Monday, September 24, 2012

Black Dossier 2: HSBC & the Global Drug Trade

Death penalty doesn't mean anything unless you use it on people who are afraid to die. Like... the bankers who launder the drug money. The bankers, who launder, the drug money. Forget the dealers, you want to slow down that drug traffic, you got to start executing a few of these fucking bankers. White, middle class Republican bankers. -- George Carlin, 'Back in Town Special,' 1996

In a recent investigation I presented the case that British banking and financial giant HSBC conspired with banking institutions with documented links to terrorist financing, including those responsible for helping bankroll the 9/11 attacks.

Drawing upon evidence published by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in their mammoth report, "U.S. Vulnerabilities to Money Laundering, Drugs, and Terrorist Financing: HSBC Case History," we learned that senior HSBC officers, despite misgivings voiced by staff in internal correspondence, choose to continue profitable relations with Saudi Arabia's Al Rajhi Bank, described by U.S. law enforcement agencies as moneymen for the CIA's false flag specialists, Al Qaeda.

The same callous indifference which guided bank policy when it came to financing terrorists was HSBC's modus operandi as they aided and abetted drug money laundering by some of the most violent gangsters on earth.

And with "all criminal proceeds ... likely to have amounted to some 3.6 per cent of GDP (2.3-5.5 per cent) or around US$2.1 trillion in 2009," as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) pointed out in that agency's 2011 report, Estimating Illicit Financial Flows Resulting from Drug Trafficking and Other Transnational Crimes, the incentives for big banks to continue inflating their balance sheets with funds derived from global crime are compelling.

A Leg Up for Chapo

While it is oft said that "crime doesn't pay," that's only true if you aren't amongst the privileged few with enough cash and connections to avoid a trip to the slammer.

"Over the last decade," Senate investigators reported, "the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has worked to strengthen U.S. AML efforts by investigating how money launderers, terrorists, organized crime, corrupt officials, tax evaders, and other wrongdoers have utilized U.S. financial institutions to conceal, transfer, and spend suspect funds."

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Subcommittee focused "on how U.S. banks, through the correspondent services they provide to foreign financial institutions, had become conduits for illegal proceeds associated with organized crime, drug trafficking, and financial fraud."

The report underlined the key role that correspondent banking plays in washing illegal proceeds through the system. Senate investigators averred that "Correspondent banking occurs when one financial institution provides services to another financial institution to move funds, exchange currencies, cash monetary instruments, or carry out other financial transactions."

For HSBC's Canary Wharf masters, the U.S. affiliate was a key part of their strategy to expand the bank's tentacles into the lucrative North American market and they did so by standing up HSBC Bank USA N.A. (HNAH), better known as HBUS.

Indeed, a senior executive told the Subcommittee that the bank "acquired its U.S. affiliate, not just to compete with other U.S. banks for U.S. clients, but primarily to provide a U.S. platform to its non-U.S. clients and to use its U.S. platform as a selling point to attract still more non-U.S. clients."

Clients like Chapo Guzmán, the fugitive billionaire who runs Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel.

Investigators found that "until recently," that is, only after top officials were apprised of increased scrutiny by regulators, that "HSBC Group policy instructed its affiliates to assume that all HSBC affiliates met the Group's AML standards and to open correspondent accounts for those affiliates without additional due diligence."

"For years," Senate staff noted, "HBUS followed that policy, opening U.S. correspondent accounts for HSBC affiliates without conducting any AML due diligence. Those affiliates have since become major clients of the bank." In other words, liquidity trumped inconvenient rules and regulations which after all, following Leona Helmsley's maxim, only applied to "little people."

"In 2009, for example, HBUS determined that 'HSBC Group affiliates clear[ed] virtually all USD [U.S. dollar] payments through accounts held at HBUS, representing 63% of all USD payments processed by HBUS.' HBUS failed to conduct due diligence on HSBC affiliates despite a U.S. law that has required all U.S. banks, since 2002, to conduct these due diligence reviews before opening a U.S. correspondent account for any foreign financial institution, with no exception made for foreign affiliates."

