Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Alleged CIA Asset in Mumbai Attacks Being Downplayed

Role of Alleged CIA Asset in Mumbai Attacks Being Downplayed

Recent press reports on developments with regard to last month’s attacks in Mumbai, India indicate the role of Dawood Ibrahim, a wanted crime boss, terrorist, and drug trafficker, is being downplayed, possibly the result of a deal taking place behind the scenes between the governments of the US, Pakistan, and India, to have others involved in the Mumbai attacks turned over while quietly diverting attention from a man who some say could reveal embarrassing secrets about the CIA’s involvement in criminal enterprises.

December 10, 2008

by Jeremy R. Hammond

The role in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last month of an underworld kingpin that heads an organization known as D-Company, has known ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and who is alleged to have ties with the CIA is apparently being whitewashed, suggesting that his capture and handover to India might prove inconvenient for either the ISI or the CIA, or both.

It was Dawood Ibrahim who was initially characterized by press reports as being the mastermind behind the attacks. Now, that title of “mastermind” is being given to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi by numerous media accounts reporting that Pakistan security forces have raided a training camp of the group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which evidence has indicated was behind the attacks. Lakhvi was reportedly captured in the raid and is now in custody.

At the same time Ibrahim’s role is being downplayed, Lakhvi’s known role is being exaggerated. Initial reports described him as the training specialist for LeT, but the major media outlets like the New York Times and the London Times, citing government sources, have since promoted his status to that of commander of operations for the group.

The only terrorist from the Mumbai attacks to be captured alive, Azam Amir Kasab, characterized Ibrahim, not Lakhvi, as the mastermind of those attacks, according to earlier press accounts.

Kasab reportedly told his interrogators that he and his fellow terrorists were trained under Lakhvi, also known as “Chacha”, at a camp in Pakistan. Indian officials also traced calls from a satellite phone used by the terrorists to Lakhvi.

But the phone had also been used to call Yusuf Muzammil, also known as Abu Yusuf, Abu Hurrera, and “Yahah”. And it has been Muzammil, not Lakhvi, who has previously been described as the military commander of LeT. It was an intercepted call to Muzammil on November 18 that put the Indian Navy and Coast Guard on high alert to be on the lookout for any foreign vessels from Pakistan entering Indian waters.

Kasab told his interrogators that his team had set out from Karachi, Pakistan, on a ship belonging to Dawood Ibrahim, the MV Alpha. They then hijacked an Indian fishing trawler, the Kuber, to pass through Indian territorial waters to elude the Navy and Coast Guard that were boarding and searching suspect ships.

Although the MV Alpha was subsequently found and seized by the Indian Navy, there have been few, if any, developments about this aspect of the investigation in press accounts, such as whether it has been confirmed or not that the ship was owned by Ibrahim.

Upon arriving off the coast near the city, they were received by inflatable rubber dinghies that had been arranged by an associate of Ibrahim’s in Mumbai.

The planning and execution of the attacks are indicative of the mastermind role not of either Lakhvi or Muzammil, but of Ibrahim, an Indian who is intimately familiar with the city. It was in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) that Ibrahim rose through the ranks of the underworld to become a major organized crime boss.

At least two other Indians were also connected to the attacks, Mukhtar Ahmed and Tausef Rahman. They were arrested for their role in obtaining SIM cards used in the cell phones of the terrorists. Ahmed, according to Indian officials, had in fact been recruited by a special counter-insurgency police task force as an undercover operative. His exact role is still being investigated.

One of the SIM cards used was possibly purchased from New Jersey. Investigators are looking into this potential link to the US, as well.

Dawood Ibrahim went from underworld kingpin to terrorist in 1993, when he was connected to a series of bombings in Bombay that resulted in 250 deaths. He is wanted by Interpol and was designated by the US as a global terrorist in 2003.

It’s believed Ibrahim has been residing in Karachi, and Indian officials have accused Pakistan’s ISI of protecting him.

Ibrahim is known to be a major drug trafficker responsible for shipping narcotics into the United Kingdom and Western Europe.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), most Afghan opium (or its derivative, heroin, which is increasingly being produced in the country before export) is smuggled through Iran and Turkey en route by land to Europe; but the percentage that goes to Pakistan seems to mostly find its way directly to the UK, either by plane or by ship.

Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer of opium, a trend that developed during the CIA-backed mujahedeen effort to oust the Soviet Union from the country, with the drug trade serving to help finance the war.

The principle recipient of CIA-ISI funding was Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, one of the major drug lords. Hekmatyar has since joined with the Taliban in the insurgency effort to expel foreign forces from the country – not the Soviet Union, this time, but the US.

A Taliban ban on the cultivation of opium poppies in 2000 resulted in the near total eradication of the crop. But since the US overthrow of the regime in 2001, Afghanistan has once again become the world’s leading producer of opium, surpassing all previous records.

While Hekmatyar chose to side with anti-government forces, a number of other warlords involved in the drug trade were members of the Northern Alliance to whom the CIA doled out cash in the US effort to overthrow the Taliban following the 9/11 attacks.

One such warlord is Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was appointed Chief of Staff of the army under the government of Hamid Karzai, and who has been described in US intelligence’s own files as a “Tier One Warlord”.

That list includes a number of other high ranking officials within the Afghanistan government, including former defense minister and parliament member Marshal Mohammad Fahim, Interior Minister for Counter-Narcotics General Mohammad Daoud, and former governor of Helmand province (now by far the largest producer of opium) Sher Mohammed Akhundzada.

Although government officials parroted by the mainstream media tend to characterize the Afghan opium trade as being controlled by the Taliban, in fact the estimated drug profits of all anti-government elements (AGEs) is a mere fraction of the trade’s total estimated export value. The UNODC estimated the export value this year at $3.4 billion. Of that, AGEs profited between $250-470 million, less than 14% of the total trade. Moreover, what fraction of that percentage has gone specifically to the Taliban as opposed to other AGEs is unknown.

Furthermore, while the Taliban profits from the production of opium through ushr, a 10% tax on all agricultural products, and possibly through a protection racket in which it receives compensation for providing security along smuggling routes, the UNODC has acknowledged that there is little indication that the Taliban itself is responsible for either the actual production or trafficking of the drug.

This is an inconvenient truth for the US, which has so far managed through its propaganda efforts to successfully obfuscate the truth about the Afghan drug trade and portray the Taliban as being almost wholly responsible.

A known drug trafficker, Dawood Ibrahim is naturally also involved in money laundering, which is perhaps where the role of gambling operations in Nepal comes into the picture.

Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor of the Japan Times, wrote last month after the Mumbai attacks that Ibrahim had worked with the US to help finance the mujahedeen during the 1980s and that because he knows too much about the US’s “darker secrets” in the region, he could never be allowed to be turned over to India.

