Parts of this book-length story were published prior to October 2011, when a man named Ali Nazerali filed a lawsuit against me and DeepCapture and convinced a Canadian court to issue (without any notice to us, and without giving us an opportunity to defend what I had written) an injunction that forced the entire DeepCapture website to be removed from the internet on October 19, 2011.
I could be wrong, but I do not believe anything like this had ever happened before. Never in history had a court outside the United States blacked out (censored) an entire American media website, much less at the behest of one man who did not like what was written in only one of hundreds of articles on many subjects that were published on that website in the exercise of First Amendment rights.
Fortunately, on December, 13, 2011, the court heard my application opposing a continuation of the injunction and considered my detailed affidavits defending this story. Finding in my favor, and refusing to extend the injunction, the court noted that the October 19 injunction was based on an incorrect legal test for pre-trial injunctions which had been suggested to the judge by lawyers for Mr. Nazerali at the earlier one-sided hearing.
Applying the correct legal test for injunctions, which my lawyer described in his submissions on December 13, the court ruled that our freedom of speech had to be restored, at least until Mr. Nazerali’s claims were tested at a trial.
Since then, I have taken a few months to investigate further, and we are now publishing an updated version of this book-length story, chapter by chapter.
Even if you had followed DeepCapture prior to the interruption, I encourage you to read this updated version of the story because it goes quite a bit deeper, and contains additional evidence and information that supports my thesis. In addition, I have clarified and refined my argument, because some people had slightly misunderstood it, while others (such as Mr. Nazerali and the former journalist Gary Weiss, who features prominently in this story) had misrepresented what I had written.
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The Miscreants’ Global Bust-Out
Was the United States Attacked by “Financial Terrorists”?
I did not think that Zuhair Karam was violent, but I telephoned him because I thought his biography was interesting. For example, it was interesting that soon after making a home in the United States, Zuhair Karam obtained finance to publish a semi-famous work of jihadist propaganda, and soon thereafter, became a proprietary day trader of equities and derivatives at a small, unregistered brokerage in Chicago.
Many of the other people who operated through this brokerage also had interesting biographies. One of them was a trader who had ties to Russian organized crime, and whose business partner was killed in a brutal gangland-style murder in New Jersey. Also trading through this little unregistered brokerage in Chicago was an account controlled by the top henchmen of a Russian oligarch and members of an organized crime syndicate that has been accused by U.S. officials of having ties to both Al Qaeda and the Russian government’s intelligence services.
In addition there was (to name just one more) a trader whose family members worked for the Revolutionary Guard in Iran. One of this trader’s close relatives (based outside Iran) had employed an undercover Iranian government agent who was implicated in a terrorist attack and who was caught shipping sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah, the jihadist outfit that takes its directions from the Iranian regime.
Zuhair’s little brokerage, meanwhile, maintained partnerships with a number of other brokerages, all of which were similarly interesting. Some of these brokerages were operated by people who had previously been principals at brokerages controlled by La Cosa Nostra, Russian organized crime syndicates, and (in most cases) both. Some of these brokerages had important ties to a man who is now (according to credible reports from Moscow) running financial crime operations for the Russian intelligence services.
One of these brokerages was a partnership with a Moscow bank that is (according to U.S. officials) controlled by the Russian intelligence services. Another brokerage in the network had ties to a U.S.-based Iranian government company that was (in 2009) not only investigated for transacting manipulative trading, but also accused by the Department of Justice of conducting espionage against the United States and funding Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Meanwhile, some owners and/or top employees of brokerages in this network included: a fellow who once worked for a man who commands a private army in Lebanon; another guy who had worked for a trader who orchestrated an ill-fated scheme to topple the government of Afghanistan in league with a heroin-smuggling warlord who worked closely with Iran; and an Iranian trader whose family was, in the 1990s, flying cargo planes filled with gem stones from a remote Illinois runway, in partnership with a money launderer who ran an organization that had hosted the leadership of Hezbollah.
Yet another of the brokerages in the network was connected to a Middle Eastern financial institution that has been accused of funding terrorism, and which financed a bank in Sudan that was founded by Osama bin Laden himself. Meanwhile, not just Zuhair Karam, but a number of traders who either controlled brokerages in this network or traded through the brokerages had business relationships with Islamic organizations that have been listed in a famous Muslim Brotherhood document as being organizations designated to lead a “Grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within.”
Perhaps just as important, the clients of these brokerages included some of America’s most notoriously destructive financial operators, many of whom themselves have business relationships with organized crime and, perhaps not coincidentally, also have business relationships with financiers of terrorism.
