I blogged about the Pandora Papers, the leak of confidential documents that showed how the world’s ultra-wealthy, including prominent politicians, are hiding their money in various off-shore tax havens around the world. It did not go unnoticed that there were very few Americans who were named, while there was a high number of people who are considered enemies of the US, especially Russians. The benign reason given for this imbalance is that the US itself is now a tax haven, with the lax laws of states like Delaware, South Dakota, and Nevada making it unnecessary for Americans to send their money abroad.
But there is a less benign possibility and that it that the source of the leaked documents is the CIA. After all, hacking into systems and releasing damaging information on perceived enemies is all in a day’s work for that agency..
Branko Marcetic explores this possibility.
This week’s massive Pandora Papers leak has laid bare stunning details about the tax-dodging and wealth-hoarding habits of the global elite, including former and sitting world leaders, and it has already prompted legislative action and investigations around the world.
It also might be a CIA op.
Before we get into exactly how you should feel about this possibility, take a moment to consider the case in favor. For one, there’s the curious and almost total absence of US politicians, corporations, and superrich in the nearly twelve million records from fourteen different offshore firms. Experts and observers have speculated this could be a result of already-low US tax rates and widespread tax evasion within the country, or that the enormous leak didn’t include the offshore services that US nationals tend to use — a definite possibility, but a highly convenient one, too.
Then consider that Washington’s political adversaries haven’t gotten off so lightly. At the top of the list is Russia: the country has the dubious honor of having the highest number of nationals named in the leak, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that received the tranche of papers, including fifty-two Russian billionaires (Brazil is a distant second with fifteen), and nineteen politicians — the second-highest number of politicians named for any country.
Recall, too, that not only are such hack-and-leak operations a typical Washington practice — agencies like the FBI had so many informants within hacker groups to carry out operations against foreign governments that a Guardian investigation estimated one in every four hackers was compromised — but that they’re now more likely.
This is, of course, just speculation, and there are entirely non-CIA explanations for both the existence of this leak and why some countries and governments are featured more than others. The ICIJ is staying appropriately tight-lipped about who its sources are and, if they even know, how they obtained the documents. But the point is that, in 2021, there’s a significantly-greater-than-zero chance that such a leak is part of an intelligence operation.
Marcetic says that even if the CIA is behind the leaks and this is part of one their propaganda efforts, that does not mean the leaks have not been valuable.
What’s striking, besides the rampant tax-dodging and financial corruption the leak has exposed among the world elite, is that there are no public vows from Washington to uncover the identity of the whistleblowers, no cries of “disinformation” or calls to be careful about playing into someone else’s nefarious game — not even any speculation about what the motives behind the leak are.
To be clear, this is entirely the correct attitude. With any leak, let alone one of this significance, there are really only two questions that need asking before you publish: Is it newsworthy, and is it true? The Pandora Papers easily clear both of these bars.
It’s a positive development that these profoundly un-journalistic attitudes have been jettisoned with the Pandora Papers leak. That’s as it should be. Though of course it would be newsworthy to know if US intelligence had a hand in spreading these documents — just as it was newsworthy to learn it was likely Russian intelligence that was responsible for the 2016 Democratic hacks — that question is utterly irrelevant to the decision to publish their contents now, and their importance.
In response to the revelations, the US congress is proposing laws to tighten the US tax loopholes that exist in places like South Dakota.
US lawmakers are proposing legislation that would force trust companies, lawyers and other financial middlemen to investigate foreign clients seeking to move money and assets into the American financial system.
The bipartisan bill was proposed in the wake of the Pandora papers, a leak of 11.9m files from 14 different offshore services providers around the world that revealed how the global elite use tax havens to legally avoid paying billions in taxes, and how they are increasingly taking advantage of the US’s liberal trust laws.
The proposed legislation, the Establishing New Authorities for Business Laundering and Enabling Risks to Security (Enablers) Act, would require the treasury department to create new due-diligence rules for American middlemen who facilitate the flow of foreign assets into the United States.
As far as I can see, this law is aimed at money coming on from other countries, not at Americans hiding their wealth in the US. Which is not surprising since the top political leaders in the US are members of the oligarchic club.