The recent promotion of Lakhvi to “mastermind” of the attacks while Ibrahim’s name disappears from media reports would seem to lend credence to Shimatsu’s assertion.

Investigative journalist Wayne Madsen similarly reported that according to intelligence sources, Dawood Ibrahim is a CIA asset, both as a veteran of the mujahedeen war and in a continuing connection with his casino and drug trade operations in Kathmandu, Nepal. A deal had been made earlier this year to have Pakistan hand Ibrahim over to India, but the CIA was fearful that this would lead to too many of its dirty secrets coming to light, including the criminal activities of high level personnel within the agency.

One theory on the Mumbai attacks is that it was backlash for this double-cross that was among other things intended to serve as a warning that any such arrangement could have further serious consequences.

Although designated as a major international terrorist by the US, media reports in India have characterized the US’s past interest in seeing Ibrahim handed over as less than enthusiastic. Former Indian Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani wrote in his memoir, “My Country My Life”, that he made a great effort to get Pakistan to hand over Ibrahim, and met with then US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice (now Secretary of State) to pressure Pakistan to do so. But he was informed by Powell that Pakistan would hand over Ibrahim only “with some strings attached” and that then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would need more time before doing so.

The handover, needless to say, never occurred. The Pakistan government has also publicly denied that Ibrahim is even in the country; a denial that was repeated following the recent Mumbai attacks.

Others suspected of involvement in the attacks and named among the 20 individuals India wants Pakistan to turn over also have possible connections to the CIA, including Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of LeT, and Maulana Masood Azhar, both veterans of the CIA-backed mujahedeen effort.

Azhar had been captured in 1994 and imprisoned in India for his role as leader of the Pakistani-based terrorist group Karkut-ul-Mujahideen. He was released, however, in 1999 in exchange for hostages from the takeover of Indian Airlines Flight 814, which was hijacked during its flight from Kathmandu, Nepal to Delhi, India and redirected to Afghanistan. After Azhar’s release, he formed Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which was responsible for an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 that led Pakistan and India to the brink of war. LeT was also blamed for the attack alongside JeM.

Both LeT and JeM have links to the ISI, which has used the groups as proxies in the conflict with India over the territory of Kashmir.

Hafiz Saeed travelled to Peshawar to join the mujahedeen cause during the Soviet-Afghan war. Peshawar served as the base of operations for the CIA, which worked closely with the ISI to finance, arm, and train the mujahedeen. It was in Peshawar that Saeed became the protégé of Abdullah Azzam, who founded an organization called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) along with a Saudi individual named Osama bin Laden.

MAK worked alongside the CIA-ISI operations to recruit Arabs to the ranks of the mujahedeen. The ISI, acting as proxy for the CIA, chose mainly to channel its support to Afghans, such as Gulbaddin Hekmatyar. The U.S. claims the CIA had no relationship with MAK, but bin Laden’s operation, which later evolved into “al-Qaeda”, must certainly have been known to, and approved by, the CIA.

But there are indications that the CIA’s relationship with MAK and al-Qaeda go well beyond having shared a common enemy and mutual interests in the Soviet-Afghan war. A number of al-Qaeda associates appear to have been protected individuals.

Branches of MAK existed elsewhere, including in the United States. The US Treasury Department lists one of MAK’s aliases as Al-Kifah. The Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, New York, served as a recruitment center during the 1980s, but its operations did not end after the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Kifah was also a recruitment center for efforts by extremist groups in the Balkans.

Just as in Afghanistan, the US also had mutual interests with Bosnian Muslims and extremist groups acting in the Balkans. MAK had since evolved into al-Qaeda under Osama bin Laden, which had links to groups operating in Bosnia. Despite an arms embargo against such groups, they managed to obtain weapons and supply shipments in which the US at best looked the other way and at worst played an active role.

The operations to arm al-Qaeda linked groups in Bosnia were carried under the watch of then director of the US European Command Intelligence Directorate Gen. Michael V. Hayden. Hayden subsequently served as the director of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005 and is currently the Director of Central Intelligence, or DCI, which is the head of the CIA.

A former official at the US consular office in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Michael Springman went public after 9/11 to explain how his office was used by the CIA to bring recruits to the US for training during the 1980s.

The Jeddah office is where most of the 9/11 hijackers obtained their visas to enter the US.

Two other of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, were in fact known to the CIA and were being monitored. Despite being known al-Qaeda operatives, they were allowed to enter the US under their real names and neither the FBI nor the State Department were notified.

The US explains this as the result of the CIA losing the terrorists’ trail when they travelled to Thailand after an al-Qaeda meeting in Kuala Lumpur. But this explanation does not stand up to scrutiny since it was known that they had obtained visas to enter the US. Thus, even if the CIA did in fact lose track of the terrorists, standard procedure should have dictated that the FBI and State Department be alerted.

The 9/11 Joint Inquiry and subsequent 9/11 Commission were apparently satisfied with the CIA’s explanation that it lost al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, and nobody was ever held accountable for the “mistake” of knowingly allowing two known al-Qaeda operatives on the terrorist watchlist to enter the United States unhindered.

Upon arriving in the US, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were assisted by an individual under FBI surveillance for his possible connections to terrorist groups and, furthermore, even lived in a house rented from an FBI informant. But the FBI claims that it didn’t know anything about the men, despite them using their real names and being listed in the phone book, because the CIA hadn’t informed them the two were in the country. The Joint Inquiry report described this as perhaps the single greatest missed opportunity to break up the 9/11 operation and prevent the attacks.

Additionally, it was in fact the CIA who not once, but at least on six separate occasions, approved a visa, including from the office in Jeddah, for or the entry of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a.k.a. “the Blind Sheikh”, into the US, despite his known connection to terrorist acts in Egypt, including the assassination of Anwar Sadat, and despite having been on the State Department’s terrorist watchlist. This, too, was described as a series of “mistakes” after the government was forced to admit that it had occurred – an explanation that the New York Times, which reported this information in a series of articles, seemed to find perfectly satisfactory.

Many, however, find such incompetency and coincidence theories to be simply not credible, preferring instead alternative, oftentimes much more plausible, conspiracy theories.

The Blind Sheikh had also travelled to Peshawar during the mujahedeen effort, and was good friends with Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, the CIA’s top asset during the Soviet-Afghan war. He later became the spiritual head of the terrorist group that carried out the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, a plot which the FBI had known about in advance through two or more informants.

One of the informants served as a bodyguard for the Blind Sheikh and was made responsible for obtaining materials to make the bomb with. Tape recordings he secretly made of conversations with his FBI handlers reveal that the original sting operation involved a plan to replace a chemical used in making the bomb with an inert simulant that would render it inoperative. But this plan was withdrawn by a supervisor at the FBI and the terrorist cell was allowed to go ahead and make a real bomb – which was then used to blow up the World Trade Center.