But what is most noteworthy about these brokerages is that they all cleared their trades through an outfit in Texas that was relatively obscure until late 2007, when it suddenly became (by volume) the largest brokerage on the planet. Moreover, data strongly suggests that most of this new volume was short selling targeting critical American companies, including the the nation’s largest financial institutions.
Indeed, the data suggests that this one previously obscure outfit in Texas (an outfit whose principal clientele was the network of brokerages that I have just briefly described, and which this story will describe in far more detail) transacted more short selling targeting major American financial institutions than the combined short selling (targeting financial institutions) transacted by the broker-dealers of Wall Street titans Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Merrill Lynch.
Moreover, this barrage of short selling continued and intensified through September, 2008, when the Securities and Exchange Commission was moved to issue an “Emergency Order,” stating that manipulative short selling had likely contributed to the collapse of major financial institutions (e.g. Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers) and was threatening to undermine the stability of the American financial system.
As for Zuhair Karam – well, I didn’t know enough about him, but I knew a little. For example, I knew that he was born in Lebanon, and had recently spent some time overseas, where he came to be attached to an Islamic cleric named Sadathullah Khan, who tells the media that he is “moderate” – a term that, of course, has different connotations depending on your perspective.
Some people say that Sadathullah Khan is an extremist, partly because he has had ties to an outfit called the Supreme Council of Global Jihad, which espouses violence. Sadathullah Khan, meanwhile, has also worked closely on projects (an Islamic media project, for example) with a cleric named Zakir Naik, who has preached that “Every Muslim should be a terrorist.”
When he talks to the Western press, Zakir Naik says he is not fond of Al Qaeda, but in a video made for his followers, he said, “If Osama bin Laden is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him…If he is terrorizing America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him.” Imam Naik also served as a mentor to Najibullah Zazi, an Al Qaeda operative who was arrested in 2009 shortly before carrying out a plan to plant explosives in the New York City subway system.
Imam Naik was banned from entering the United Kingdom after he was deemed to be immoderate, but the United States still grants him visas (he hasn’t been charged with involvement with any terrorist plot) and perhaps he will one day return to Chicago, where he once gave what he calls “my most famous speech” at a gathering organized by an outfit that has worked closely with the Bridgeview Mosque, a house of worship in Bridgeview, a middle-class neighborhood on Chicago’s south side.
Zuhair Karam, in addition to his work as a financial operator, has been fairly prominent among the small band of jihadis who congregate at the Bridgeview Mosque, where Zuhair’s relative has helped organize the mosque’s fund raising for groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The Bridgeview Mosque, it should be said, serves thousands of ordinary people, most of whom probably harbor no politics other than a desire for peace. Many jihadis, meanwhile, are not themselves violent people, and merely support the political ideology of jihad. But there was a time when the Bridgeview Mosque’s imam regularly gave fiery sermons urging jihadi freedom fighters to take up arms.
The sermons were toned down after the FBI began investigating, but it is assumed by some prominent terrorism experts that the Bridgeview Mosque’s top officials (and Zuhair’s family) are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. One reason to believe this is that the mosque is controlled by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which government investigators have identified as being a Muslim Brotherhood front.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a diverse organization, and at least publicly disavows violence. It is probably wise to engage the Brotherhood, rather than vilify and incite it. Nonetheless, it should be understood that the Brotherhood is united in its opposition to the foundational principals of Western civilization and is making efforts to undermine the United States.
It is also true that many Muslim Brotherhood figures in the West (including some officials at ISNA) have been accused of providing material support (including money, personnel, and sometimes weapons) to violent terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda.
The Bridgeview Mosque itself has not been accused of directly supporting Al Qaeda, but there is no question that it has funded other violent jihadist groups. For example, according to the Chicago Tribune and others, the mosque was one of the most important funders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an outfit that was spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood and also takes directions from the regime in Iran.
Zuhair Karam and his relatives are close family friends of Sami al-Arian, who was not only a founding director of ISNA, but also a U.S.-based leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, indicted in 2003 for funding terrorist attacks in Palestine. As Rachel Ehrenfeld, now director of the Economic Warfare Institute, first reported, FBI investigators suspected (though never proved) that Sami al-Arian provided support to the Al Qaeda hijackers who carried out the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The Bridgeview Mosque and many traders affiliated with brokerages discussed above were also among the principal supporters of the Holy Land Foundation, which was indicted on charges of financing terrorism in 2007 after prosecutors demonstrated that it was a principal U.S. front for Hamas, another Muslim Brotherhood creation that receives support from Iran. The mosque’s directors, and one of Zuhair’s family members, meanwhile, help administer investment funds worth billions of dollars controlled by the North American Islamic Trust, an investment bank (and a unit of ISNA) that has been tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the government’s case against the Holy Land Foundation.
