforcement.
The materials also allegedly included instructions to banks to use indicators that could include “the purchase of books (including religious texts)” and subscriptions to media containing “extremist views.”
The explosive allegations that FinCEN pushed banks to surveil the private transactions of their customers for suspicious charges based in part on political and religious expression prompted Republican lawmakers to demand 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, in which the lawmaker alleged 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.”
Mr. Scott received a response letter on Feb. 9, in which Office of Legislative Affairs acting assistant secretary Corey Tellez confirmed that keywords like “MAGA,” “Trump,” or “storm the Capitol” were included in materials FinCEN provided to banks to help the feds track down Jan. 6 protesters.
Mr. Tellez wrote that, following the Jan. 6 incident, FinCEN shared information with banks that included typologies that were based on previous efforts to develop robust anti-money laundering programs that could identify specific types of illegal activity, such as that related to active shooters or violent extremists.
“For example, a document distributed on January 15, 2021, suggested that banks could review payment messages for indications that an individual participated in the assault on the Capitol and included terms such as ”Antifa,“ ”MAGA,“ ”Trump,“ ”Biden,“ ”Kamala,“ ”Schumer,“ and ”Pelosi,“ along with terms indicating an intent to do violence, such as ”shoot,“ ”kill,“ ”murder,“ and ”storm the Capitol.”
FinCEN shared such documents with banks and law enforcement agencies via a series of events on FinCEN Exchange. This is a public-private information exchange platform established by Congress in 2020 for the purpose of disrupting money laundering, terrorism financing, and other crime
“FinCEN’s primary role through these Exchange events was to support law enforcement efforts,” Mr. Tellez wrote, adding that these FinCEN Exchange events lasted until around mid-February 2021, so about a month-and-a-half after the Jan. 6 incident.
Financial Surveillance of ‘MAGA’
Confirmation that the Biden administration used what Mr. Scott called “politically charged search terms” to flag customers for the benefit of law enforcement stems from the work of the House Judiciary Committee and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, which are conducting oversight of law enforcement activity against U.S. citizens that may skirt the legal process.
On Jan. 17, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who also heads the weaponization subcommittee, revealed that the two committees were in possession of documents indicating that FinCEN sent out materials to banks on behalf of law enforcement that outlined the typologies of persons of interest linked to the Jan. 6 incident.
“We now know the federal government flagged terms like ‘MAGA’ and ‘TRUMP’ to financial institutions if Americans completed transactions using those terms,” Mr. Jordan said in a post on X.
“What was also flagged? If you bought a religious text, like a BIBLE, or shopped at Bass Pro Shop.”
In a letter to former FinCEN division director Noah Bishoff, Mr. Jordan accused the agency of engaging in “pervasive financial surveillance” carried out at the request of law enforcement, with the lawmaker claiming this raised doubts about the Treasury Department’s “respect for fundamental civil liberties.”
Several days after Mr. Jordan made his allegations, Mr. Scott wrote to Ms. Yellen and the FinCEN chief demanding explanations for what he described as reports of “unwarranted financial surveillance.”
“These allegations are particularly concerning given past efforts to weaponize the financial system and payment activity against politically disfavored, lawful activity,” he wrote.
As an example of such weaponization, Mr. Scott singled out the Obama-era “Operation Choke Point” initiative, which involved the Justice Department coordinating with financial regulators to push banks to deny services to legitimate businesses that the administration was ideologically opposed to, such as gun retailers.
Mr. Scott’s demand for answers led to the Feb. 9 letter from the Biden administration and admission of financial surveillance—which Treasury insists was both legal and legitimate.
“FinCEN is deeply committed to fulfilling this important national security and criminal justice mission in accordance with the law,” Mr. Tellez wrote, suggesting in the letter that, thanks in part to FinCEN, “more than 1,200 people have been charged with crimes in connection with the Capitol attack and nearly 900 have been convicted.”
Among those convicted of crimes related to the Jan. 6 incident, roughly 750 have been sentenced, with nearly two-thirds receiving some time in prison.
The longest prison sentence—22 years—was handed down to Enrique Tarrio, the former Proud Boys national chairman who was convicted of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors alleged was a plot to stop the transfer of power from then-President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden during the certification of electoral votes in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.
Dozens of Jan. 6 detainees are still languishing in jail awaiting trial three years after the Capitol incident.