A train leaves Nazi-occupied Paris for the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) in Basel. On board is a member of the French cabinet, Pierre Pucheu.
He also happens to be a director of the private Worms Bank in Paris. And Pierre has heard from his US State Department contact in Vichy that Eisenhower is about to invade North Africa.
At the BIS, Pierre sits down with a fellow Frenchman who quickly passes the news along to BIS director and senior Gestapo member Kurt von Schröder. Never mind letting information that could free France falling into German hands, never mind passing along this information to Nazi High Command… there was money to be made.
And what money! This Franco-German banking alliance immediately transferred 9 billion gold francs via the BIS to Algiers. Correctly anticipating the German defeat, they boosted their personal holdings from $350 million to $525 million (in 1942 money) almost overnight.
Thing of it is, that’s exactly what the BIS –which exists to this very day– was set up to do:
The inspiration for the BIS came from none other than Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, later president of Hitler’s Reichsbank. And here the plot thickens, considerably: Sensing Adolf Hitler’s lust for war and conquest, Schacht, even before Hitler rose to power in the Reichstag, pushed for an institution that would retain channels of communication and collusion between the world’s financial leaders even in the event of an international conflict. It was written into the bank’s charter, concurred in by the respective governments, that the BIS should be immune from seizure, closure, or censure, whether or not its owners were at war.
But that was by no means all. For while the bank was originally and ostensibly created to handle the payments and transfers of war reparations between Germany and the former western Allies, “the Bank soon turned out to be the instrument of an opposite function. It was to be a money funnel for American and British funds to flow into Hitler’s coffers and to help Hitler build up his war machine.” Thus, by the time World War Two broke out in September 1939, the BIS was almost completely under the control of Hitler via his various proxies, and included among its directors the head of I.G. Farben (of course), Hermann Schmitz, Baron Kurt von Schröder, “head of the J.H. Stein Bank of Cologne and a leading officer and financier of the Gestapo; Dr. Walther Funk of the Reichsbank” and Emil Puhl. And at the head of this, as president, “was the smooth old Rockefeller banker, Gates W. McGarrah, formerly of the Chase National Bank and the Federal Reserve Bank, who retired in 1933.”
As Charles Higham reports, after the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, and later its annexation of Bohemian Czechoslovakia in 1939, the gold reserves of those nations fell into Nazi hands. By this time, “the BIS had invested millions in Germany, while Kurt von Schröder and Emil Puhl deposited large sums in looted gold in the Bank.” In other words, the nexus for the postwar relationship between the Nazis and the Western banksters of London and New York was being created even before the war, and its principal mechanism was the BIS. [More.]
Ahh, London. Of course your filthy, ‘pie n mash’ finger stains are all over this. Here’s an image of One Hyde Park.
I drive past One Hyde Park all the time. Energetically, it feels like a boss level in a yet-to-be-released Wolfenstein game. It is home to the most expensive apartments on the planet. And not much else. Literally. A large proportion of them are owned by mysterious shell companies -like a ghostly reboot of Melrose Place, Archon Place.
Trevor Abrahmsohn, a U.K. real-estate agent, remembers London before the modern property boom began. “London was as Paris is today: an interesting, quirky souvenir town. We had the Tower of London, the Queen, the palace, and the Changing of the Guard,” he says, adding Scotch whisky as an afterthought. “That is what we stood for. London was not a tax haven.”
“It seems to be that every big trading disaster happens in London,” U.S. congresswoman Carolyn Maloney observed last June. “And I would like to know why.” The disasters she was referring to were the ones that bankrupted Lehman Brothers and nearly bankrupted some other American firms, such as A.I.G. and MF Global, as well as causing JPMorgan Chase’s $6 billion loss at the hands of the trader popularly known as “the London Whale”—all of these happened to a high degree in the London branches of those firms and have cost the American taxpayer billions of dollars.
To answer her question and to understand why so much of the world’s money goes to London in the first place, you need to go back hundreds of years, to the emergence of what must be the most peculiar, the oldest, the least understood, and perhaps one of the most important institutions in the menagerie of global finance: the City of London Corporation. It is the local authority for “the Square Mile,” the pocket of prime financial real estate centered on the Bank of England and located about three miles to the east of Knightsbridge, along the Thames River.
But the corporation is also much more, its identity embedded in—and slightly apart from—the British nation-state. The corporation has its own constitution, “rooted in the ancient rights and privileges enjoyed by citizens before the Norman Conquest, in 1066,” and its own lord mayor of London—not to be confused with the mayor of London, who runs the Greater London metropolis, with its eight million inhabitants. One sign of the City of London’s distinct identity is the fact that the Queen, on official visits there, will stop at the boundary of the Square Mile, where she is met by the lord mayor, who engages her in a short, colorful ritual, before she may proceed. Most Brits see this merely as a relic from a bygone age, a show for the tourists. They are wrong.