In addition, some Bridgeview Mosque congregants (a number of them close family friends of Zuhair Karam, and some of them also traders who operated through the same network of brokerages) were involved with a Chicago-based charity called The Benevolence International Foundation, which was actually an Al Qaeda front, founded by Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law. According to federal prosecutors, Benevolence was “involved in terrorist activities” and had contacts with “persons trying to obtain chemical and nuclear weapons on behalf of Al Qaeda.”
More to the point of this story, Mark Flessner, a former U.S. prosecutor who was at the front lines of the government’s “war on terrorism”, has said that the Bridgeview Mosque was, at least until it came under closer government scrutiny, a “gold mine of information about terrorist finance.”
So, obviously, I wanted to know more about the Bridgeview Mosque, and I wanted to know more about Zuhair’s brokerage and other brokerages in its network. Zuhair, as I mentioned, was far from the only jihadi ideologue attached to these brokerages, though I do not mean to single out jihadis. It was perhaps more important that this network of brokerage had highly significant ties to organized crime syndicates. Some of those syndicates (especially the ones emanating from Russia) had become politicized and were hostile to the United States.
When I called Zuhair for the first time in 2010, our conversation did not go well. Zuhair began by demanding to know how I had come to possess his telephone number. I told him, honestly, that I had found his phone number in the White Pages, but he refused to believe me. When I explained that I had some questions about the little brokerage where he had worked, he insisted that he didn’t know anything about the brokerage, and he said that he did not know anyone else who worked there.
After some additional prodding, Zuhair said, “Look, man, I’m just one of the little guys.” I said, “Yes, I know, but let’s meet anyway, I can tell you more about this investigation.”
Zuhair seemed already to know about some investigation. He said, “Shit, man, I thought this was over.” Which seemed strange to me because the only investigation I knew about was the investigation that I was conducting. But I wanted to be helpful, so I said, “Let’s meet, I can tell you more about it.”
Zuhair paused. He seemed to be figuring it all out. Finally, he said, “You’re not a journalist, that’s for sure, man, tell me who you are…Are you an Arabian?” No, I am not an “Arabian” – that’s what I told Zuhair Karam. I said there’s this investigation, I have information.
I did not have any negative feelings about Zuhair or the Bridgeview Mosque. I told him that I had some sympathy for some of the opinions expressed in the jihadist propaganda that he had produced. (The propaganda was focused on the situation in Palestine).
I had also developed a fascination with Islam, and considered it to be an attractive religion. I told Zuhair this, and I told him I would like to come down to the mosque to meet him. I said I’d also like to meet his father, Haaz Karam, who helped raise money for Islamic Jihad.
Zuhair said, “He’s not my father.” So I said, “Sorry, your relative.” And Zuhair said, “Yeah, so…what is this? Man, the FBI — you say you’re a journalist, why do you know about this investigation? That just isn’t right…the FBI…man, I’m telling you, I’m just one of the little guys…the FBI…the FBI can come, let them come, they know where I live, let them come, let them try – see if I care.”
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In his 2010 report to Congress, Admiral Dennis Blair, who was then the U.S. director of national intelligence, outlined one of the biggest threats to America’s economic well-being and national security. He began by noting that transnational organized crime syndicates are closely intertwined with the intelligence services and governments of some countries (such as Russia) that are considered to be adversaries of the United States. He then stated that “the nexus between international criminal organizations and terrorist groups [including, but not limited to Al Qaeda]…presents continuing dangers.”
In the same breath, the national intelligence director warned that transnational organized crime syndicates are “undermining free markets,” and “almost certainly will increase [their] penetration of legitimate financial and commercial markets, threatening U.S. economic interests and raising the risk of significant damage to the global financial system.”
We should understand the implications of what the national intelligence director was saying. He was saying that organized crime syndicates (and, by inference, the jihadist groups and foreign governments that maintain ties to organized crime syndicates) have the capability to disrupt the financial markets and harm the American economy. The only question was: had they already done so?
On August 12, 2011, President Barack Obama answered that question in dramatic fashion. The president reiterated that there was a clear “nexus” between transnational organized crime syndicates, multiple terrorist groups, international drug cartels, and some foreign governments and intelligence services that are hostile to the United States.
The president also reiterated that transnational organized crime syndicates (and, by inference, perhaps others in the “nexus”) had not only “penetrated” the “legitimate” financial industry (i.e. Wall Street), but had already “undermined markets” to such an extent that they now posed an imminent “threat to the stability of the global financial system.”
The president did not just reaffirm this assessment. He declared it to be a “National Emergency.”