Another notable character connected to Al-Kifah training and recruitment efforts for al-Qaeda is Ali Mohammed. He also happened to be an in FBI informant, a CIA asset, and a member of the special forces in the US Army. It is Ali Mohammed whom some suspect of actually being the mastermind of the 1993 WTC bombing. He was later charged in connection to the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, but has since seemingly disappeared off the map.

After the 9/11 attacks, the investigation into the financing of the attacks led to Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British national of Pakistani origin. According to Indian officials, a joint investigation with the FBI revealed evidence that it was at the direction of the head of the ISI, Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, that Omar Sheikh transferred $100,000 to lead hijacker Mohammed Atta in Florida.

Omar Sheikh, a known associate of Osama bin Laden, was captured and imprisoned in India for his role in the kidnapping of American and British nationals in 1994. He was released in 1999 along with Maulana Massod Azhar in exchange for the hostages from Flight 814. According to former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf, Omar Sheikh was also an agent of Britain’s spy agency, MI6, for whom he served in operations in the Balkans.

Omar Sheikh’s role in the 9/11 attacks has also been downplayed. Mention of him in the media instead focus on his role as the man responsible for the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. He is currently being held in Pakistan on charges relating to Pearl’s murder.

After Mahmud Ahmed’s alleged role in the 9/11 attacks became known publicly, Musharraf quietly replaced him and the whole affair was hushed up in the US. When a reporter from a foreign news agency asked then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice whether she was aware of the reports that the ISI chief had financed the hijackers and was in Washington meeting with high level officials at the time of the attacks, she denied having seen “that report” and protested that, “he was certainly not meeting with me.”

Interestingly, the White House website transcript of the press briefing censored the words “ISI chief” from the reporter’s question, despite the words clearly being audible in the video of the briefing.

The 9/11 Commission also acted to whitewash Mahmud Ahmed’s alleged role in the attacks. Despite the question of the ISI chief’s involvement being included on a list of items for the Commission to investigate from families of the victims of the attacks, the Commission’s report made no mention of it, either to confirm or deny the information, which, despite having received zero coverage in the US major media (with the one exception of a citation of a report from the Times of India in a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s opinion website), was widely reported internationally (as well as in US alternative media).

Rather, the 9/11 Commission simply acted as though such reports didn’t exist. Despite Bob Graham, one of the chairs of the earlier Congressional Joint Inquiry, publicly stating that he was surprised by the evidence of foreign government involvement (he added that this information would not be made public for another twenty or thirty years when it would be due for release to the national archives), the 9/11 Commission report arrived at the opposite conclusion, saying there was no evidence of any such involvement and, moreover, that the question of who financed the attacks was “of little practical significance”.

Another former head of the ISI is now being privately accused by the US of involvement with the group responsible for the Mumbai attacks, according to reports citing a document listing former ISI chief Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul and four other former heads of Pakistan’s intelligence agency as being involved in supporting terrorist networks. The individuals named have been recommended to the UN Security Council to be named as international terrorists, according to Pakistan’s The News.

The document has been provided to the Pakistan government and also accuses Gul, who was head of the ISI from 1987-1989, of providing assistance to criminal groups in Kabul, as well as to groups responsible for recruiting and training militants to attack US-led forces in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.

Hamid Gul responded to the reports by calling the allegations hilarious. The US denied that it had made any such recommendations to the UN.

But the US has similarly accused the ISI of involvement in the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul last July. This was unusual not because of the allegation of an ISI connection to terrorism but because it was in such stark contrast with US attempts to publicly portray Pakistan as a staunch ally in its “war on terrorism” when the country was under the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf.

The US attitude toward Pakistan shifted once an elected government came to power that has been more willing to side with the overwhelming belief among the public that it is the “war on terrorism” itself that has exacerbated the problem of extremist militant groups and led to further terrorist attacks within the country, such as the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto last year or the bombing of the Marriot Hotel in September. While the world’s attention has been focused on the attacks in Mumbai, a bomb blast in Peshawar last week killed 21 and injured 90.

While the purported US document names Gul and others as terrorist supporters, another report, from Indian intelligence, indicates that the terrorists who carried out the attacks in Mumbai were among 500 trained by instructors from the Pakistan military, according to the Sunday edition of The Times. This training of the 10 known Mumbai terrorists would have taken place prior to their recent preparation for these specific attacks by the LeT training specialist Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi.

But while Lakhvi, Muzammil, and Hafiz Saeed have continued to be named in connection with last month’s attacks in Mumbai, the name of Dawood Ibrahim seems to be either disappearing altogether or his originally designated role as the accused mastermind of the attacks being credited now instead to Lakhvi in media accounts.

Whether this is a deliberate effort to downplay Ibrahim’s role in the attacks so as not to have to force Pakistan to turn him over because of embarrassing revelations pertaining to the CIA’s involvement with known terrorists and drug traffickers that development could possibly produce isn’t certain. But what is certain is that the CIA has had a long history of involvement with such characters and that the US has a track record of attempting to keep information about the nature of such involvement in the dark or to cover it up once it reaches the light of public scrutiny.

Related: The Mumbai Attacks: More than Meets the Eye

Jeremy R. Hammond is the editor of Foreign Policy Journal, a website dedicated to providing news, critical analysis, and opinion commentary on U.S. foreign policy from outside of the standard framework offered by government officials and the mainstream corporate media, particularly with regard to the "war on terrorism" and events in the Middle East. He has also written for numerous other online publications. You can contact him by clicking here.

The Germans and the Afghanistan War
on 2008/12/10 19:30:00 (1000 reads)
Heidelberg, December 9, 2008 -- It seems agreed in Germany that the overwhelming majority are against any expansion of the German role in Afghanistan if it means German troops in combat. Germany’s soldiers complain about this because it puts them personally in an invidious position among most of the rest of the NATO forces in that country. It also creates confusion and inefficiencies in attempting to run a war in which only a part of the available troops can be sent into the combat zones where they are most needed.

The Taliban are increasingly in control of the south of the country and now are closing a ring around Kabul itself, aiming to cut the capital off from the rest of Afghanistan, their strategy when the Russians occupied the nation. The new American brigade of 4,000 men will go to the protection of Kabul, where embassies, official buildings and the like have in recent months had high concrete walls built around them -- each to have its own fortified “green zone.”

Last weekend the insurgents blew up 100 trucks loaded with supplies at a U.S depot in Peshawar in Pakistan, an hour from the Afghan border on a main supply route passing through the Khyber pass region controlled by Taliban factions. The rebels are also harassing the roads passing through Pakistan from the port of Karachi, so that NATO is forced to increase the supply traffic through Central Asia, where Russian cooperation is necessary.

The main German problem, however, is with the transformation of their mission, which began as a peacekeeping, stabilization and development effort, not a war against Afghan insurgents. This is a touchy point, of great political significance in the war and among allies, so that some U.S. commanders are careful in distinguishing between “Insurgents” and the “Terrorists” – al Qaeda and its recruits in the tribal territories. Those are supposed to be the enemy. The Taliban want the foreigners out of their country.