“The lord mayor’s principal official role, his Web site says, is to be “ambassador for all UK-based financial and professional services.” He lobbies far afield, with offices in Brussels, China, and India, among other places, the better to “expound the values of liberalization” far and wide. The City Corporation and closely linked think tanks issue streams of publications explaining why finance should be less tethered by taxes and regulation. The corporation also has its own official lobbyist, with the delightfully medieval-sounding name of The Remembrancer (currently one Paul Double), lodged permanently in Britain’s Parliament. Local elections in the City are unlike any other in Britain: multi-national corporations vote alongside and vastly outnumber the tiny borough’s 7,400 human residents.
Over the centuries the City has thrived, thanks to a simple advantage: it has had money to lend when governments or monarchs needed it. So the City has been granted special privileges, allowing it to remain a political fortress withstanding the tides of history that have transformed the rest of the British nation-state. It has nurtured a British tradition of welcoming foreign money, with few questions asked, and so has for centuries attracted the world’s wealthiest citizens. “There the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian transact together,” Voltaire wrote in 1733, “as though they all professed the same religion, and give the name of infidel to none but bankrupts.”
When the British Empire crumbled in the mid-1950s, London replaced the cozy embrace of gunboats and imperial trading preferences with a new model: tempting the world’s hot money through lax regulation and lax enforcement. There was always a subtle balance, involving dependable British legal bedrock fiercely upholding U.K. domestic rules and laws while turning a blind eye to foreign law-breaking. It was a classic offshore-tax-haven offering that tells foreign financiers, “We won’t steal your money, but we won’t make a fuss if you steal other people’s.”
Britain could close down this tax-haven secrecy overnight if it wanted, but the City of London won’t let it. “We have, to put it provocatively, a second British empire, which is at the very core of global financial markets today,” explains Ronen Palan, professor of international political economy at City University in London. “And Britain is very good at not advertising its position.”
‘Not very good at advertising its position’ is a suitably British understatement. Its ‘position’, perhaps inevitably, looks like nothing quite so much as a highly complex financial instrument. Have it explained to you in a couple of minutes. (Note for Americans: this will also be handy if you’re coming a visitin’!)
The British Overseas Territories sound like a roll call of every criminal den of tax avoidance all around the world. They are shadow places with a gaping hole where representative government should be… and on the other side of the gaping hole is a supremely wealthy individual who is so unbound by law that she has her own navy but doesn’t even have her own passport. (Sidebar: I so wish she did. “In the name of me, grant me passage.”)
Here is what the shadows do in shadow places:
The invisible financial world is something the majority of people have no idea of. The major part of it is the shadow sector of world financial system – financial institutes and financial operations conducted under the cover of off-shores and falling out of the sight of financial regulators (central banks, ministries of finances, security and exchange commissions etc.) . One can only guess how large it is, there is no way to have a clear picture of what it is like because all the activities are conducted beyond any supervision. No books kept, no accounting before state structures exists. The world dwellers are criminal gangs related to drug trafficking, arms trade, slave trade and so on. It’s not even grey sector activities, but rather “black” economy breaching all norms of penal law. According to experts, the turnover is a few trillion dollars a year… Besides, the shadow sector encompasses various structures that do not hide underground. Many of them openly offer various services to individuals and corporations.
For instance, hedge funds involved in different ventures. Or respectable banks that offer private banking services (investing account holders money in off-shore jurisdictions). They are involved in importune advertising offering services of dubious character. The activities simply fall out of legal and financial oversight, as well as common laws and international norms, they have their own rules to abide by. The last financial crisis was of much greater depth, scale (actually the whole world) and duration due to unrestrained growth of shadow sector (many experts think the crisis is not over, it was just the first “wave”.)
The invisible world is not limited by “shadow” sector only. A part of it may be called clandestine. The clandestine financial world is diversified, no one knows all about it. It’s a mixture of various financial relationships and agreements hidden away from peoples, parliaments, official financial institutions, and international organizations. The secret international agreements are the best example. Some of them have surfaced to public view (for instance, financial accords between the United States, Great Britain and Hitler’s Germany). There are more numerous examples of secret accords between private structures. For instance, traditionally banks have been concluding cartel agreements in flagrant violation of anti-trust laws. It’s enough to remember the 2012 row when it was discovered that the largest banks were in collusion and manipulated LIBOR interest rates.
Let’s have this in cartoon form, because it’s extremely, extremely important. The world’s 100 richest people made enough money in 2012 to end global poverty four times over.
Advocacy groups like the Tax Justice Network estimate that about $250 billion is lost in taxes each year by governments worldwide, solely as a result of wealthy individuals holding their assets offshore. The revenue losses from corporate tax avoidance are greater.
The group estimates that half of all global trade now passes through tax havens and an estimated one third of world wealth now resides there.
The issue of secrecy jurisdictions is not just about evading taxes. Shell companies – that is, corporations with no apparent operations, no apparent employees and no apparent physical assets – are used by those who register them for a range of other nefarious activities around the world. Thanks to loose laws of incorporation in many jurisdictions, it’s easy for offenders to remain anonymous. And the entities can often be formed in less than 24 hours using online facilities.
It is not just criminals that take advantage. The secret service arms of governments use tax havens to create covers for their networks of spies, according to experts we have talked to. And advocacy groups claim many small-time dictators use tax havens to strip the assets of their people.” [More.]