The president did not precisely define what he meant by “undermining markets,” but many in the national security community believe that one of the bigger threats “to the stability of the global financial system” is manipulative short selling and what I refer to as the “bust outs” of publicly listed American companies, the wider markets, and the economy itself.
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The term “bust-out” is one that I borrowed from organized crime. In the old days, mobsters would take over, say, the corner bar, load it up with debt, loot the cash, declare bankruptcy, and force the bar out of business. In the modern world of high finance, “bust outs” come in many permutations, but most of them follow the same routine of leverage, loot, and destroy.
Some “bust outs” see traders financing a company (often legitimate companies; in other cases companies that are frauds to begin with) and gaining a degree of control over the company’s stock price. The traders then “pump” the stock for a period of time, but ultimately the company is looted, the stock is “dumped,” and affiliated short sellers attack the company, sending its stock into a death spiral.
In a typical “pump and dump,” the manipulative short selling accompanying the “dump” ensures that the stock hits zero before the company has a chance to raise capital from more legitimate sources, and before shareholders have an opportunity to get out of the stock and cut their losses.
In other cases, individuals or firms will provide a legitimate company with toxic finance (often referred to as “death spiral” finance), which, for reasons explained in this story, immediately causes the company’s stock price to lose value. The financiers and affiliated traders then attack the company with manipulative short selling, sending the stock into a death spiral, and making it impossible for the company to raise new capital from more legitimate sources.
When the company is forced into bankruptcy, the people who provided the finance (often the same people as the short sellers) receive what is left of its assets, and they pocket short selling profits in excess of the cost of the initial toxic finance.
In still other cases, miscreants simply invest in a company’s shares or bonds, and gain a degree of control over the company’s management, either by demanding seats on the board or by exerting influence as major shareholders or creditors. Often the financial operators will then work with corrupt insiders to loot the company or engage in more complex schemes to saddle a company with toxic assets (purchased from the miscreants themselves or from their associates).
Ultimately, the goal is to loot and weaken the company.
If the company is publicly listed (private companies are also “busted out,” and this final step does not, of course, apply to them), the miscreants or their associates eventually attack the company with manipulative short selling. For complex reasons (to be outlined in this story), owning a company’s bonds (especially convertible bonds, sometimes known as “toxic converts”) makes it easier for the bond owners and their associates to engage in manipulative short selling.
There is also a long history of miscreants not just investing in a company, but taking the company over entirely, and looting its assets. Once sufficiently looted, the company is, as usual, attacked with manipulative short selling. Before the company’s board of directors or regulators have an opportunity to oust the miscreants, the company’s stock goes into a death spiral, making it impossible for the company to raise new capital, and forcing a bankruptcy.
In such cases, the tendency is to say, “Well, it was bad company, so its bankruptcy was inevitable.” But often, the companies are good companies until they are “busted out,” and often even troubled companies would be salvageable if it were not for the rapid death spirals of their stock prices, which do not allow time for restructuring or the ousting of the miscreants who gained control over the company.
There are also plenty of cases in which financial operators do not gain any control over their target company, but merely attack it with a steady barrage of manipulative short selling, meanwhile deploying any number of other tactics (for example, spreading false rumors about the company’s health, and manipulating credit default swap prices, which are an important measures of a company’s well-being) to drive down the company’s stock price.
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Financial operators have, in fact, been “busting out” major American companies since at least the 1980s, when numerous savings and loan banks were “busted out,” fueling what came to be known as the “savings and loan crisis,” which delivered a devastating blow to the financial system. Many of the perpetrators of those “bust-outs” (see, for example, the book “Inside Job,” which is the seminal work on the savings and loan crisis) had ties to organized crime.
Sometimes organized crime syndicates perpetrate “bust outs” for the purposes of laundering money. The dirty cash goes into companies in the form of toxic finance, and comes out clean in the form of short selling profits. In cases where short sales are not “covered” (i.e. in many cases involving manipulative short selling, and in all cases where the target stock hits zero), the short selling profits do not even have to be reported to tax authorities.
Former FBI investigators and experts who study financial crime say that market manipulation and “bust outs” of publicly listed companies is one of the more important money laundering techniques deployed by the world’s leading organized crime syndicates and other miscreants. Indeed, many of history’s biggest “money laundering” scandals were, in fact, market manipulation and “bust out” scandals.
In 1999, for example, a famous scandal saw the Russian government and organized crime syndicates with ties to the Russian intelligence services laundering upwards of $7 billion through the Bank of New York. As later chapters of this story will demonstrate in great detail, this money laundering was (according to a careful reading of indictments, statements of government investigators, and other information) the tail end of a large scale market manipulation (“bust out”) network that destroyed countless U.S. public companies.