One HSBC affiliate which amply illustrated the bank's shady proclivities was HSBC Mexico, known as HBMX. The Subcommittee asserted that "HBUS should have, but did not, treat HBMX as a high risk correspondent client subject to enhanced due diligence and monitoring. HBMX operated in Mexico, a country under siege from drug crime, violence and money laundering; it had high risk clients, such as Mexican casas de cambios and U.S. money service businesses; and it offered high risk products, such as U.S. dollar accounts in the Cayman Islands."

Despite the risks, "from 2007 through 2008, HBMX was the single largest exporter of U.S. dollars to HBUS, shipping $7 billion in cash to HBUS over two years, outstripping larger Mexican banks and other HSBC affiliates."

The Subcommittee noted that "Mexican and U.S. authorities expressed repeated concern that HBMX's bulk cash shipments could reach that volume only if they included illegal drug proceeds. The concern was that drug traffickers unable to deposit large amounts of cash in U.S. banks due to AML controls, were transporting U.S. dollars to Mexico, arranging for bulk deposits there, and then using Mexican financial institutions to insert the cash back into the U.S. financial system."

But as we previously learned when we explored cosy relations between suspected terrorist financiers at the Al Rajhi Bank and HSBC's London Banknotes division, senior managers cared not a whit that billions of dollars entering the United States from Mexico came from laundered drug money.

Gateway for Narcodollars

One "line of business" that proved particularly lucrative for the bank and their drug lord clients was the "Global Banking and Markets" division. Operating in some 60 countries, the office provided a wide range of "'tailored financial solutions' to major government, corporate, and institutional clients."

"This line of business," Senate investigators reported, "includes an extensive network of correspondent banking relationships, in which HBUS provides banks from other countries with U.S. dollar accounts to transact business in the United States. Due to its affiliates in over 80 countries, HSBC is one of the largest providers of correspondent banking services in the world."

What made this division particularly prone to manipulation was its brief to provide "access to the U.S. financial system by handling international wire transfers, clearing a variety of U.S. dollar instruments, including travelers cheques and money orders, and providing foreign exchange services. HBUS Payment and Cash Management (PCM) is a key banking division, located in New York, that supports HBUS' correspondent relationships."

Senate staff reported that until 2010, "HBUS housed the Global Banknotes Department, which used offices in New York City, London, Hong Kong, and elsewhere to buy, sell, and ship large amounts of physical U.S. dollars."

"The Banknotes Department," investigators disclosed, "derived its income from the trading, transportation, and storage of bulk cash, doing business primarily with other banks and currency exchange businesses, but also with HSBC affiliates."

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to suspect that unscrupulous managers, once the wheels were sufficiently greased by clients such as Chapo Guzmán or cartel moneyman Pedro Alatorre, wouldn't bend over backwards to clear dodgy transactions whatever the source.

Despite suspicions that all wasn't well, "for a number of years, HBUS held a contract with the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY) to operate U.S. currency vaults in several cities around the world to assist in the physical distribution of U.S. dollars to central banks, large commercial banks, and businesses involved with currency exchange."

Undoubtedly, readers are aware that current U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, a former employee of Kissinger Associates was past president of FRBNY. From his perch at the New York Fed, Geithner worked assiduously to reduce the capital required to run a bank; an additional factor which led to the mammoth train wreck known as the 2008 capitalist economic crisis.

A protégé of former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, a Board Chairman of Goldman Sachs and one-time CEO at drug-tainted Citigroup, Geithner, in addition to a stint as a "Senior Fellow" at the Council on Foreign Relations, oversaw the $350 billion swindle known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) which bailed out his good friends at Goldman and AIG in the wake of Lehman Brothers collapse.

As Senate staff reported, HBUS' "'Global Asset Management' line of business offers worldwide investment management services to clients, and currently manages nearly $400 billion in assets. It is one of the largest investment businesses in the world."