What we are seeing here is a continuation of ‘the game’ that led to the creation of the BIS. And it’s a game in a very real sense… it is at the level of make believe you only otherwise find in treehouses. You say “I have a gazillion bajillion dollars!” and it becomes true. This is an important point because it speaks to not only how we got into this mess, but how easy it should be to get out of it.
So let’s have a brief diversion for a potted history of money.
A potted history of money
Here are a few excerpts from Extreme Money, which is currently free on Kindle, and definitely recommended.
The word bank has its origins in the word for the table or bench on which bankers did their transactions. Originally, the table or bench may have been an altar. The Templars, a military order of religious knights dedicated to the task of liberating the Holy Lands from the Infidels, can lay claim to being the first truly global financial supermarket.
Modern banking practice began in Italy in the Renaissance. Great banking families in Venice, Florence, Genoa, and Pisa profited from financing growing trade. To avoid religious prohibitions on usury, the banks dealt in bills of exchange—documents, traditionally arising from trade, that order the payment of a known sum of money to a designated person at a specified time and place. Banks bought and sold these documents, effectively lending (buying a bill of exchange with money) and borrowing (selling a bill and receiving money).
Bills of exchange overcame the need to transport gold. They were faster and more secure. The bills circulated as an early form of pure money. Banks allowed idle gold or money to circulate freely. It would be deposited with a bank or used to buy a bill (a debt collectable at a future date with interest). The original holders of $100 still had their money, but the bank and whoever it lent to also had the $100. The money that was lent would come back to the bank or another bank as a deposit. The money could then be re-lent and recirculated in a continuing, endless process.
This process—reserve or fractional banking—is the quintessential element of modern finance. Banks keep only a fraction of their deposits in reserve to meet the needs of withdrawals by depositors and lend out the rest. The practice expands the supply of money, allowing merchants, businesses, and investors to increase the scale and scope of their activities. The only limit is the requirement for banks to keep a minimum fraction of their deposits as reserves. The banking system that evolved in the Renaissance survives remarkably unchanged to this day.
Here you can see the beginning of money as a complete fiction, as make believe. The book goes on:
Less than 8 percent of all dollars are in the form of paper money or coins. The vast majority of dollars exists in the form of entries in the accounts of borrowers or lenders. Paper money is an abstraction or, as most of it does not exist physically, the abstraction of an abstraction. Its sole reason for existence is as a medium of exchange. There are no limits to the amount of money that can be created.
At each step of the transition from commodity to paper to credit, money became more unreal, and detached from the real goods and services that money can be exchanged for. Money transformed itself from a mechanism for trade into an object in its own right. Modern technology— digital money—further stripped money of corporeality. Money exists as pure information, with no intrinsic value. It is nothing and everything. Making money, lending it, borrowing money, and making money from money is central to human existence and activity. As the Roman poet Horace noted eons ago: “Make money, money by fair means if you can, if not, by any means money.”
Money is the ultimate Faustian bargain—a pact with the devil in return for earthly power, wealth, or knowledge. In the second part of Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has Faust and Mephistopheles visit the Emperor who lacks the money to pay his retinue of soldiers and servants as well as his lenders. Mephistopheles comes to the aid of the Emperor, obtaining his permission to print paper money. Faust has the Emperor sign a note that anticipates modern money: “To whom it may concern, be by these presents known, this note is legal tender for one thousand crowns and is secured by the immense wealth safely stored underground in our Imperial States.” The Emperor is incredulous: “And people value this the same as honest gold?” Mephistopheles arranges for thousands of notes to be printed and uses this to pay off the Emperor’s creditors.
In 2013, the relationship to the underlying asset is now, for all intents and purposes, entirely fictional. Bear that in mind the next time you hear the prime minister say there’s no money for northern libraries so they’ll have to close. No money?! How bout… The next time you invent some, instead of giving it to the banks, give it to the fucking libraries!
We live and work in the world of extreme money—spectacular, dangerous games with money that create new artificial highs in growth, prosperity, sophistication, and wealth. Once used to value and exchange ordinary goods, money has become the main way to make money. To make a billion dollars, it is no longer necessary to actually make anything. The rule of extreme money is that everybody borrows, everybody saves, everybody is supposed to get wealthier. But only skilled insiders get richer, running and rigging the game. Money and the games played are intangible, unreal, and increasingly virtual. Electronic displays flashing red or green price signals are the distilled essence of the financial world. Traders do not experience the underlying reality directly but only in terms of gains or losses—money made or lost that can be lost or made back in the next few seconds.
Money and you
Meanwhile, back in what I hesitate to call the real world, 1 in 3 Americans are now ‘poor’ or ‘near-poor’, considering themselves “lucky” to be working jobs like these. (Warning: heartbreaking.)
Or, as the cute and smart Matt Bors puts it:
Our economy has been slowly gaining ground since we bottomed out in the 2008 job-pocalypse. That oughta be good for people, right? But, turns out 121 percent of income gains made in the recovery went to the top one percent of the country’s earners. I’m not sure how you can capture more than 100% of something. It sounds kind of greedy to me. An economist at Berkeley got to that number when figuring in the fact that incomes for most everyone else have dropped. Wages are down, household incomes are down, but don’t worry, these are the job creators we’re talking about. If you don’t have an employment scenario figured out just yet, wait a few minutes. I’m sure some rich guy needs someone to give his shoe-shine 121 percent of their effort.