Some of the destroyed companies were pure frauds that were “pumped and dumped.” But many of the companies had been going concerns until they were targeted by people who had ties to Russian organized crime, and who gained control over the companies’ stock prices. Once in control, they “pumped” and then “dumped” the stocks while engaging in manipulative short selling that sent the stocks into death spirals.
Today, Russian organized crime continues to “bust out” public companies with a vengeance. While this activity has gone largely unreported by the media, a notable exception is Forbes magazine’s Nathan Vardi, who has written multiple stories (see, for example, his story, “Sewer PIPEs”) that note the extensive involvement of financial operators with ties to Russian organized crime syndicates in one form of “death spiral” finance (so-called “PIPEs”) and the manipulative short selling that usually comes with such finance.
As we will see, there is no question that Russian organized crime syndicates have (as White House national security staffers maintain) ties to the Russian intelligence services. It is, moreover, my contention that when “bust-outs” are perpetrated by organized crime syndicates with ties to the Russian intelligence services, we should consider whether they are motivated, at least to some extent, by politics, and specifically by Russia’s disdain for the United States and the prevailing economic order.
But, of course, Russian organized crime is not the only concern. As we know, the president and his national security staff say that there is a “nexus” between transnational organized crime syndicates (including, but not limited to those emanating from Russia) and other potentially hostile constituencies, including jihadist organizations and foreign governments besides Russia.
Therefore we must ask whether sophisticated financiers with ties to jihadist organizations or hostile foreign governments are among those who have “undermined markets,” thereby inspiring the president to declare a “National Emergency.”
It is not often that a president issues a formal declaration of a “National Emergency,” and it is even less often that a president suggests that he is doing so because transnational organized crime syndicates (and perhaps others in the nexus, including terrorist organizations and hostile foreign governments) have “penetrated” the “legitimate” financial sector (i.e. parts of Wall Street) and are now posing a “threat to the stability of the global financial system.”
One would think that this would be front page news. But, amazingly, the president’s declaration of a “National Emergency” received almost no coverage at all from the major media outlets. One rare exception was the highly respected Economist magazine (based in Britain), which noted the “National Emergency” (and also noted the dearth of U.S. media coverage of the emergency) in a December 2011 article (titled, “Financial Terrorism”) that noted the possibility that the financial system might already have been attacked by hostile entities.
While America’s media and financial regulators seem largely uninterested in this issue, some in the national security community are devoting a lot of attention to it. A 110 page report commissioned by the Department of Defense Irregular Warfare Support Program even goes so far as to state that there is high likelihood that the economic cataclysm of 2008 was significantly worsened by politically motivated “financial terrorists intent on wiping out the American financial system.”
The report (a copy of which can be found at DeepCapture.com) makes reference to the massive volumes of short selling that went through the previously obscure brokerage that I discussed at the outset of this story. While the report for the Department of Defense does not identify the brokerage by name, I will do so in later chapters of this series, and I will also name its client brokerages (i.e. the network that I briefly described above). However, to understand the significance of these brokerages, we must first cover some other ground.
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The report for the Department of Defense states with good reason that the weapons most likely to be used by financial terrorists are so-called “naked” short selling and other forms of short-side market manipulation.
Before I continue, let me stress that short selling is a perfectly legitimate practice. It involves traders borrowing shares and then selling them, hoping the price will drop so that they can repurchase the shares at a discount, return them to the lender, and pocket the difference.
In “naked” short sales, however, traders do not borrow or purchase stock before they sell it. They simply sell what they do not have – phantom stock. You probably can imagine how easy it is for miscreants to suppress the price of a security if they are able to swamp a market with artificial supply.
Of course, by definition, if people are selling a phony supply of a security, then they cannot be delivering what they are selling. Regulators and Wall Street folks call this “failure to deliver.”
There are, in fact, a variety of methods that can be deployed to create “failures to deliver.” There are technical differences among the methods, but all share this one basic idea: generate “failures to deliver” that act as phony supply to drive down a security’s price. Because “naked short selling” is the most famous of these methods, and because the differences among it and the other methods are generally so technical as to interest only experts, I intend to refer to this whole class of methods as “naked short selling”, or even more generally, “market manipulation.”
As the report commissioned by the Defense Department correctly points out, foreign governments, terrorist groups, or organized crime syndicates wishing to manipulate the markets would not have to do the dirty work themselves. They would need only to invest in one among the multitude of American hedge funds that have ties to organized crime and have demonstrated that they are willing to deploy financial weapons of mass destruction for profit.