Why are the allies waging war against the largest of the native ethnic groups in Afghanistan, automatically benefitting the Pathans’ traditional ethnic rivals? The NATO answer is that it didn’t set out to fight a war against the Pathans. It just happened that way.

NATO is fighting to protect a legitimate government in Kabul, internationally recognized, which is committed to modern standards of women’s rights, nondiscriminatory education, etc. Unfortunately these good things are all but impossible for foreign armies to install and protect in a country where most people are illiterate and living spiritually in the middle ages.

Admirable as NATO intentions may be, this is not what the intervention in Afghanistan was supposed to be about, and it may be questioned to what extent the presence of western armies has actually promoted such ends, or whether overall the effect has been to undermine development and degrade the condition in which the people of the country are compelled to live.

The truth is that German soldiers are in Afghanistan becase the United States demanded that they go there, and for nearly 60 years Germany has supported Washington in nearly everything the United States has wanted to do. This is considered on both sides as an inevitable consequence of the second world war.

No one puts the matter so crudely these days. Officially, the United States is in Afghanistan to fight al-Qaeda and defend a legitimate government. Officially, the argument goes, Germany is in Afghanistan because if the Taliban are allowed once again to take power in that country, international terrorism will be strengthened and the danger of terrorist attacks in western Europe will increase. Better to fight the enemy in Afghanistan than in Heidelberg, Berlin or Paris. (An innocent bystander might suggest that Heidelberg, Berlin or Paris are the best places to fight them, since that is where they can do the most harm.)

The other rationale for Germans and other Europeans to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan is the Washington argument that Europe has been for years defended by the United States and payback time has arrived. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been no threat to Europe other than from radicalized young Muslims, usually members of their own populations, stirred up by the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

George Bush’s Global War on Terror now is a hopelessly confused affair in which nearly everyone is fighting for misconceived reasons and for objectives impossible to attain. Outraged Muslims seem to think they are defending the Prophet from western attack and can in the end conquer the West. Western armies are in Iraq and Afghanistan because their political leaders want to make democracy prevail in the Islamic world. Is it possible that the new American administration could actually reexamine what its serious and attainable purposes are? Could it consult with such increasingly reluctant allies as Germany, Britain and Canada, and listen to what they have to say?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Wall Street Swindler Strikes Powerful Blows for Social Justice

Bernard Madoff: Wall Street Swindler Strikes Powerful Blows for Social Justice

By James Petras

“We never thought he would do this to us, he was one of our people”, member of Palm Beach Country Club.

December 22, 2008 "Information Clearinghouse" --- Wall Street broker Bernard (‘Bernie’) Madoff, former president of NASDAQ, revered and respected investor confessed to pulling off the biggest fraud in history, a $50 billion dollar scam. Bernie was known for his generous philanthropy, especially to Zionist, Jewish and Israeli causes. A one time life-guard on Long Island in the 1960’s, Bernie launched his financial career by raising money from colleagues, friends and relatives among wealthier Jews in the Long Island suburbs, Palm Beach, Florida and in Manhattan, promising a modest, steady and secure return of between 10 to 12%, covering any withdrawals in typical Ponzi fashion by drawing on funds from new investors who literally pleaded for Bernie to fleece them. Madoff personally managed at least $17 billion dollars. For almost four decades he built up a clientele, which came to include some of the biggest banks and investment houses in Scotland, Spain, England and France; as well as major hedge funds in the United States. Madoff drew almost all of the funds from high net-worth private clients who were recruited by brokers working on commission. Bernie’s clients included many multi-millionaires and billionaires from Switzerland, Israel and elsewhere, as well as the US’s largest hedge funds (RMF Division of the Man Group and the Tremont). Many of the swindled super-rich clients forced their money on Madoff, who sternly imposed rigorous conditions on potential clients: He insisted they have recommendations from existing investors, deposit a substantial amount and guarantee their own solvency. Most considered themselves lucky to have their funds taken by the highly respected Wall Street…swindler. Madoff’s standard message was that the fund was closed…but because they came from the same world (board members of Jewish charities, pro-Israel fund raising organizations or the ‘right’ country clubs) or were related to a friend, colleague or existing clients, he would take their money.

Madoff set up advisory councils with distinguished members, contributed heavily to museums, hospitals and upscale cultural organizations. He was a prominent member of exclusive country clubs in Palm Beach and Long Island. His reputation was enhanced by his funds record of never having a losing year – a big selling point in luring millionaire investors. Madoff shared with his super-rich clients (Jews and Gentiles) a common upper class life style, and mix of cultural philanthropy with low key financial profiteering. Madoff ‘played’ his colleagues with a soft-spoken, but authoritative, appearance of ‘expertise’, covered by a veneer of upper class collegiality, deep commitment to Zionism and long-term friendships.

Bernie’s mega-fund shared many signs with recent high level scams: The constant high returns, unmatched by any other broker; a lack of third party oversight; a backroom accounting firm physically incapable of auditing the multi-billion dollar operation; a broker-dealer operation directly under his thumb and the total obfuscation of what he was actually investing in. The obvious similarity of signs with other fraudsters were overlooked by the rich and famous, the sophisticated investors and high paid consultants, the Harvard MBA’s and the entire army of regulators from the Security and Exchange Commissions (SEC) because they were totally embedded in the corrupt culture of ‘take the money and run’ and ‘if you’re making it, don’t ask questions’. The reputation of the superior wisdom of a seemingly successful Jewish Wall Streeter fed into the self-delusions of the wealthy and the stereotypes held by millionaire Gentiles.

The Big Swindle

Madoff’s investment fund only dealt with a limited clientele of multi-millionaire and billionaires who kept their funds in for the long haul; the occasional withdrawal were limited in amount and were easily covered by soliciting new funds from new investors fighting to have access to Madoff’s money management. The long-term big investors looked toward passing their investments to their kin or eventual retirement. The wealthy lawyers, dentists, surgeons, distinguished Ivy league professors and others who might need to draw from their funds for an occasional fancy wedding or celebrity-studded bar-mitzvah, could draw from their funds because Madoff had no problem covering the withdrawal by attracting funds from rich owners of sweat shop garment factories, dangerous meat packing outfits and slumlords. Madoff was no Robin Hood, his philanthropic and charity contributions facilitated access to the rich and wealthy who served on the boards of the recipient institutions and proved that he was ‘one of them’ a kind of super-rich ‘intimate’ of the same elite class. The shock, awe and heart attacks that followed Madoff’s confession that he was ‘running a Ponzi scheme’ drew as much anger for the money lost and the fall from the moneyed class as for the embarrassment of knowing that the world’s biggest exploiters and smartest swindlers on Wall Street, were completely ‘taken’ by one of their own. Not only did they suffer big losses but their self-image of themselves as rich because they are so smart and of ‘superior stock’ was utterly shattered: They saw themselves as suffering the same fate as all the schmucks they had previously swindled, exploited and dispossessed in their climb to the top. There is nothing worse for the ego of a respectable swindler than to be trumped by a bigger swindler. As a result, a number of the biggest losers have so far refused to give their names or the amount they lost, working instead through lawyers fighting off other losers.