Through their correspondent banking and Payments and Cash Management businesses, "HBUS has become one of the largest facilitators of cash transfers in the world. Between 2005 and 2009," investigators informed us, "the total number of PCM wire transactions at HBUS grew from 20.4 million to 30.2 million transfers per year, with a total annual dollar volume that climbed from $62.4 trillion to $94.5 trillion."

In 2008 alone according to Subcommittee findings, "HBUS processed about 600,000 wire transfers per week. In 2009, PCM was the third largest participant in the CHIPS wire transfer service which provides over 95% of U.S. dollar wire transfers across U.S. borders and nearly half of all wire transfers within the United States, totaling $1.5 trillion per day and over $400 trillion in 2011."

How many of these trillions of dollars in wire transfers handled by HBUS were the result of illegal money laundering by drug gangsters? According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates, with some 3.6 percent of global GDP resulting from "criminal proceeds," amounting to some $2.1 trillion in 2009 alone, certainly billions in hot money washed through the U.S. financial system while no one was looking.

Shooting the Messenger

While senior officers turned a blind eye to the bank's criminal practices, honest officials who tried to warn HSBC higher-ups that there were severe deficiencies in monitoring dodgy transactions faced retaliation.

As a result of losses suffered by HSBC's purchase of Household International and its portfolio of bad mortgages, the bank turned down requests to expand personnel at its Anti-Money Laundering division.

Despite the fact that "Compliance and AML staffing levels were kept low for many years as part of a cost cutting measure," Senate investigators learned through HSBC internal correspondence that those charged with monitoring suspicious transactions were "struggling to 'handle the growing monitoring requirements' associated with the bank's correspondent banking and cash management programs, and requested additional staff."

Compliance officer Alan Ketley wrote higher-ups that despite having "very efficient processes," his Compliance team was "handling an average of 3,800 [alerts] per person and [was] becoming overwhelmed thus potentially placing the business and the bank at risk."

"Despite requests for additional AML staffing," the Senate reported, "HBUS decided to hold staff levels to a flat headcount."

"After being turned down for additional staff, Carolyn Wind, longtime HBUS Compliance head and AML director, raised the issue of inadequate resources with the HNAH board of directors. A month after the board meeting, after seven years as HBUS' Compliance head Ms. Wind was fired," Senate investigators disclosed.

Wind, who had met with HNAH's board in October 2007 to discuss staffing, was reprimanded by her supervisor, Regional Compliance Officer and Senior Executive Vice President Janet L. Burak, for raising the issue. In an email to disgraced HSBC Group Compliance chief David Bagley, who dramatically resigned on camera during Senate hearings in July, Burak "expressed displeasure" with Wind. She told Bagley:

"I indicated to her [Ms. Wind] my strong concerns about her ability to do the job I need her to do, particularly in light of the comments made by her at yesterday's audit committee meeting .... I noted that her comments caused inappropriate concern with the committee around: our willingness to pay as necessary to staff critical compliance functions (specifically embassy banking AML support), and the position of the OCC with respect to the merger of AML and general Compliance."

In other words, because Wind had challenged shoddy staffing practices that led the institution into dangerous waters, she was fired by higher-ups more concerned with inflating the balance sheet, and raising their own profiles and salaries in the process, rather than complying with the law.

And despite a mountain of unresolved "alerts" and "suspicious activity reports," and with only eight Compliance officers under "rigorous pressure to complete manual reviews of about 30,000 OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control] alerts per week," Senate investigators found serious "deficiencies in the quality of the work" which required "an independent assessment. The independent assessment found that 34% of the alerts supposedly resolved had to be re-done."

While HSBC has cut some 27,000 jobs since 2011, the scandal-plagued bank still managed a 26 percent rise in 2012 first-quarter profits to the tune of $6.8bn (£4.18bn) according to The New York Times, attributed to "growth in its Asian and Latin American banking businesses [that] more than made up for a slump in Europe."