Jobs, jobs, jobs! They’re everywhere. The problem with all this job-creation is the new jobs are all worse than our previous jobs, which, to be honest weren’t all that rad in the first place. Some jobs, they don’t even pay money, which is still a thing you need some of to live.
My mother spent the recession in multiple jobs, the most recent of which paid federal minimum wage. $7.25, baby! This is the reason why, when I hear well-paid pundits say that no one except high school kids work for minimum wage, I want to fly to their home, poop on their doorstep, and set it on fire.
Stories like my mom’s are the new normal. Barely scraping by and taking what you can get is the new normal. Having 500 people show up to apply for jobs at Walmart, who pursues a strategy of paying people such low wages that they qualify for government assistance, that’s the new normal. Let Uncle Sam pick up the check!
I want to return to an extended story from Extreme Money, because it is the perfect illustration of how the money world you live in is wholly separate from the one the residents of One Hyde Park live in:
Four thousand participants cram into the 2007 Global Finance Conference, staged that year in London. The opening address is from the British Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor’s intellectual signature is a naïve belief in the primacy of finance, banking, and money in general. He has made London money friendly and is lionized by the City for it. Modern economies have long ceased to make anything. The major activity is money: investing it, borrowing it, trading it, making it, and spending it. Money generates derivative industries like property speculation, luxury car dealerships, personal trainers, and company-paid-for lifestyle coaches, butlers, and valets—all essentials of a modern life of conspicuous consumption in the modern service economy.
The Chancellor’s allusion to London’s superiority over New York as a center of money elicits a negative reaction from the large contingent of American financiers. Mailer bristles with indignation: “If you’re good enough to make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” Government mandarins and academics vouchsafe the contribution of finance to society at large. Bankers talk of innovation and the golden age of finance, the money to be made, and the money they are making. Regulators speak of market responsive regulations. One bank chief executive notes: “The regulators are finally under control!” There is the dull repetitious quality of minimalist music. The lunchtime guest speaker—a rock star noted for his charity work—enters to a blast of his hit song from 30 years ago. The audience, which was in nappies when he enjoyed his popularity, looks confused, not recognizing the tune. Unconstrained by anything as restrictive as a lectern or notes, the speaker celebrates his own “humanitarian achievements,” and concludes: “I tell you this—the paradigm for the future century must be a new order or else there will be new global disorder.”
Over to us. At the same time, away from Guildhall, across the Atlantic, in a convention centre in the middle of anywhere:
The speaker at the real estate seminar is a 30-something man in a shiny silk suit and a headset. He is big on rhetorical questions: Do you know what is the hottest real estate market in the world today? It’s the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria. Do you know why? It’s the cheapest waterfront in the world today. Just $40,000 gets you prime beachfront property. What would you get for that amount in Florida, Mexico, Spain? Think about it. Prices have doubled in the last six months. Do you know what gains I expect over the next two years? 500 percent. That’s right! You will get back five times what you invest. Can you imagine that? Only smart people can imagine that. Are you smart? Do you dare to be rich? The speaker pauses and looks carefully at his audience. “Or are you a loser? Do you want to stay a loser?”
I grapple with magnificent Black Sea beachfront bungalows overlooking rocky, pebble-strewn beaches, a heavily polluted sea and a smoke-belching Chernobyl vintage nuclear power plant. The speaker’s other favored investment destination is the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai, where prices have appreciated 150 percent over the last 2 years. Soaring oil prices and demand from other property players diversifying their investment portfolios guarantee massive gains. World RE Investment Portfolios, Inc., the speaker’s company, is selling seminars not real estate.
At the conclusion of the speech, assistants fan out, buttonholing attendees to sign them up for further seminars to gain in-depth knowledge about the path to riches by the Black Sea, in Dubai, and further afield. The cost is $25,000 for a series. If you want a personal one-on-one with the “Divine One,” then the cost is $50,000 for a 2-hour audience. “Best investment I ever made,” a fellow attendee tells me. “I’m signing up for a personal coaching session. Just to ‘fine tune’ what I’ve been doing.” What he has “been doing” turns out to be a portfolio of 200 homes in various countries assembled over the last 7 years. He purchased a property next to his house for his aged parents, but they became seriously ill and died before they could move in. The property appreciated in value. He sold it and was left with a profit on his first trade. He reinvested the gain in another property. He now buys property, and as soon as the property rises in value, he increases the mortgage amount to take out his initial investment and starts the whole thing all over again. “Banks are pretty relaxed now about lending these days. They lend you the full amount, no questions asked. You really don’t need to have any money to start. Not like in the old days.” He is worth $20 million on paper. “Not bad for a garage mechanic.” It is all tied up in the properties. “I don’t want to sell. There’s so much upside.” If he needs spending money, then he borrows it. He has around $180 million in debt. The consistent message is “Debt is in; debt is good.”