The Positive Side of Madoff’s Mega-Swindle (The Inadvertent Hand of Justice)

While it is understandable that the super-rich and wealthy, who have lost a large portion of their retirement and investment funds are unanimous in their condemnation and cries of betrayal of trust, and the editorials of all the prestigious newspapers and weeklies have joined the chorus of moral critics, there is much to praise in Madoff’s deeds, even if such praise was not at the heart of his fraudulent endeavor.

It is worthwhile to list the inadvertent positive outcomes of Madoff’s mega-swindle. First of all the swindle of $50 plus billion dollars may make a big dent on US Zionist funding of illegal Israeli colonial settlements in the Occupied Territories, lessen funding for AIPAC’s purchase of Congressional influence and financing of propaganda campaigns in favor of a pre-emptive US military attack against Iran. Most investors will have to lower or eliminate their purchase of Israel bonds, which subsidize the Jewish State’s military budget.

Secondly, the swindle has further discredited the highly speculative hedge funds already reeling from massive withdrawals because of deep losses. Madoff’s funds were one of the last ‘respected’ operations still drawing new investors, but with the latest revelations it may accelerate their demise. The dismissed promoters may finally have to perform an honest, productive day’s work.

Thirdly, Madoff’s long-term, large-scale fraud was not detected by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) despite its claims of at least two investigations. As a result, there is a total loss of credibility. More generally, the SEC’s failure demonstrates the incapacity of capitalist government regulatory agencies to detect mega frauds. This failure raises the question of whether alternatives to investing in Wall Street are better suited to protect savings and pension funds.

Fourthly, Madoff’s long-term association with NASDAQ, including his chairmanship, while he was defrauding his clients of billions, strongly suggests that the members and leaders of this stock exchange are incapable of recognizing a crook, and are prone to overlook felonious behavior of ‘one of their own’. In other words, the investing public can no longer look to holders of high posts in NASDAQ as a sign of probity. After Madoff it may signal time to look for a king-size mattress for safe keeping of what remains of a family’s wealth.

The fifth point is that the investment advisors from top banks in Europe, Asia and the US managing billions of funds did not carry out the most elementary due diligence of Madoff’s operation. Apart from severe bank losses, tens of thousands of influential, affluent and super-rich lost their entire accumulated wealth. The result is total loss of confidence in the leading banks and financial instruments as well as the general discrediting of ‘expert knowledge’. The result is a weakening of the financial stranglehold over investor behavior and the demise of an important sector of the parasitic ‘rentier’ class, which gains without producing any useful commodities or providing needed services.

The sixth point is that since most of the money stolen by Madoff came from the upper classes around the world, his behavior has reduced inequalities – he is the ‘greatest leveler’ since the introduction of the progressive income tax. By ruining billionaires and bankrupting millionaires, Madoff has lessened their capacity to use their wealth to influence politicians in their favor – thus increasing the potential political influence of the less affluent sectors of class society…and inadvertently strengthening democracy against the financial oligarchs.

A seventh point can be made that by swindling life-long friends, self-same ethno-religious investors, narrow ethnically defined country club members and close family members, Madoff demonstrates that finance capital shows no respect for any of the pieties of everyday life: Great and small, holy and profane, all are subordinated to the rule of capital.

Eighth, among the many ruined investors in New York and New England, there are a number of mega slumlords (real estate moguls), sweatshop owners (fancy name-brand clothes and toy manufacturers) and others who barely paid the minimum wage to their women and immigrant laborers, evicted poor tenants and swindled employees out of their pensions before moving their operations to China. In other words, Madoff’s swindle was a kind of secular ‘divine’ retribution for past and present crimes against labor and the poor. Needless to say, this ‘unconscious Robin Hood’ did not redistribute the money fleeced from the employers to their workers, he reinvested part of it in charities which enhanced his philanthropic image and to payout to some of his early investors so sustain the overall Ponzi scam.

Point number nine is that Madoff struck a severe blow against anti-Semites who claim that there is a ‘close-knit Jewish conspiracy to defraud the Gentiles’, laying that canard to rest once and for all. Among Bernard Madoff’s principle victims were his closest Jewish friends and colleagues, people who shared Seder meals and frequented the same upscale temples in Long Island and Palm Beach.

Bernie was discriminating in accepting clients, but it was on the basis of their wealth and not their national origin, race, religion or sexual preference. He was very ecumenical and a strong backer of globalization. There was nothing ethnocentric about Madoff: He defrauded the Anglo-Chinese bank HSBC of $1 billion dollars and several billions from the Dutch arm of the Belgian bank Fortes. $1.4 billion was from the Royal Bank of Scotland, the French bank BNP Paribas, the Spanish bank, Banco Santander, the Japanese Nomura; not to mention hedge funds in London and the US, which have admitted holdings in Bernard Madoff Investment Securities. Indeed Bernie was emblematic of the modern up-to-date, politically correct, multicultural, international…swindler. The ease with which the super rich of Europe forked their fortunes over caused one Madrid-based business consultant to observe that, “picking off Spain’s wealthiest was like clubbing seals…” (Financial Times, December 18, 2008 p.16)

The tenth point is that Madoff’s swindle will likely promote greater self-criticism and a more distrustful attitude toward other potential confidence people posing as reliable financial know-it-alls. Among self-critical Jews, they are less likely to confide in brokers simply because they are zealous backers of Israel and generous contributors to Zionist fund drives. That is no longer an adequate guarantee of ethical behavior and a certificate of good conduct. In fact it may raise suspicion of brokers who are excessively ardent boosters of Israel and promise consistent high returns to local Zionist affiliates – asking themselves whether this business about ‘what is good for the …’ is really a cover for another scam.

The final and 11th point is the demise of Madoff’s enterprise and his wealthy liberal Jewish victims will adversely affect contributions to the 52 Major Jewish American Organizations, numerous foundations in Boston, Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere, as well as the Clinton/Schumer militarist wing of the Democratic Party (Madoff bankrolled both of them as well as other unconditional Congressional supporters of Israel). This may open Congress to greater debate on Middle East policy without the usual high volume attacks.


Madoff’s swindle and fraudulent behavior is not the result of a personal moral failure. It is the product of a systemic imperative and the economic culture, which informs the highest circles of our class structure. The paper economy, hedge funds and all the ‘sophisticated financial instruments’ are all ‘Ponzi schemes’ – they are not based on producing and selling goods and services. They are financial bets on future financial paper growth based on securing future buyers to pay off earlier cash ins.

