“We are all ghosts living inside the shell.” ~ Dead Mellox
The Panama Papers have been released, and with them have come an epic wake of outcry, investigations, resignations, and probably what will be more than one impeachment. They include approximately 11.5 million documents. What has not been sufficiently analyzed in the discussion and discourse about these papers is the origin and motivation of the leakers, and the use of the leaks to weaken public resistance to a new frontal assault on privacy, encryption, and financial privacy necessary for people to operate in a just society. In writing this post, it is not assumed that any individuals named in press or in a court in connection with matters relating to Panama Papers are guilty (or necessarily innocent) of any particular crime that may have been created by the people of any one of the 249 or more states, territories, or mostly uninhabited continental icy masses in the world today, only that people do not deserve to be increasingly criminalized for ordinary behavior in a world that currently relies upon global commerce. This post will both analyze how society has been paying the piper while supporting a status quo condition, as well as revealing how your ‘ghost in the shell’ has returned, this time in the context of the Panama Papers. Some thoughts will also be provided for how we can contribute on an individual or community level to changing this situation each in our own way.
Primary Purpose of this Post
Finally, because it is the sense of this author that we do not deserve to be criminalized for engaging in behavior which includes financial anonymity, some ethical and technical explanation will be briefly provided at the end of this post relating to my position on this issue. Merely looking at the United States, the amount of taxes to be paid in 2016 exceed the amount which will be spent on food, shelter, and clothing. In the UK, in the fiscal year ending in 2016, total public revenue is expected to be 20 billion more than the previous year with a deficit of £45.7 billion. This indicates that at amongst the bulk of people that are struggling to pay within a legal framework, they are being abused and cheated, not by some criminal element which has somehow evaded paying a tax, but by the state itself. However, the primary purpose of this post will be to reveal the basics behind how deceptive information is utilized to (in this case) support an agenda which is intended to weaken public resistance to a new frontal assault on privacy, encryption, and and financial privacy necessary for people to operate in a just society.
When one initially analyzes those who are responsible for the funding behind the research which ultimately led to the Panama Papers, some initial information is immediately (and publicly) evident:
From the OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project), its funding is in part supported by USAID. According to its own website, this organization, “(t)he OCCRP project(,) has been, or is, supported by grants from the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Open Society Foundations. Also on this site are projects funded in part or done in partnership with other organizations including SCOOP, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).” Additionally important is the organization’s claim that it is a news organization and its focus and emphasis on criminality, or assumption of guilt:
“OCCRP has been one of the most effective news organizations in bringing about real change.
Since its founding its reporting has led to:
- Law enforcement froze or seized more than $2.5 billion in assets
- Tax authorities found $600 million in hidden assets
- Competent authorities closed more than 1,300 companies
- Law enforcement investigated, indicted or arrested over 80 persons – including an ex-president
- Ten government officials resigned or were sacked – including a prime minister
- Governments changed 20 laws, rules or regulations
This represents a 50,000 percent (500 x) return on OCCRP’s original donor investment”
In essence, such an organization, with such an intended focus, is not a news organization. It is an arm of law enforcement. Here it is simple to set aside at least temporarily “what it does” and notice that its claim to being a news organization is not consistent with reality. Perhaps one may agree with the emphasis of OCCRP, but assuming one does, then the question still remains: why does this organization not simply operate and advertise itself as an arm of the law (say, as part of a municipal corporation, like a city or county) instead of as the Maryland-based charitable organization ((501(c)3)) that it is? Perhaps that is because, much like the corporations it attacks, the tax benefits of such a nonprofit are more attractive.
As Glen Greenwald aptly pointed out in his article titled “How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations,” regarding the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group, or JTRIG,
“Among the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are two tactics: (1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. To see how extremist these programs are, just consider the tactics they boast of using to achieve those ends: “false flag operations” (posting material to the internet and falsely attributing it to someone else), fake victim blog posts (pretending to be a victim of the individual whose reputation they want to destroy), and posting “negative information” on various forums.”