Debt is good? Yeah, for these guys:
Minions of the archon
Here’s the testimony of a junior at Lehmann Brothers in New York. Read on and let your stomach churn!
In the early days, I learned important lessons on markets, liquidity, and how to value impossibly complex financial products. I would spend days attempting to understand the intrinsic value on structured bonds collateralized with physical jet engines or commercial real-estate scattered across various regions of the country. The reach of these products was real and the analysis could mean millions won or lost for the firm. The purely cerebral slice of the industry, and I’ll stand by this today, was fascinating (to me).
Unfortunately, what I eventually came to learn, and this took time, was that what was really happening was a simple transfer of wealth, more often than not from the less intelligent and informed to the more so. I worked in a highly opaque market. There was no price ticker scrolling across our screens telling us what these bonds and derivatives we traded were worth. In fact, no one really knew what any of this stuff was worth. Which, it turns out, is a trader’s field day. What this meant, in its simplest form, is that these traders (or salespeople) could buy bonds at the “market” price from intelligent hedge fund managers in NYC and sell this same crap at much higher levels to unsophisticated (but legally considered “sophisticated”) pension funds and insurance companies in middle America.
What I discovered, quite starkly, is that the part of Wall Street that I worked in was simply transferring wealth from the less sophisticated investors, often teachers’ pension funds and factory workers’ retirement accounts, to the more sophisticated investors that call themselves proprietary trading desks and hedge funds. Of course, the traders had all sorts of excuses and jargon to deal with this truth. “Oh no,” they would say, “We are important providers of liquidity that create stable financial markets. We’re a crucial part of a system. And besides, if we don’t do it, someone else will.” These are the lies that people tell themselves so that they can buy larger homes.
It wasn’t just Lehmann Brothers, of course. Far from it. It’s just that they -for reasons that remain unclear to me- were the only bank to be refused a taxpayer bailout. But it is all of them. This, from an amazing, amazing piece in Rolling Stone by personal hero, Matt Taibbi.
These banks, which already possess enormous power just by virtue of their financial holdings – in the United States, the top six banks, many of them the same names you see on the Libor and ISDAfix panels, own assets equivalent to 60 percent of the nation’s GDP – are beginning to realize the awesome possibilities for increased profit and political might that would come with colluding instead of competing. Moreover, it’s increasingly clear that both the criminal justice system and the civil courts may be impotent to stop them, even when they do get caught working together to game the system.
If true, that would leave us living in an era of undisguised, real-world conspiracy, in which the prices of currencies, commodities like gold and silver, even interest rates and the value of money itself, can be and may already have been dictated from above. And those who are doing it can get away with it. Forget the Illuminati – this is the real thing, and it’s no secret. You can stare right at it, anytime you want.
One of the biggest Libor suits was proceeding on schedule when, early in March, an army of superstar lawyers working on behalf of the banks descended upon federal judge Naomi Buchwald in the Southern District of New York to argue an extraordinary motion to dismiss. The banks’ legal dream team drew from heavyweight Beltway-connected firms like Boies Schiller (you remember David Boies represented Al Gore), Davis Polk (home of top ex-regulators like former SEC enforcement chief Linda Thomsen) and Covington & Burling, the onetime private-practice home of both Holder and Breuer.
The presence of Covington & Burling in the suit – representing, of all companies, Citigroup, the former employer of current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew – was particularly galling. Right as the Libor case was being dismissed, the firm had hired none other than Lanny Breuer, the same Lanny Breuer who, just a few months before, was the assistant attorney general who had balked at criminally prosecuting UBS over Libor because, he said, “Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution.”
In any case, this all-star squad of white-shoe lawyers came before Buchwald and made the mother of all audacious arguments. Robert Wise of Davis Polk, representing Bank of America, told Buchwald that the banks could not possibly be guilty of anti- competitive collusion because nobody ever said that the creation of Libor was competitive.
But these numbers are supposed to reflect interbank-loan prices derived in a real, competitive market. Saying the Libor submission process is not competitive is sort of like pointing out that bank robbers obeyed the speed limit on the way to the heist. It’s the silliest kind of legal sophistry.
At ICAP, the interest-rate swap desk, and the 19901 screen, were reportedly controlled by a small group of 20 or so brokers, some of whom were making millions of dollars. These brokers made so much money for themselves the unit was nicknamed “Treasure Island.”
The idea that prices in a $379 trillion market could be dependent on a desk of about 20 guys in New Jersey should tell you a lot about the absurdity of our financial infrastructure. The whole thing, in fact, has a darkly comic element to it. “It’s almost hilarious in the irony,” says David Frenk, director of research for Better Markets, a financial-reform advocacy group, “that they called it ISDAfix.”