Under one scenario described in the Defense Department report, “a terror group could direct investments to a feeder hedge fund. The feeder fund would locate a Cayman Islands based hedge fund on their behalf that was predisposed to sell short financial shares. With sufficient new money, the hedge fund would expand its short selling activity (naked and traditional) and trade through dark pools or with sponsored access. At the same time, the same terror group might invest heavily in [credit default swaps] of the targeted short sales…”
Experts painted similar scenarios in testimony before a September 2010 informal meeting of the House Committee on Homeland Security. These experts were unanimous in their opinion that a hostile foreign entity could crash the U.S. financial markets. And to do so, it would most likely engage in manipulative trading through one of several brokerages that offer platforms – such as dark pools or so-called “sponsored access” – that enable miscreant financial operators to trade in anonymity.
Partly because such trading platforms exist, and for several other reasons (see Patrick Byrne’s DeepCapture story, “A Peace Sign to Wall Street”), SEC data reflects only a fraction of the naked short selling that occurs in the markets. But even the SEC’s partial data show that an average of 2 billion shares “failed to deliver” nearly every day in the months and weeks leading up to the 2008 market meltdown. Those shares, as I have explained, “failed to deliver” because they were phantom shares – artificial volume that drove down stock prices.
The SEC’s incomplete data also shows that more than 13 million shares of Bear Stearns sold short during the week before that bank’s demise in March 2008 failed to deliver. Soon after Bear Stearns collapsed, the CEOs of Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and other major financial institutions began complaining to the SEC that naked short sellers had caused the demise of Bear Stearns and were now targeting their own banks.
We need to take seriously the complaints of the Wall Street CEOs because they were intimately familiar with the crime of naked short selling. Many of their own brokerages had engaged in it. When people are raising hell about a crime that has previously lined their pockets, it is reasonable to assume that they know what they are talking about.
Moreover, the Wall Street CEOs continued to demand that the SEC take action against the market manipulators even after their high-paying hedge fund clients (some of whom might themselves have been naked short sellers, others of whom were merely inclined to object to stronger regulation of any sort) asked the CEOs to stop their campaign.
When the CEOs continued to complain about the naked short selling, many of their big hedge fund clients began to pull their business in protest. It goes without saying that Wall Street CEOs do not sacrifice large chunks of their profits to speak out against crimes that do not exist.
On July 15, 2008, the SEC responded to the Wall Street CEOs by issuing an “Emergency Order” that temporarily protected 19 of the nation’s largest financial institutions (the biggest banks plus Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) from naked short selling. The stock prices of these financial institutions immediately soared in value, and it looked like a major crisis had perhaps been averted.
Amazingly, though, the SEC lifted its “Emergency Order” just weeks later, on August 12. The next day, the naked short sellers resumed their attacks. The SEC’s own data (which, again, incompletely reflects the full magnitude of the problem) shows failures to deliver rising steadily from August 12 onwards, and these failures to deliver correspond directly to the downward spiral of stock prices.
According to the SEC’s partial data, Lehman Brothers saw an astounding 30 million of its shares fail to deliver during the week before the bank collapsed on September 15, 2008.
And make no mistake: Lehman might well have survived if it were not for the naked short selling and other attacks (such as the seemingly deliberate insertion of damaging false rumors into the marketplace, and the apparent manipulation of credit default swaps) that hammered its stock price.
Three days after Lehman’s collapse, on September 18, the SEC issued another Emergency Order, this one banning all short selling. In that Emergency Order, the SEC (without mentioning any banks by name) stated clearly that manipulative short selling was contributing to the collapse or near collapse of multiple banks, and thereby threatening to collapse the entire financial system.
In the weeks before Lehman’s collapse, the bank had plenty of liquidity to remain a going concern, and it had deals in the pipeline that would have enabled it to raise capital. But the free fall of Lehman’s stock price and (I will show) other maneuverings by short sellers derailed those deals, and panicked clients pulled their cash. Only then was Lehman forced to declare bankruptcy.
Lehman was not a healthy bank, to be sure. And there is no doubt that it was weakened with help of corrupt insiders who leveraged and looted. But that leverage and looting was only one part of a larger “bust out” that saw miscreants selling to the corrupt insiders toxic assets (which I will describe in a moment), while others attacked the bank with manipulative short selling.
If it were not for that manipulative short selling, the stock would not have gone into a death spiral, and there might have been time to restructure and oust the corrupt insiders. Lehman was a venerable bank that had survived plenty of bouts of ill health and worse economic downturns. But it had never faced an assault on its stock price like the one that it saw in the lead-up to September 18, 2008.
And nearly every other major bank, regardless of its health, faced precisely similar fates during the gory month of September, 2008. All seemed doomed to collapse until the SEC issued its September 18 “Emergency Order” banning all forms of short selling, legal or otherwise.
