Could the CIA have leaked the Pandora Papers?

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.


  1. Who Cares says

    Funny, I commented on this to someone else that due to the fact that Washington isn’t blowing its top (and screaming for the heads of the hackers) that this was most likely a US sanctioned hack.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the top political leaders in the US are members of the oligarchic club.

    It just takes time.

    Hunter Biden’s file alone will take another three-and-a-half years just to download!

  3. garnetstar says

    That’s a thought. Damaging leaks about foreign entities is just the CIA’s affair.

    I rather thought it probable that they were behind the release of ten consecutive years of Trump’s personal tax returns in the New York Times. But, I thought that mostly because Trump publically insulted them all the time (PSA: do not do that to professional spies), and because they were one of the few entitites who would have access to that information.

  4. JM says

    This has to be considered. The danger if it is a CIA leak is that they may have planted some stuff that isn’t true but is damaging to other countries.

    At this point I see no reason to think it’s true. In addition to the point about the US now being a tax haven there is the fact that the countries at the top of the list are ones where people want to get their money out of the country. The wealthy in unstable and dangerous countries like Brazil and Russia have very good reasons to want to move their money. In a place where your money might be seized and your family placed in prison to induce you to confess even the ones that did legitimately earn their money would want to shift it someplace else and be ready to retire to another country.

  5. robert79 says

    I’d think the CIA would want to hurt the US’ enemies… the Pandora papers have also hurt politicians in US friendly countries, usually the more right wing politicians who are more favorable to the US. The socialists in my country are having a party at the moment!

  6. robert79 says

    ^^ Note, I do count myself among the socialists in my country… Having right (and some center) wing politicians finances dragged through the mud makes my day.

  7. dean56 says

    “This is, of course, just speculation, ”

    Yup. Let’s not venture in the asinine world of starting conspiracies simply because they “make sense” to someone’s world view. Nobody can defend the CIA, but unless you have evidence to toss out don’t spread crap like this. The QOP did that (some are still doing it) with bullcrap about Biden’s kid. They never have any evidence and have that constantly pointed out. The same dismissal be applied to Marcetic’s notion.

  8. John Morales says

    As long as it’s explicitly identified as speculation, I don’t see a problem, deam56.
    And it’s rather plausible.
    Also, it’s rather pointless to point out that speculation is speculative (no hard evidence), no?

    Regarding “Biden’s kid”, if you honestly can’t see how nepotism applied, you are utterly naive. I mean, he graduates from law school, and instantly gets a job with a very large firm. Two years later, he is executive vice-president of it. And it takes off from there.

    (I mean, sure, he could be a business and law genius 🙂 )

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