“In all the over-the-counter markets, you don’t really have pricing except by a bunch of guys getting together,” Masters notes glumly. That includes the markets for gold (where prices are set by five banks in a Libor-ish teleconferencing process that, ironically, was created in part by N M Rothschild & Sons) and silver (whose price is set by just three banks), as well as benchmark rates in numerous other commodities – jet fuel, diesel, electric power, coal, you name it. The problem in each of these markets is the same: We all have to rely upon the honesty of companies like Barclays (already caught and fined $453 million for rigging Libor) or JPMorgan Chase (paid a $228 million settlement for rigging municipal-bond auctions) or UBS (fined a collective $1.66 billion for both muni-bond rigging and Libor manipulation) to faithfully report the real prices of things like interest rates, swaps, currencies and commodities.
It’s fine. Just go back to watching your televised amateur singing competitions. I’m sure our ‘elected’ officials will get to the bottom of this. Won’t they?
PBS’ Frontline program on Tuesday night broadcast a new one-hour report on one of the greatest and most shameful failings of the Obama administration: the lack of even a single arrest or prosecution of any senior Wall Street banker for the systemic fraud that precipitated the 2008 financial crisis: a crisis from which millions of people around the world are still suffering. What this program particularly demonstrated was that the Obama justice department, in particular the Chief of its Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer, never even tried to hold the high-level criminals accountable.
What Obama justice officials did instead is exactly what they did in the face of high-level Bush era crimes of torture and warrantless eavesdropping: namely, acted to protect the most powerful factions in the society in the face of overwhelming evidence of serious criminality. Indeed, financial elites were not only vested with immunity for their fraud, but thrived as a result of it, even as ordinary Americans continue to suffer the effects of that crisis.
Worst of all, Obama justice officials both shielded and feted these Wall Street oligarchs (who, just by the way, overwhelmingly supported Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign) as they simultaneously prosecuted and imprisoned powerless Americans for far more trivial transgressions. As Harvard law professor Larry Lessig put it two weeks ago when expressing anger over the DOJ’s persecution of Aaron Swartz: “we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House.”
Ahh yes, the White House. Which brings us back to where this highly illegal, completely imaginary world of impossible wealth and ancient titles has to actually interface with allegedly-functional governments. Let’s return to HSBC and how they got away with being the most insidious organisation operating on earth today:
For at least half a decade, the storied British colonial banking power helped to wash hundreds of millions of dollars for drug mobs, including Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, suspected in tens of thousands of murders just in the past 10 years – people so totally evil, jokes former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, that “they make the guys on Wall Street look good.” The bank also moved money for organizations linked to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and for Russian gangsters; helped countries like Iran, the Sudan and North Korea evade sanctions; and, in between helping murderers and terrorists and rogue states, aided countless common tax cheats in hiding their cash.
HOW did they get away with it?
Well… my suspicion is that it will eventually emerge that HSBC is one of the primary sewers -along with the aforementioned Vatican Bank- that launders and vomits intelligence agency money to and from the dark corners of the world in which they are operating. Basically… if they looked too closely at the ledgers, various western governments would see their own names. And they know it.
One can only imagine how much of the shadow economy is intelligence-related. Based on when it iceberg peaks into the real world, we can be confidently that it is truly enormous.
To some extent, this is arbitrary, but we might date the origins of spook money to the end of World War II. You ever heard of a guy called Ed Lansdale?
Didn’t think so.
According to Sterling Seagrave, Lansdale was sent by General Charles Willoughby to the Philippines after the war. Lansdale “joined the torture sessions of Major Kojima Kashii “as an observer and participant”. As Seagrave explains: “Since Yamashita had arrived from Manchuria in October 1944 to take over the defense of the Philippines, Kojima had driven him everywhere.”
In charge of Kojima’s torture was an intelligence officer named Severino Garcia Diaz Santa Romana (Santy). He wanted Major Kojima to reveal each place to which he had taken General Tomoyuki Yamashita, where bullion and other treasure were hidden.” Ray Cline argues that between 1945 and 1947 the gold bullion recovered by Santy and Lansdale was moved by ship to 176 accounts at banks in 42 countries. Robert Anderson and CIA agent Paul Helliwell set up these black gold accounts “providing money for political action funds throughout the noncommunist world.“
The story goes that MacArthur sent him directly to Truman to tell him about the gold the Japanese had amassed through their unrivalled theft operation in mainland Asia -gold that had never been included in the total estimate of world gold. (A dodgy number, anyway. The Vatican Bank estimates a much higher volume of world gold reserves than the Fed. That would be the same Vatican Bank that stashed the Japanese emperor’s gold at the end of the war.)
In this series, we keep coming back to how you fund a hijack of our reality… you import drugs into America and sell it to gangs, like the CIA did, you launder mafia money through the Vatican bank, you fly ‘planes’into the accounting section of the pentagon the day after announcing more than two trillion missing from the black budget.
It comes down to this… if you want to steal our world, you need a war chest. (And I would speculate, one that has an HSBC debit card with a picture of a coconut treelined beach on it.) Forget, for a moment, the vast amount of money that comes out of war and into Halliburton’s coffers… let’s firstly look at the money that goes into these war zones.
Pallet after pallet after pallet of crisp, never-used US bills flew into Iraq. In Afghanistan -the country the US was inexplicably ready to invade within days of 9/11- they appear to prefer the sack with a dollar sign on it so beloved of cartoon villans. From The New York Times:
While intelligence agencies often pay foreign officials to provide information, dropping off bags of cash at a foreign leader’s office to curry favor is a more unusual arrangement.