The ‘failure’ of the SEC is totally predictable and systemic: The regulators are selected from the regulatees, are beholden to them and defer to their judgments, claims and audit sheets. They are structured to ‘miss the signs’ and to avoid ‘over-regulating’ their financial superiors. Madoff operated in a milieu of a Wall Street where everything goes, where impunity for mega-bailouts for mega swindlers is the norm. As an individual swindler, he out-defrauded some of his bigger institutional competitors on the Street. The whole system of rewards and prestige goes to those best able to juggle the books, to cover the paper trails and who have willing victims begging to get fleeced. What a mensch, this Madoff!

In a few days, one individual, Bernard Madoff, has struck a bigger blow against global financial capital, Wall Street and the US Zionist Lobby/Israel-First Agenda than the entire US and European left combined over the past half century! He has been more successful in reducing vast wealth disparities in New York than all the white, black, Christian and Jewish, reform and mainline Democratic and Republican governors and Mayors over the past two centuries.

Some right-wing conspiracy theorists are claiming that Bernie is a secret Islamic-Palestinian agent (from Hamas) who set out to deliberately undermine the financial base of the Jewish State of Israel and its most powerful, affluent and generous US backers and foundations. Others claim that he is a closet Marxist whose swindles were carefully designed to discredit Wall Street and to funnel billions into clandestine radical organizations – after all… does anyone know where the lost billions have gone? Unlike the leftist pundits, bloggers and protest marchers, whose earnest and public activities have had no effect on the rich and powerful, Madoff has aimed his blows where it hurts the most: Their mega-bank accounts, their confidence in the capitalist system, their self-esteem and, yes, even their cardiac well-being.

Does that mean we on the left should form a Bernie Madoff Defense Committee and call for a bailout in line with Paulson’s bailout of his Citibank cronies? Should we proclaim “Equal bailout for equal swindlers!”? Should we advocate his flight (or his right of return) to Israel to avoid a trial? It might not fly with his many Jewish victims to make the case for an Israeli retirement for Bernie.

There is no reason to mount the barricades for Bernard Madoff. It’s enough to recognize that he has inadvertently rendered an historic service to popular justice by undermining some of the financial props of a class-ridden injustice system.


Was it out of sheer admiration or because of some covert linkages with Madoff that our current Attorney General Michael Mukasey is removing himself from the investigation? Others of equal importance and influence are most certainly tied in the Madoff Affair, and not just the ‘victims’. We are facing a serious case of matters of State … No one can believe that a single person could by himself pull off a scam of this size and duration. Nor can any serious investigator believe that $50 billion dollars has simply ‘disappeared’ or been squirreled into personal accounts.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Behind 'BC Citizens For Green Energy'

Who's Behind 'BC Citizens For Green Energy'?

Group with BC Liberal ties slams gov't critics, pushes private power, nuclear.

Christopher Pollon
December 18, 2008

A bold new voice emerged in the provincial discussion about B.C. energy policy last spring, right around the time public outrage was peaking against private hydro development in the Pitt River watershed.

The B.C. Citizens for Green Energy (BCCGE http://www.citizensforpublicpower.ca/) - whose name is an apparent take on the B.C. Citizens for Public Power - launched a website in March, containing articles and press releases aggressively attacking
environmentalists, the B.C. citizens, and the organized labour groups that support them.

From its inception, the BCCGP displayed hallmarks of an "Astroturf" group

- a fake grass-roots organization designed to both promote industry-friendly messages and marginalize critics. Over the last year, the group has taken its fight to the editorial pages of B.C. newspapers big and small, and has attempted to publicly discredit two university academics and at least one prominent B.C. journalist.

Unlike its arch nemesis, B.C. Citizens For Public Power, the group does not have non-profit society status, and the website offers scant details about where publicly solicited donations go or on whose behalf the BCCGE's aggressive lobbying and attacks are made.

BCCGP co-spokesman Gene Vickers says his group is just a bunch of passionate, right-of-centre British Columbians who strongly agree with industry and government on energy policy. He acknowledges that the opposition to the Pitt River developments was a motivating factor in the group going public, but insists that they receive no money or direction from industry or government.

"If I was being paid by Gordon Campbell to say what I'm saying, and I was saying the right thing, it would probably be OK," says the ex-BC Liberal activist and former cop turned amateur clown, motivational speaker, car salesman, and energy policy co-spokesman. "But I'm not being paid by anybody."

Who Are They?

The BC Citizens For Green Energy take direction from a steering committee, which, according to co-spokesman Bruce Sanderson, contributes intelligence and general direction to the organization.

Committee member Mark MacDonald ran unsuccessfully for the BC Liberal nomination in 2005 for Nanaimo-Parksville, and is a fixture on the Liberal Nanaimo riding constituency board. BC Liberal supporter Pamela Gardner was appointed to the BC Liberal's Women's Commission on March 6 of this year -- an organization tasked with empowering women and "encourage[ing] them to get actively involved in policy development and party initiatives." Since 2005, she has donated more than $1000 to the BC Liberal party, on behalf of both her business and herself.

Then there is Robert Ruf, a registrar at Okanagan College in Kelowna, who was appointed on Sept. 24 to Gordon Campbell's Citizens' Conservation Council on Climate Action for the Thompson Okanagan. The members of the council will advise government on the "best ways to encourage individuals, groups and communities in their regions to learn more about climate change, participate in climate action initiatives, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Co-spokesman Sanderson is the president of IT company Galaxy Multimedia Corp., whose former president and controller both recently left the company to take top executive posts at independent power producer Max Power Corporation (since renamed Syntaris Power). Syntarus is currently proposing run of river projects near Chilliwack, Squamish, and Stewart. Sanderson told The Tyee that both executives left before his time, and that he has no personal connection with either of them.

Vickers was formerly active with the BC Liberals in Port Moody, where he ran twice (unsuccessfully) for Port Moody municipal council. His aspirations for political office ended in 2004 when he was caught failing to disclose election campaign expenses.

Letters to the editor

While the traffic to the website has been modest, the BCCGE's greatest success has been its ability to place letters in the editorial pages of weekly and daily newspapers across British Columbia.

Between March and November of this year, Sanderson and Vickers placed over 20 letters in B.C. newspapers, including the Vancouver Sun, the Province, and Victoria Times Colonist.

Vickers has placed letters in response to articles about electric cars, plans to power cruise ships) by plug in electrical power at ports, and the Vancouver underground electrical fire and black-out.

The persistent BCCGE message is that opposition to private power development comes from a narrow cross section of BC society: environmentalists such as the Wilderness Committee, well-financed unions ideologically opposed to private industry, and the decent, well-meaning folks who are misled by the propaganda of the former two.