“Then there are the tactics used to destroy companies the agency targets:”
Image source: “How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations,” by Glenn Greenwald
Specifically, the JTRIG, may “(l)eak confidential information to companies / the press via blogs etc” or “(p)ost negative information on appropriate forums,” and / or “stop deals / ruin business relationships,” which corresponds to the kind of behavior which is seen during the Panama Papers operation.
It’s been known, and reported on since at least 2008, that the U.S. corporation-state has been involved in precisely these sort of actions as well, including so-called “cognitive infiltration of extremist groups,” in circumstances that have become simpler (even if still legally dubious) for the U.S. corporation-state to engage in since the repeal of Smith-Mundt in 2013.
Examining this further, who therefore are the actors involved, and what are the ordinary interests in society that people must come to expect may have a hand in this kind of behavior?
Your Ghost in the Shell Returns
When we talk of shell corporations, bank accounts, and the Panama Papers, people may often wonder how it is that a corporation or account that is used to mask resources can be obtained and used. The truth of the matter is that in most cases, opening an account in one country is no different than opening a bank account anywhere else in the world – which should cause people to wonder why it is that people’s information is being released from these accounts (which technically should be private). One of the many reasons has to do with country-level IGAs, or Intergovernmental Agreements (or lack thereof) pursuant to FATCA, a wildly unpopular law that the U.S. corporation-state enacted a while back in order to attempt to seek out and punish (and take tax money from) people who live completely outside U.S. jurisdiction. Indeed, FATCA is so bad that it even has caused foreign banks to attempt to allow the U.S. to collect income tax from children who were not born in the U.S. and have never set foot on U.S. soil. For countries that don’t wish to sign an agreement with the U.S. under FATCA, any financial institution anywhere in the world not voluntarily complying with FATCA will find that 30% of any U.S. sourced payment (e.g. Microsoft dividend, maturing principal payment from a U.S. corporate or government bond) will be withheld. It’s draconian, to say the least. Numerous countries do have FATCA IGAs, so they will be giving all kinds of information to the U.S. (and potentially to other requesting governments) about whoever is using their banks, as well as other information that should not be divulged (name, account numbers, passport data, and other information). Other countries do not have FATCA IGAs, so they will be less likely to divulge information about their customers to the U.S. (but conceivably still could, with pressure, time, money, coercion, etc.). One author at the Intercept, Jon Schwarz, has suggested methods of shutting down (or alternately, providing alternatives to) tax shelters as they exist – I’ve linked to that article here for further financial reading (warning, another possible long read). While I don’t advocate for Schwarz’s points of view on the subject, I’ve simply linked to them above for reference and diversity of perspective.
Maybe what you should be asking, however, is what are U.S. and U.K. military corporations, including those which have specialized in “cyber” contracts, are doing with ghost corporations? In other words, just how many ghosts in the shell are your taxpayer dollars paying for? Before touching on the answer to that question, you may want to look at some of the processes involved in shopping for an anonymous shell corporation — not for entertainment, but to get an idea of just how routine and easily it is done (and some of the contexts in which it is done). In the spirit of understanding a bit better about this process, here’s a study about shopping for anonymous shell corporations, and a review of why setting up an anonymous shell company is probably best (or most easily) done in the U.S. or Canada. And that is part of the basis for what I am about to explain next.
According to an overview of the Panama Papers at Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), “an anonymous source contacted the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and submitted encrypted internal documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that sells anonymous offshore companies around the world,” and this is how the information was received by (SZ). However, taking (SZ) at their word that the source remained anonymous, what remains evident is that there are serious doubts about whether the leaker ever was in fact an individual (either an employee or other) within Mossack Fonseca (as a person acting in a private capacity). The person or persons contacting (SZ) could just have easily been an anonymous government or corporate “leaker” assigned to release a quantity of information for a specific policy purpose, which they would already have had partial access to from a government or governments under an IGA, or as a result of information obtained as a result of prior investigations, within the two years prior.