Afghan officials said the practice grew out of the unique circumstances in Afghanistan, where the United States built the government that Mr. Karzai runs. To accomplish that task, it had to bring to heel many of the warlords the C.I.A. had paid during and after the 2001 invasion.
By late 2002, Mr. Karzai and his aides were pressing for the payments to be routed through the president’s office, allowing him to buy the warlords’ loyalty, a former adviser to Mr. Karzai said.
Then, in December 2002, Iranians showed up at the palace in a sport utility vehicle packed with cash, the former adviser said.
The C.I.A. began dropping off cash at the palace the following month, and the sums grew from there, Afghan officials said. Payments ordinarily range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, the officials said, though none could provide exact figures. The money is used to cover a slew of off-the-books expenses, like paying off lawmakers or underwriting delicate diplomatic trips or informal negotiations.
Much of it also still goes to keeping old warlords in line. One is Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek whose militia served as a C.I.A. proxy force in 2001. He receives nearly $100,000 a month from the palace, two Afghan officials said. Other officials said the amount was significantly lower.”
In what world is this anything but the textbook definition of a conspiracy? And lest you think it was just the Americans, some of those sacks had GBP signs on them, as well. (But again, the group we are discussing here is literally transnational.) From The Guardian:
“The thing about US money is a lot of it goes outside the budget, directly through individuals and companies, and that opens the way for corruption.”
Khalil Roman, who served as Karzai’s deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005, told the New York Times: “We called it ‘ghost money’. It came in secret, and it left in secret.”
One American official told the newspaper: “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States.”
So that’s vast amount of intel money washing into a war zone historically known as one of the key nodes of the global drug trade. We’ve been here before. Are you at all surprised to learn that Afghan poppy farming is at an even higher level than it was under the Taliban? Highlighting the connections between intelligence agencies and drug trafficking can even get you imprisoned:
“There’s no question the mainstream media is reluctant to write about events well documented, and incidences of wrongdoing involving official agencies and drug trafficking,” Jonathan Marshall, author of Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America, told Wired.co.uk. “And that reluctance helps breed speculation. It lends credence to the idea that there is some suppression of truth going on. It’s partly because there’s a well-deserved feeling that mainstream media and official investigations have not adequately pursued legitimate stories; it opens the door for conspiracy theorising.”
“We live in an information wilderness,” political documentary maker Eugene Jarecki tells Wired.co.uk, “and so conspiracy theorists have been made a laughing stock by government and their friends in the media, because of course it’s a good idea to marginalise critics and turn them into people that shouldn’t be taken seriously. What better way to undermine them? Donald Rumsfeld referred to the information wilderness as information asymmetry — his goal was to maintain information asymmetry over his adversaries, but who were his adversaries? Was it Al Qaida, the Iraqi people? I think the real answer, in part, is the American people.”
Anecdotally, the exact same thing that happened in Central America is happening in Afghanistan. The armed forces of other governments know which trucks loaded with poppies to let through.
Have a look at this quote about the US Army ‘relaxing’ its rules when it comes to Afghan poppy farming. Witness the journalistic contortions required to make this sound ‘normal’. Never mind the fact that illegal methods of money making have been at the cornerstone of the intelligence community since its inception:
The rules are fairly new and reflect a subtle but profound shift in the way the U.S. Army thinks about Afghanistan, its people and culture and conflict. Having furtively experimented with every possible approach to Afghan poppies since 2001 — from blissfully ignoring them to actively destroying them and everything in between — today the ground-combat branch has made peace with poppies, viewing them as a potential good thing for Afghanistan and the Army. But Gackstatter’s brigade, in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province since January, is also the last full-up U.S. combat brigade to be deployed to Afghanistan in America’s longest-running war. It’s the last chance for U.S. troops to make a major impact in this part of the country. After that, the American contingent shifts to a strictly advisory role. The poppy trade will be left to the Afghans to handle — or not.
We encountered Catherine Austin Fitts in the last part of this post series, talking about the black budget and what it is used to hide. As promised, here is the fleshed out description. If you watch one video on this page, let it be this one:
- The National Security Act of 1947 and the CIA Act of 1949 allow intelligence agencies to claw money from other federal agency budgets on a non-transparent basis.
- As a result of an Executive Order in 1980, Bush Snr, who was vice president at the time, assumed oversight of the National Security Council and all intelligence agencies. As part of the order, it was now legal for private corporations to handle classified projects.
- Add these together and you have the legal mechanism to use unlimited money to create extremely advanced technology and keep it in private hands. Which is exactly what I have been saying.
If you think our ‘betters’ are using this system for our collective benefit then you have never been anywhere near proper power. (Or possibly even looked out a window?) You don’t even exist to them.
More from an interview with Catherine Austin Fitts:
CA: Well think about it this way. Another way to look at it is, say the average taxes per resident is about $5,000. And 85% of that, or say $4,700, is going to agencies who refuse to produce audited financial statements or reliable financial systems. And if you study the black budget, increasingly what you’re seeing is that money is going to support private corporations and private banks who are using those resources to basically steal community assets out from under them. So you’re basically financing an operation which is stealing all your political powers and economic wealth. It’s a dream.