There was no reason to ban legal short selling (a crackdown on illegal naked shorts would have been enough), but the Emergency Order gave the markets some breathing room while the Treasury Department prepared the massive (and now notorious) bailouts that signified that the government would not allow any more banks to collapse, no matter what sort of attacks might be directed at them.
As the authors of the report for the Defense Department’s irregular warfare unit conclude, there is no question that short-side market manipulators contributed to the collapse or near-collapse of many of America’s largest financial institutions in 2008. The report states further that “the [short selling] attacks on [America’s biggest banks] were so brazen that it is difficult to imagine that they were uncoordinated.”
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It wasn’t just the banks that were attacked. The SEC’s partial data shows that there was also massive naked short selling of exchange traded funds, or ETFs. These are publicly listed funds that are often highly leveraged and typically trade a basket of multiple stocks across a given industry. When market manipulators attack an ETF, they inflict damage on the entire industry that the fund indexes – and the high leverage magnifies the impact.
Meanwhile, there is strong evidence that the markets for U.S. government debt have also come under attack. The first naked short selling assault on U.S. Treasuries was launched in September 2001, at the time of Al Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Prior to the 9-11 tragedy, a daily average of $1.5 billion worth of U.S. government bonds failed to deliver. During the week immediately after 9-11, the daily failures to deliver were an astounding average of $1.5 trillion.
This was new and unusual market manipulation on a Herculean scale, but it was even worse during the months leading up to and following the 2008 crisis, when an average of $2.5 trillion worth of U.S. Treasuries failed to deliver every day. The authors of the report for the Defense Department speculate that financial terrorists, having precipitated the financial crisis, might have intended to attack the government bond markets in an attempt to bankrupt the national treasury.
Unfortunately, the government has done little to address the problem. Despite having issued its 2008 “Emergency Order” stating that manipulative short selling had contributed to the demise of major banks and now threatened to collapse the financial system, the SEC has yet to prosecute even one manipulative short seller involved in those attacks. That is, the SEC has yet to prosecute even one of the people who (according to the SEC) nearly obliterated the global financial system in 2008.
Meanwhile, after the president declared a “National Emergency” in 2011, he never said another word about it. The government has yet to prosecute any of the “legitimate” Wall Street outfits that have (according to the president) been “penetrated” by transnational organized crime syndicates. Nor has the government arrested any members of transnational organized crime syndicates that have (according to the president) “undermined markets” to such an extent that they now pose an imminent “threat to the stability of the global financial system.”
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The media fails to give sufficient attention to these problems, insisting instead on reinforcing the narrative that the financial crisis was in essence caused by “reckless” lending to home buyers who could not pay back their mortgages. It is correct that the financial crisis of 2008 had its proximate cause in the collapse of the mortgage and property markets a year earlier, but that is only the surface of the story.
The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) made clear in its January 2011 report to Congress that the principal cause of the mortgage and property disaster was the freakish collapse in 2007 of the market for collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), which are packages of mortgages that trade like securities.
As the FCIC also made clear, the collapse of the CDO market was by no means inevitable. Nor did it have much to do with “predatory” lending or the quality of most subprime mortgages. Rather, the problem was that more than half of the CDOs issued in 2006 and 2007 were so-called “synthetic” CDOs, every single one of which was deliberately designed to self-destruct.
That is, just a few firms that specialized in marketing “synthetic” CDOs worked with a select number of bankers and short sellers to hand-pick a relatively small number of mortgages that seemed certain to default. The miscreants then packaged bets against those relatively few toxic mortgages into so many self-destruct CDOs that they came to account for (I must repeat) more than half of the overall market.
It is not quite correct to say that this was phantom supply similar to what is generated by naked short selling. But there is no question that the “synthetic” CDOs created a market that was, alas, “synthetic.” It was a market overwhelmed by a supply of instruments that purported to contain representative samplings of an underlying asset (subprime mortgages) that a reasonable person might expect to have some value, but which actually contained (as only the short sellers knew) assets that were worth zero.
In other words, a small number of miscreants effectively flooded the market with massive volumes of synthetic toxicity.
As these miscreants surely knew, the self-destruct CDOs would, indeed, self-destruct, and thereby wipe out the overall market for CDOs, causing property values to crash. And when that happened, the banks that had leveraged themselves to the hilt to buy CDOs and overvalued property would be weakened. They would not be so weak that they had to die. But their weakness would create negative sentiment that could be turned into a panic if miscreants were to circulate exaggerated rumors about the banks’ problems and unleash waves of naked short selling that would send stock prices into death spirals.
In short, the report commissioned by the Department of Defense Irregular Warfare unit was correct to note that the financial crisis that nearly destroyed the nation went “far beyond normal expectations…” The authors of this report were also right to note that all of the events that precipitated the financial cataclysm raise “serious questions about whether this was a purposeful attack and if so, by whom, and why?”