The overview from (SZ) mentions that two years ago, a smaller trove of information was sold to German authorities relating to Mossack Fonseca ~ undoubtedly this was used to initiate a broader investigation that has only grown over time, and the “leaker” in this case could indeed have been part of an investigative team.
In May of 2015, Tim Shorrock reported on a little-known organization (to most people) known as INSA, a coalition of companies working for the NSA. He managed to get access to an INSA meeting.
“The keynote speaker was Matthew Olsen, who was then the director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). He used his talk to bolster the morale of his colleagues, which had recently been stung by the public backlash against the NSA’s massive surveillance programs, the extent of which was still com-ing to light in the steady release of Edward Snowden’s huge trove of documents. “NSA is a national treasure,” Olsen declared. “Our national security depends on NSA’s continued capacity to collect this kind of information.” There was loud, sustained applause.”
Yep, heaven help us if people’s interest were to increase in matters of privacy, encryption, and financial anonymity. Because national security.
Just the corporate members of INSA alone (at the time of this post) include Adobe, AT&T, Amazon Web Services, Dell, Juniper Networks, Microsoft, Cisco, ESRI, and Intel Security, amongst many others. (There is also an academic membership section of INSA which includes various universities such as George Mason, The Intelligence & Security Academy LLC, etc.)
(Above: A sample of corporate members of INSA)
In June of 2015, William M. Arkin reported on another little-known governmental entity. This was the National Security Analysis Center, described then as “an obscure element of the Justice Department that has grown from its creation in 2008 into a sprawling 400-person, $150 million-a-year multi-agency organization employing almost 300 analysts, the majority of whom are corporate contractors. (…) The Center has its roots in the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force (FTTTF), a small cell established in October 2001 to look for additional 9/11-like terrorists who might have entered the United States.” But even before Arkin published a story on the subject, Sultana Khan provided a neat blog post revealing who exactly the companies are that have done contract work for the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force (FTTTF) and the National Security Analysis Center (NSAC).
Lo and behold, (and probably not surprisingly), some of the companies that Sultana Khan mentioned in her blog post, are also corporate members of INSA.
These (which are both companies that have done contract work for the FTTTF and the NSAC, and are corporate members of INSA, as known at the time of this post*) are:
- Booz Allen Hamilton
- Lockheed Martin
- Mantech International Corporation
(*This list may not be all-inclusive See “as known” note above.)
These corporations, of course, are just some of the largest beneficiaries of organized theft on U.S. soil – the use of government coercion or force to extract resources from a population at large to fund largely unconstitutional behavior, such as broad-spectrum surveillance, and off-the-books warfare.
There has, of course, been basically no real study of the data, activity, and networks involved with such firms. The Panama Papers premise is that the global population is guilty as sin for not throwing money at the state. I believe that a better premise to draw from an even greater pool of data available is that the military industrial complex which both is (and which serves) the corporation-state is what people should investigate, rather than us examining why we might be criminals for not giving the state money to conduct surveillance and foment war.
From Arkin’s report:
“Beyond public records and what appears on the internet, beyond news articles or what’s in law enforcement databases—but in addition to all of those things—the mere presence of a name becomes justification enough. NSAC’s methods turn the notion of legal predicate—a logical proposition of an earlier offense that justifies law enforcement action—on its head. Using big data analysis to discover non-obvious and even clandestine links, the Center looks not just for suspects, but for what the counter-terrorism world calls “clean skins”—people with no known affiliation to terrorism or crime, needles in a giant haystack that don’t necessarily look like needles. Or people who aren’t needles at all, but who might become needles in the future and thus warrant observation today.”