Why if one were inclined to believe various "conspiracy theories," one would almost believe that banks actually sought out dirty money from drug traffickers as a splendid means to bulk-up the bottom line.

Like Spots on a Hyena

As with other banks caught-up in recent money laundering scandals, HSBC's Mexican affiliate is a case study in how banks get away with murder. Senate investigators disclosed that HBMX "illustrates how providing a correspondent account and U.S. dollar services to a high risk affiliate increased AML risks for HBUS."

Created when HSBC Group purchased the Bital bank in 2002, we learned that a "pre-purchase review disclosed that the bank had no functioning compliance program, despite operating in a country confronting both drug trafficking and money laundering."

"For years," the Senate reported, "HSBC Group knew that HBMX continued to operate with multiple AML deficiencies while serving high risk clients and selling high risk products. HSBC Group also knew that HBMX had an extensive correspondent relationship with HBUS and that suspect funds moved through the HBMX account, but failed to inform HBUS of the extent of the AML problems at HBMX so that HBUS could treat HBMX as a high risk account. Instead, until 2009, HBUS treated HBMX as low risk."

As in the case of Wachovia, "HBMX engaged in many high risk activities. It opened accounts for high risk clients, including Mexican casas de cambios and U.S. money service businesses, such as Casa de Cambio Puebla and Sigue Corporation which later legal proceedings showed had laundered funds from illegal drug sales in the United States."

Undeterred by the risks involved, HBMX "offered high risk products, including providing U.S. dollar accounts in the Cayman Islands to nearly 50,000 clients with $2.1 billion in assets, many of which supplied no KYC information and some of which misused their accounts on behalf of a drug cartel."

"HBMX was also the single largest exporter of U.S. dollars to HBUS, transferring over $3 billion in 2007 and $4 billion in 2008, amounts that far outstripped larger Mexican banks and other HSBC affiliates," investigators disclosed.

Indeed, "Mexican and U.S. law enforcement and regulatory authorities expressed concern that HBMX's bulk cash shipments could reach that volume only if they included illegal drug proceeds that had been brought back to Mexico from the United States."

So blatant were HSBC's dodgy practices that for a three-year period between 2006-2009, Senate investigators discovered that "HBUS failed to conduct any AML monitoring of its U.S. dollar transactions with HSBC affiliates, including HBMX, which meant that it made no effort to identify any suspicious activity, despite the inherent risks in large cash transactions."

Proving that crime pays if you're well connected, "HBMX used those accounts to process U.S. dollar wire transfers, clear bulk U.S. dollar travelers cheques, and accept and make deposits of bulk cash, all of which exposed, not only itself, but also HBUS, to substantial money laundering risks."

"HSBC Group also compounded the AML risks by failing to alert HBUS to HBMX's ongoing, severe AML deficiencies," the Senate reported. But why would they? Given Carolyn Wind's firing when she sought to increase staff who might be in position to monitor shady transactions from a very profitable Mexican affiliate, one can only conclude that higher-ups were more than happy to turn a blind eye when it came to illegal practices.

A 2006 State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), noted that Mexico is a country of "primary" concern for money laundering, its highest rating.

"The State Department's relentlessly negative assessments of Mexico's drug trafficking and money laundering vulnerabilities continued unabated," Senate investigators observed.

"In 2008, the State Department wrote that 'U.S. officials estimate that since 2003, as much as U.S. $22 billion may have been repatriated to Mexico from the United States by drug trafficking organizations'."

"Four years later, in 2012" Senate staff averred, "the State Department wrote that drug cartels were using Mexican and U.S. financial institutions to launder as much as $39 billion each year: 'According to U.S. authorities, drug trafficking organizations send between $19 and $39 billion annually to Mexico from the United States'."