CA: What was happening [was that] annually, starting in 1995, the Federal government, the auditors underneath the auspices of each agency’s Inspector General, would come forward and say, “This year we could or could not produce audited financial statements, … and part of the reason is that we have undocumentable adjustments of $59 billion or whatever the number was.” And so in this annual sweep up whereby the individual Inspector Generals would report into the Secretary of the Treasury and to the General Accounting Office (which is the auditor for Congress), it would come in through this annual sweep, and they would come in and say, “OK, we can’t produce audited financial statements, and we have this much of undocumentable adjustments.” At some point after the numbers got really crazy, they just decided after 9-11 to stop reporting them.
Now, when people say to me “What is $3.3 trillion of undocumentable adjustments?”, let me give you an example. In fiscal 2000, the Department of Defense had $2.3 trillion in undocumentable adjustments. OK now, there’s no way for us to know Jim, how much of that translates into cash. ‘Cause $2.3 trillion is more than total taxes paid in a year by … say tax payers in that year would have paid taxes of about $1.6 trillion. So, there’s no way to know if $2.3 trillion translates into how much cash, or how much cash is missing.
What we do know is that under the laws of the Constitution, which say money cannot be spent unless it is appropriated. It is essentially a violation of the Constitution to do that, with one exception. And this is where the black budget comes up. There are provisions under the National Security Act of 1947 and the CIA Act of 1949 for military and military intelligence to crawl money from outside of different agencies’ budgets, and spend it on non-transparent purposes. That’s sometimes why it’s called the “black budget”.
CA: (Laughter). It makes no sense, unless you, let me give you an example. Last year we appropriated $87 billion for Iraq, but the administration has repeatedly says it can’t explain where half of that money is going. It was interesting, one of the top reporters who followed the $3.3 trillion of missing money, I asked him the other day, I said, “Where do you think the $87 billion went to?” And they said, “Well, we think it went to finance the states’ deficits, because they were screaming about the states’ deficits, and then all of a sudden it stopped.”
We’ve had a complete implosion of internal financial controls in the governmental apparatus. $3.3 trillion missing from government is a financial coup-d’etat. You can keep a bubble going as long as you can finance it. And my guess is, again very much credited to Bill Murphy, what we’re watching is a securities operation both with the Federal agencies, the mortgage agencies, and the U.S. Treasury, which are financing a political economy. The money that comes in from those debt operations are being used for other than their lawful purposes.
Counting up the pennies
Let us recap:
- The word ‘bank’ may have come from a word originally meaning ‘altar’. I leave it up to you to speculate, altar to what, exactly.
- Global banks operate from a shadowy, medieval fiefdom that is hosted by London the way one might host a demonic tapeworm.
- Half of all global trade passes through tax havens, most of which are personally owned by the Queen.
- Money is literally invented in a game whose rules are set to include profiting from both sides of war. Need more money? Invent it.
- Intelligence agencies wash international drug trafficking money through high street banks to pay off warlords in a country they invaded for spurious reasons.
- For thirty years, tax money that should have gone to the education of American children has been legally appropriated for the development of secret super-weapons within private companies thanks to the machinations of the son of a nazi collaborator and fascist.
This is the world the emerging economies are leaving behind. They are getting up from the table, uttering “fuck this” under their breath, and just walking away. Because, again, this is ‘treehouse economics’. It is saying “I have all the money and you have nothing!”
Just quite how this inter-archonic period goes remains to be seen. Skeletons will leave closets and dance. Check out this story from Greece:
Premier Antonis Samaras held a special meeting with the foreign minister Dimitris Avramopoulos and other key officials this morning to limit the diplomatic damage from the 80-page report. The document – stamped “Aporito”, or secret – was drafted by a panel of experts appointed by the Greek finance ministry and delivered to officials last month. The alleged claim against Germany reaches a grand total of €162bn, including €108bn for rebuilding the country’s infrastructure after the Nazi occupation from 1941 to 1944. This is 80pc of Greek GDP. The probe was chaired by Panagiotis Karakousis, director-general of the General Accounting Office at the Finance Ministry, and relied on 190,000 pages of documents scattered through the country’s ministries and archives.
This post in the series contains no ghosts, no invisible death rays, no crashed flying saucers, no military abductions or mass poisonings, no murdered popes. And yet, I promise you, it is the scariest fucking post in this series. Because it is the magic lamp at the heart of the entire régime. Never, never dismiss a claim based solely on its perceived cost in our age of so-called ‘austerity’. There is truly no financial barrier between anything they can darkly dream and its implementation.
However, there is some little comfort in this. A game of make believe ends the way The Labyrinth ends. With the words “you have no power over me”. Imaginary demons may be the most persistent but they are also the easiest to banish. And that’s what we have to do, just as the emerging economies are doing. You can’t just walk away from money because walking away from money makes us serfs.
Instead… watch, wait. And be ready to grab your pitchfork and torch and meet out the front of One Hyde Park.