In other words, this organization is engaged in in the art of pre-crime – watching people who have done nothing wrong, or engaging in prosecution of individuals within a targeted group who are an interest because of the profile that NSAC considers necessary and justified to focus its attentions on. Commonly, the targeted groups in society are the most disadvantaged and include disproportionate targeting of minorities, but as the spectrum of surveillance grows more broad (and as the organization doing the targeting grows more desperate) it will focus on targeting a growing segment of the population – including those who don’t agree with funding it or “exchanging privacy for security.” While the organization will be sure to highlight high-profile cases in which officials, the wealthy, or simply persons who “should have known better” will be threatened with charges if they don’t agree with either making significant payments to the state, or, especially in the case of politicians, to agree with the military-industrial organization’s so-called “pro-security” agenda.
Another Player Is Added
Along comes a spider, and her timing is impeccable. Feinstein (and Burr) have brought out their bill in all its scary glory, proposing mandated decryption of everything. This comes just right after the initial release on April 3, 2016 of the Panama Papers.
They don’t seem to care that encryption can’t be banned because it is a worldwide thing, according to a study that’s been released out of Harvard.
Time to Pay the Piper
Society is now paying the piper for its desire to jump on the bandwagon, and not ask deeper questions about a culture which includes (for better or worse) relatively constant leaks and accompanying deception. In the process, larger public policy questions and motives which the leaker can utilize are ignored. Indeed, so long as prominent targets, including officials, are made to suffer consequences, and we have a few more months (or hey, a year) of periodic entertainment, and perhaps some rules, or maybe even a law or two, are changed as a result, what does it matter if the underlying motivation of the leaker might have been to actually weaken public attitudes with respect to privacy and financial anonymity? All that’s important is that everybody keeps paying the same people your taxes, and everything will work out o.k. As for the rest of it, what do we do about it, how to fix it, or whether we should keep doing what we’ve done, those kinds of questions are just too complicated. Not our problem, right?
Because now, you are the target:
“people with no known affiliation to terrorism or crime, needles in a giant haystack that don’t necessarily look like needles. Or people who aren’t needles at all, but who might become needles in the future and thus warrant observation today”
Today’s Economic Reality
The total value of SystemD (the global black market) in 2011 was close to 10 trillion USD, basically equivalent to the second largest economic superpower in the world.
And as noted from the prior article:
In most countries, the ‘shadow economy’ is the real economy, clocking in at 80+ percent of all monetary flow.
In consideration of that reality, our reality, those who are protesting and reviling the “darkness” of certain finance and while claiming that everyone should “pay their fair share” should recognize that we do not have an obligation to pay any share to the warmongering state other than what we want to pay, in a voluntary fashion. Not only is privacy and encryption a necessary part of today’s world, but the use of financial anonymity (as best and as compassionately as this process can be utilized) is also of critical import to the world today, and indeed is arguably a normal part of today’s social and economic interactions.
How can we contribute?
How we can contribute on an individual or community level to changing this situation each in our own way? There’s a lot of trouble in the world and it’s difficult to influence it in a way that could be construed as meaningful. I suppose I would suggest that you do as much as you can in your locale that makes sense in the context of sharing and looking after one another collectively, for your family, and / or community. Maybe that means working in a local community garden, or donating to a local seed bank. Maybe it also means helping work on a local currency or helping spread the word about an alternative, decentralized virtual currency.
Also, if you do something like that, do it peer-to-peer, use something that you install on your own computer, rather than web wallets or some service (you know, like the awful web portal to someone’s server, or [shudder…] a bank) that is going to compromise you down the road. Try getting away from services and banks… try real peer-to-peer finance for a change. If you choose that latter path, there’s a post in my blog that combines both anonymous currency and compassionate donation concepts, that could help you help make the world a little bit better. Well, at least that’s the idea. Whatever you do, be good to each other, I think. Don’t be mean, and give where you can.
Darkness and Light
The truth is, some things will always be a secret. And that is the way the world is intended. Sometimes our path is in darkess, and sometimes it is in light. It is up to us to determine where and when to reveal the aspects of our lives of our choosing.
“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”
– Pablo Neruda