"These guys have got a whack of money and they like to go out guns-a-blazin' and shoot at anything that smells of private sector," says Sanderson of labour in a scathing editorial critical of BC energy policy opposition that ran in at least three Black Press media outlets between June 2 and 24, 2008.

The group has also been quoted as energy experts by journalists writing about B.C. energy with little apparent scrutiny of their energy policy credentials: in July, Vickers appeared in a Victoria Times Colonist article about the Vancouver electrical fire and blackout, where he decries the sorry state of BC Hydro's electrical infrastructure. The same day, the same piece appeared in the Vancouver Sun under the headline "Power Outages Reveal Aging Infrastructure: Experts."

A month earlier, Vickers was featured in the Lake Windermere Valley Echo in advance of an anti-IPP rally featuring local MLA Norm Macdonald and Rafe Mair, a spokesperson for Save Our Rivers Society who also is a regular Tyee columnist. In the article, Vicker's group, which is described by the journalist as "a mostly West Coast-based volunteer organization," attacked the credentials of rally participants COPE, the Wilderness Committee and Save Our Rivers Society.

Regarding the latter, Vickers rhetorically asked who was behind the Save Our Rivers Society (SORS). "Until recently it was entirely anonymous."

But Vickers and company are equally anonymous -- they are neither a formal society or registered charity ("we're too small to even bother with registration as a non profit," Sanderson told The Tyee), and they actively solicit online donations without providing any information about where or to whom the money goes.

Attacking journalists and academics

Broadcast journalist and radio commentator Keith Baldrey was the target of BCCGE mudslinging in October when he agreed to appear at a Vancouver meeting organized by the B.C. Citizens For Public Power.

"...it's fair to ask if Baldrey will be helping them push misinformation and scare tactics," said Vickers in a widely-distributed July 14 press release entitled "Veteran Journalist's anti-IPP activity Raises Concerns."

Most recently the group has been aggressively promoting) the work of Mark
Jaccard, who was hired by the Independent Power Producers' association to critique the work of two prominent SFU-academics on the subject of B.C. energy policy.

Says Vickers of SFU academic and author John Calvert's research: "This nonsense comes up everywhere from confused letters in newspapers to angry speeches delivered to partisan mobs. Now they've been thoroughly discredited -- demolished, in fact. But not before they've scared a lot of well-intentioned people."

IT, green power and nuclear reactors

Co-spokesman Sanderson has also found novel opportunities to lobby for green power. On Sept. 29, he appeared before the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services -- a process intended to solicit public input on the priorities for the upcoming February 2009 provincial budget.

"I would also like to say that we have enjoyed and applauded the changes that this current government has made since coming to power and sincerely hope that it continues for many years to come," he said.

Although he was appearing on behalf of Galaxy Multimedia Corp., Sanderson soon changed tracks.

"In the upcoming budget there needs to be a much greater effort to promote
independent development of alternative forms of energy such as wind, geothermal, run-of-the-river, solar, as well as exploration into the new thorium nuclear reactors..."

- Christopher Pollon is a contributing editor to The Tyee with a focus on environmental issues.


Of Hope and Change

Waves of Hope and Change
December 21, 2008
It’s holiday season in Manhattan and despite the economic downturn, there seems to be no shortage of well-dressed humans cavorting, laughing, and spending freely. Walking among them, a homeless man begs for money—shaking his tattered coffee cup (adorned with images of Greek architecture) to rattle the few coins therein. A veteran of the first Gulf War, this man is no longer concerned with yellow ribbons. Right now, he’d settle for a scrap of food and a dry pair of shoes.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night and nearly 400,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year. Forty-five percent of America’s homeless veterans suffer from mental illness and half have substance abuse problems. According to the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients, veterans account for 23% of all homeless people in America.

The homeless vet is barely noticed by the 30-something corporate lawyer whizzing past him, on his way to dinner. It’s a holiday gathering to celebrate hope, change, and all that good stuff. The lawyer—still proudly wearing his Obama button—is running late and his colleagues have already ordered appetizers: shrimp cocktails all around (for only $17.00 each).

The United Nations Environment Program has estimated that a quarter of the destruction of mangrove forests stems from shrimp farming. After the 2008 Burma cyclone, Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan blamed “encroachment into mangrove forests, which used to serve as a buffer between the rising tide, between big waves and storms and residential areas.” He added: “All those lands have been destroyed. Human beings are now direct victims of such natural forces.”

The homeless vet sees a Wall Street type—still proudly wearing his Obama button—approaching him. “Hey buddy,” the vet tries, “how about a bailout?” The Wall Street type doesn’t laugh. The Wall Street type doesn’t even see the homeless vet. The Wall Street type tosses his half-finished Coke onto the sidewalk.

As labor activist Ray Rogers explains, “The reality is that the world of Coca-Cola is a world of lies, deceptions, corruption, gross human rights and environmental abuses!” Rogers told Democracy Now that Coke “contracted with paramilitary death squads to torture, kidnap, and murder union leaders at its bottling plants in Columbia.” If geo-political issues aren’t enough to move you, consider what Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences, says about Coke and its ilk: “The relationship between soft drink consumption and body weight is so strong that researchers calculate that for each additional soda consumed, the risk of obesity increases 1.6 times.”

The homeless vet picks up the Wall Street type’s Coke and downs it in one big gulp. Afterwards, he tosses the empty cup onto the sidewalk and glances to his left just in time to look through the restaurant window and see the corporate lawyer cheerfully biting into a piece of shrimp.

At that precise moment, an underwater tremor deep in the Pacific Ocean creates a powerful wave that will develop into a tsunami aimed directly for a popular vacation destination once protected by mighty mangroves.

Mickey Z is a regular columnist for Novakeo.com

Mickey Z.
is a self-educated writer, personal trainer, martial artist, and vegan who lectures on US foreign policy at MIT in his spare time. He has appeared in martial arts films and was known as the Underground Poet for hanging his poetry in the NYC subway. He is the author of numerous books, including, most recently, “CPR for Dummies” and “No Innocent Bystanders”. He lives with his wife Michele in New York City. You can contact him at: info@mickeyz.net. Visit him on the web at Mickeyz.net

Slumdogs and Millionaires

Who Wants to Kick a Millionaire?

DURING the Great Depression, American moviegoers seeking escape could ogle platoons of glamorous chorus girls in "Gold Diggers of 1933." Our feel-good movie of the year is "Slumdog Millionaire," a Dickensian tale in which we root for an impoverished orphan from Mumbai's slums to hit the jackpot on the Indian edition of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

It's a virtuoso feast of filmmaking by Danny Boyle, but it's also the perfect fairy tale for our hard times. The hero labors as a serf in the toilet of globalization: one of those mammoth call centers Westerners reach when ringing an 800 number to, say, check on credit card debt. When he gets his unlikely crack at instant wealth, the whole system is stacked against him, including the corrupt back office of a slick game show too good to be true.