By whom? And why? Over the coming weeks, DeepCapture will be publishing the remaining chapters of this book-length story, which is the product of a years-long investigation into the underworld of market manipulation and the vulnerability of the U.S. economy to malicious attacks. To that first question – by whom? – we do not have all the answers, but we have quite a few. That is, our investigation has led us down many paths, but they all seem to circle back to a distinct network of individuals and financial firms.
This social and business network did not singlehandedly wreck the economy, but we will see that financial operators in this network were responsible for much of the mortgage fraud that occurred in the lead-up to the crisis, while others in the network created (with fraudulent mortgages) most of the self-destruct CDOs that crashed the CDO market in 2007.
People in this network also sold toxic assets to corrupt insiders at the leveraged big banks. These toxic assets included not just CDOs, but also (we will see) a number wildly overvalued properties whose prices were certain to collapse, and all the more so after the CDOs self-destructed. Once poisoned by the toxic assets, the banks were vulnerable to the short selling attacks that came in 2008. And the social and business network described by this story includes many of the world’s most notorious short sellers and market manipulators.
Moreover, this social and business network nicely illustrates the “nexus” described by the president and his national security staff on August 12, 2011, when the president stated that the “legitimate” financial sector (i.e. parts of Wall Street) had been “penetrated” by transnational organized crime syndicates with ties to terrorist organizations and hostile foreign governments. As we know, the president suggested that this “nexus” had “undermined markets” and now posed a “threat to the stability of the global financial system.”
In other words, the social and business network (or “nexus”) described in this story is comprised mostly of “legitimate” American financial operators. However, to the extent they are actually “legitimate” deserves scrutiny given the extent to which they have “undermined markets,” and given that many of them have done business with others in a “nexus” that includes transnational organized crime syndicates, agents of hostile foreign governments, and sophisticated financiers with ties to the global movement of radical jihad.
Before I continue, though, let me define what I mean by “network.” It is not the case that all of the people in this network know each other, and it is certainly not the case that all or any of its constituencies (i.e., terrorist financiers, transnational organized crime syndicates, agents of rogue states, and “legitimate” American financial operators, among others) gathered in some secret meeting hall to hatch one grand conspiracy to wipe out the global financial system. Some of the relationships I will describe in this story are, in fact, once or twice removed.
However, it is the case that a number of “legitimate” firms and individuals in this network have engaged in activities (sometimes in tandem with organized criminals, terrorist financiers, and/or agents of hostile foreign governments) that have done damage to the markets. I also feel that it is fair (indeed a matter of some urgency) to describe the larger “social network” and the relationships between the people who inhabit this network.
Nobody, of course, is guilty by virtue of his relationships alone. That a “legitimate” financial operator (whether he be from the United States, Canada, Saudi Arabia, or wherever) has done business with, say, a Russian organized crime boss or a Saudi billionaire who has funded Al Qaeda, does not mean that the “legitimate” financial operator supports terrorism or would knowingly participate in a politically motivated act of financial terrorism against the United States.
Nonetheless, there is strong reason to believe that the report for the Department of Defense Irregular Warfare Support Program was right: the United States was attacked by financial operators with ties terrorist organizations and rogue states. There is also clear reason to believe that “legitimate” American financial operators and transnational organized crime syndicates have attacked the markets. In addition, there is reason to believe that some relationships between these various constituencies are not altogether irrelevant, and might, indeed, account for the magnitude of the damage done to the financial system.
The evidence is not 100 percent conclusive, but the facts are suggestive. At a minimum, they point to a scenario for how things might have played out in 2008–a scenario that needs to be taken seriously because it does show that the United States is, without doubt, vulnerable to future attack. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that such an attack is inevitable.
When the attack comes, I hope that this story will have provided at least a few good answers to that first question: “By whom?”
As to the Defense Department report’s second question – why? – I have no definitive answers. And ultimately, the question might be irrelevant. The damage to the economy is the same whether it has been done in the name of profit or jihad; in the name of terror, geopolitics, another billion bucks, or nothing more than the fun of the game. The financial operators who will be described in this story come in many stripes, but their various activities pose a collective threat to American prosperity and national security.
In Chapter 2, I introduce some information about prominent Saudi billionaires alleged to have financed Al Qaeda, and one fellow who ran an Islamic organization accused of inserting Al Qaeda spies into the U.S. military, and who subsequently set up a financial weapon of mass destruction that has, without doubt, done damage to the American markets.
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*Zuhair Karam is an alias.
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Mark Mitchell is a journalist who spent most of his career working as a correspondent for mainstream media publications before joining DeepCapture.com.
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