Michael Krieger | Posted Friday Apr 8, 2016 at 10:43 am
As I wrote on Monday, ever since I started reading about the Panama Papers “leak” something kept rubbing me the wrong way. From the absence of any well known, politically powerful Americans on the list, to the anonymous nature of “John Doe” as whistleblower and the clownish reporting from Soros and USAID affiliated organizations, the whole thing stunk from the start.
The first plausible theory I came across attempting to explain the strangeness of it all was proposed by Craig Murray, and it basically went something like this. The leaker is a real whistleblower, but he placed the information in the wrong hands, therefore the organizations and journalists reporting on the story were not giving us the whole truth. Here’s some of that theory from the post, Are Corporate Gatekeepers Protecting Western Elites from the Leaked Panama Papers?
Whoever leaked the Mossack Fonseca papers appears motivated by a genuine desire to expose the system that enables the ultra wealthy to hide their massive stashes, often corruptly obtained and all involved in tax avoidance. These Panamanian lawyers hide the wealth of a significant proportion of the 1%, and the massive leak of their documents ought to be a wonderful thing.
The Suddeutsche Zeitung, which received the leak, gives a detailed explanation of the methodology the corporate media used to search the files. The main search they have done is for names associated with breaking UN sanctions regimes. The Guardian reports this too and helpfully lists those countries as Zimbabwe, North Korea, Russia and Syria. The filtering of this Mossack Fonseca information by the corporate media follows a direct western governmental agenda. There is no mention at all of use of Mossack Fonseca by massive western corporations or western billionaires – the main customers. And the Guardian is quick to reassure that “much of the leaked material will remain private.”
The corporate media – the Guardian and BBC in the UK – have exclusive access to the database which you and I cannot see. They are protecting themselves from even seeing western corporations’ sensitive information by only looking at those documents which are brought up by specific searches such as UN sanctions busters. Never forget the Guardian smashed its copies of the Snowden files on the instruction of MI6.
Initially, this seemed to be a theory worth exploring, but in the following days I’ve come to a far different conclusion. The primary divergence between what I currently believe and what Mr. Murray proposed is that I do not think the leaker was a genuine whistleblower motived by the public interest. I think the leaker was working on behalf of a sophisticated intelligence agency.
The fact that we seem to know nothing about “John Doe” concerns me. Say what you will about Edward Snowden, but he came out publicly shortly after his whistleblowing and offered himself up for the world to judge. His life, career and personality have been put on full display, and each and every one of us has had the opportunity to decide for ourselves whether his motivations were noble and pure or not.
With the Panama Papers’ “John Doe” we are given no such opportunity, and in fact, the whole thing reads very much like a script concocted by some big budget intelligence agency. Once I started coming around to this conclusion, the obvious choice was U.S. intelligence; given the lack of implications to powerful Americans, the clownishly desperate attempts to smear Putin, and the appearance of Soros, USAID, Ford Foundation, etc, linked organizations to the reporting.
So for someone who already thinks the whole Panama Papers story stinks to high heaven, a CIA link to the release seems obvious; but is it too obvious? Perhaps.
Earlier this morning, I read an absolutely fascinating theory put forth by Clifford G. Gaddy at the Brookings Institution. Here’s what he wrote in the piece, Are the Russians actually behind the Panama Papers?
The “Panama Papers”—does this strike anyone else as a very fishy story? It’s like something out of a cheap spy movie.
Yes, yes it does.
In early 2015, “John Doe” sends (out of the blue) an email to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), offering 11.5 million documents from a Panamanian law firm relating to offshore shell companies. SZ accepts. Under the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), some 400 journalists from 80 countries spend a year sifting through the documents. Then, in a coordinated launch, they present their first findings: With nearly identical language in all media (down to the local TV station in Washington that I happened to watch this week), they talk about the grand new revelations of corruption, money laundering, and financial secrecy by over 140 world leaders.
Most reports, no matter where, feature Russian President Vladimir Putin as the headliner. But that might obscure a much bigger and more twisted story.
The dog that didn’t bark
Despite the headlines, there is no evidence of Putin’s direct involvement—not in any company involved in the leak, much less in criminal activity, theft, tax evasion, or money laundering. There are documents showing that some of his “friends” have moved “up to two billion dollars” through these Panama-based shell companies.
But nothing in the Panama Papers reveals anything new about Putin. It is in fact far less of a story than has been alleged for a long time. For over 10 years, there have been suspicions that Putin has a vast personal fortune, claimed at first to be $20 billion, then $40, $70, even $100… And now all they find is “maybe” a couple of billion belonging to a friend?
This is the dog that didn’t bark.
I completely agree with this conclusion. Putin probably does have a huge fortune stashed away somewhere, but this “leak” doesn’t reveal anything about it. In fact, the Panama Papers will have absolutely zero impact on Putin’s political power at home, while making Western efforts to trash him look manufactured and clownish. Net-net Putin wins from the release of the Panama Papers.
As Mr. Gaddy explains.
Some (geo)political context is important here. In recent years, the media has become a key battleground in which Russia and the West have attempted to discredit each other. Early last year, circles in the West sought to use the media to respond to what they described as Russia’s “hybrid warfare,” especially information war, in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea and related activities. They identified corruption as an issue where Putin was quite vulnerable. It’s worth looking at the Panama Papers in that context: Journalists are targeting Putin far out of proportion to the evidence they present.
As soon as one delves below the headlines, it’s a non-story. A “friend of Putin” is linked to companies that channel a couple of billion dollars through the offshore companies. Why? To evade Russian taxes? Really? To conceal ownership? From whom? You don’t need an offshore registration to do that. To evade sanctions? That’s a credible reason, but it makes sense only if the companies were registered after mid-2014. Were they?
This information will not harm Putin at all—instead, it gives Putin cover, so he can shrug and say: “Look, everybody does it.” A more serious possibility is that the leaked data will lead to scandals throughout the West, where corruption does matter—a point I’ll discuss. On net, the Russians win.
The cui bono principle connects profits with motives, asking who stands to gain from a certain action. If it’s the Russians who win, isn’t it possible that they are somehow behind at least part of this story?
Read more: http://libertyblitzkrieg.com/2016/04/08/was-the-panama-papers-leak-a-russian-intelligence-operation/
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Michael Krieger | Posted Friday Apr 8, 2016 at 10:43 am