We cheer the young man on screen even if we've lost the hope to root for ourselves. The vicarious victory of a third world protagonist must be this year's stocking stuffer. The trouble with "Slumdog Millionaire" is that it, like all classic movie fables, comes to an end — as it happens, with an elaborately choreographed Bollywood musical number redolent of "Gold Diggers of 1933." Then we are delivered back to the inescapable and chilling reality outside the theater's doors.

Just when we thought that reality couldn't hit a new bottom it did with Bernie Madoff, a smiling shark as sleazy as the TV host in "Slumdog." A pillar of both the Wall Street and Jewish communities — a former Nasdaq chairman, a trustee at Yeshiva University — he even victimized Elie Wiesel's Foundation for Humanity with his Ponzi scheme. A Jewish financier rips off millions of dollars devoted to memorializing the Holocaust — who could make this stuff up? Dickens, Balzac, Trollope and, for that matter, even Mel Brooks might be appalled.

Madoff, of course, made up everything. When he turned himself in, he reportedly declared that his business was "all just one big lie." (The man didn't call his 55-foot yacht "Bull" for nothing.) As Brian Williams of NBC News pointed out, the $50 billion thought to have vanished is roughly three times as much as the proposed Detroit bailout. And no one knows how it happened, least of all the federal regulators charged with policing him and protecting the public. If Madoff hadn't confessed — for reasons that remain unclear — he might still be rounding up new victims.

There is a moral to be drawn here, and it's not simply that human nature is unchanging and that there always will be crooks, including those in high places. Nor is it merely that Wall Street regulation has been a joke. Of what we've learned about Madoff so far, the most useful lesson can be gleaned from how his smart, well-heeled clients routinely characterized the strategy that generated their remarkably steady profits. As The Wall Street Journal noted, they "often referred to it as a 'black box.' "

In the investment world "black box" is tossed around to refer to a supposedly ingenious financial model that is confidential or incomprehensible or both. Most of us know the "black box" instead as that strongbox full of data that is retrieved (sometimes) after a plane crash to tell the authorities what went wrong. The only problem is that its findings arrive too late to save the crash's victims. The hope is that the information will instead help prevent the next disaster.

The question in the aftermath of the Madoff calamity is this: Why do we keep ignoring what we learn from the black boxes being retrieved from crash after crash in our economic meltdown? The lesson could not be more elemental. If there's a mysterious financial model producing miraculous returns, odds are it's a sham — whether it's an outright fraud, as it apparently is in Madoff's case, or nominally legal, as is the case with the Wall Street giants that have fallen this year.

Wall Street's black boxes contained derivatives created out of whole cloth, deriving their value from often worthless subprime mortgages. The enormity of the gamble went undetected not only by investors but by the big brains at the top of the firms, many of whom either escaped (Merrill Lynch's E. Stanley O'Neal) or remain in place (Citigroup's Robert Rubin) after receiving obscene compensation for their illusory short-term profits and long-term ignorance.

There has been no punishment for many of those who failed to heed this repeated lesson. Quite the contrary. The business magazine Portfolio, writing in mid-September about one of the world's biggest insurance companies, observed that "now that A.I.G is battling to survive, it is its black box that may save it yet." That box — stuffed with "accounting or investments so complex and arcane that they remain unknown to most investors" — was so huge that Washington might deem it "too big to fail."

Sure enough — and unlike its immediate predecessor in collapse, Lehman Brothers — A.I.G. was soon bailed out to the tune of $123 billion. Most of that also disappeared by the end of October. But not before A.I.G. executives were caught spending $442,000 on a weeklong retreat to a California beach resort.

There are more black boxes still to be pried open, whether at private outfits like Madoff's or at publicly traded companies like General Electric, parent of the opaque GE Capital Corporation, the financial services unit that has been the single biggest contributor to the G.E. bottom line in recent years. But have we yet learned anything? Incredibly enough, as we careen into 2009, the very government operation tasked with repairing the damage caused by Wall Street's black boxes is itself a black box of secrecy and impenetrability.

Last week ABC News asked 16 of the banks that have received handouts from the Treasury Department's $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program the same two direct questions: How have you used that money, and how much have you spent on bonuses this year? Most refused to answer.

Congress can't get the answers either. Its oversight panel declared in a first report this month that the Treasury is doling out billions "without seeking to monitor the use of funds provided to specific financial institutions." The Treasury prefers instead to look at "general metrics" indicating the program's overall effect on the economy. Well, we know what the "general metrics" tell us already: the effect so far is nil. Perhaps if we were let in on the specifics, we'd start to understand why.

In its own independent attempt to penetrate the bailout, the Government Accountability Office learned that "the standard agreement between Treasury and the participating institutions does not require that these institutions track or report how they plan to use, or do use, their capital investments." Executives at all but two of the bailed-out banks told the G.A.O. that the "money is fungible," so they "did not intend to track or report" specifically what happens to the taxpayers' cash.

Nor is there any serious accounting for executive pay at these seminationalized companies. As Amit Paley of The Washington Post reported, a last-minute, one-sentence loophole added by the Bush administration to the original bailout bill gutted the already minimal restrictions on executive compensation. And so when Goldman Sachs, Henry Paulson's Wall Street alma mater, says that it is not using public money to pay executives, we must take it on faith.

In the wake of the Madoff debacle, there are loud calls to reform the Securities and Exchange Commission, including from the president-elect. Under both Clinton and Bush, that supposed watchdog agency ignored repeated and graphic warnings of Madoff's Ponzi scheme as studiously as Bush ignored Al Qaeda's threats during the summer of 2001.

But fixing that one agency is no panacea. All the talk about restoring "confidence" and "faith" in capitalism will be worthless if we still can't see what's going on in the counting rooms. In his role as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Timothy Geithner, Barack Obama's nominee for Treasury secretary, has been at the center of the action in the bailout's black box, including the still-murky and conflicting actions (and nonactions) taken with Lehman and A.I.G. His confirmation hearings demand questions every bit as tough as those that were lobbed at the executives from Detroit's Big Three.

On Friday, Geithner's partner in bailout management, Paulson, asked Congress to give the Treasury the second half of the $700 billion bailout stash. But without transparency and accountability in Washington's black box, as well as Wall Street's, there will continue to be no trust in the system, no matter how many cops the S.E.C. puts on the beat. Even the family-owned real-estate company of Eliot Spitzer, the former "Sheriff of Wall Street," had entrusted money with Madoff.

We'll keep believing, not without reason, that the whole game is as corrupt as the game show in "Slumdog Millionaire" — only without the Hollywood/Bollywood ending. We'll keep wondering how so many at the top keep avoiding responsibility and reaping taxpayers' billions while relief for those at the bottom remains as elusive as straight answers from those Mumbai call centers fielding American debtors.

This wholesale loss of confidence is a catastrophe that not even the new president's most costly New Deal can set right.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company