"As a consequence," of HBMX's "lowest-risk rating" the Senate reported, "under HSBC Group policy, clients from Mexico were not subjected to enhanced monitoring by HBUS, unless they were also designated a Special Category Client (SCC), a relatively rare designation that indicates a client poses high AML risks."
In other words, with upwards of $39 billion washing through the system annually, "enhanced due diligence and account monitoring" by HBUS of their clients wasn't in the cards.

Indeed, in a 2009 risk assessment conducted by HSBC, Mexico was assigned a score of "2," which was "one of the lowest scores."

When queried by Senate investigators about the low score, Ali Kazmy, the HBUS compliance officer responsible for country risk assessments "told the Subcommittee that, since 2006, HBUS' assessments had inadvertently failed to take into account a 2006 FinCEN advisory related to Mexico that would have added 10 points to its score each year. As a result of its low score, Mexico was rated a 'standard' risk, the lowest of the four risk ratings."

As U.S. law enforcement agencies, ironically enough under pressure from Mexican officials to crackdown on money laundering by U.S. banks, "Mexican regulators confronted HBMX with suspicions that drug proceeds were moving through its accounts at HBUS."

In 2009, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) "informed the OCC that ICE was investigating possible money laundering activity involving banknote accounts at HBUS. ICE indicated that Mexican drug traffickers appeared to be using the black market peso exchange in New York to transfer funds through a particular Mexican financial institution, which then sent the funds through its U.S. correspondent account at HBUS."

"What U.S. law enforcement officials had found was that, because drug traffickers in the United States were having difficulty finding a U.S. financial institution that would accept large amounts of cash, due to strict U.S. AML controls, many were instead transporting large volumes of U.S. dollars to Mexico, and depositing the dollars at Mexican financial institutions."

"The drug traffickers could then keep their deposits in U.S. dollars through the Mexican financial institution's correspondent account at a U.S. bank, or exchange the dollars for pesos," the Senate reported. "The Mexican banks, casas de cambio, and other financial institutions that were the recipients of the cash typically shipped the physical dollars back to the United States for credit to their own U.S. dollar correspondent accounts at U.S. banks."

In 2009, OCC Deputy Chief Counsel Dan Stipano explained the grift to Sally Belshaw, the OCC Examiner-In-Charge at HBUS:

"The scheme ... is similar to activity that we have seen at Union Bank, Wachovia, and Zions. Basically, the way it works is that drug money is physically hauled across the border into Mexico, then brought back into the United States through wire transfers from casas de cambio or small Mexican banks, or else smuggled across the border in armored cars, etc., before being deposited in US. Institutions. According to AUSA [Assistant U.S. Attorney] Weitz, most U.S. banks, recognizing the risks involved, have gotten out of this business, but HSBC NY is one of the last holdouts (although, interestingly, he said that HSBC-Mexico will no longer accept U.S. currency)." (emphasis added)

HBMX was rocked by scandal when it emerged that one of its biggest clients, the wealthy Chinese-Mexican citizen, Zhenli Ye Gon, was accused by the Drug Enforcement Administration, in a joint operation with Mexican authorities, of high-level drug trafficking. In March 2007, the Mexican Government "seized over $205 million in U.S. dollars, $17 million in Mexican pesos, firearms, and international wire transfer records" from Zhenli's residence.

The cash, hidden in a secret locked room in Zhenli's home was described by the media at the time as the largest cash seizure in a drug-related case in history.

Zhenli, a self-described "prominent businessman," was "the owner of three Mexican corporations involved in the pharmaceutical field, Unimed Pharm Chem Mexico S.A. de C.V.; Constructora e Inmobiliaria Federal S.A. de C.V.; and Unimed Pharmaceutical, S.A. de C.V."

According to Senate investigators, he was accused of using his corporations as fronts "to import, manufacture, and sell chemicals to drug cartels for use in manufacturing methamphetamine, an illegal drug sold in the United States. He was also accused of displaying 'significant unexplained wealth,' despite reporting no gross income for his companies for the years 2005, 2006, and 2007."

Although Zhenli was indicted in Mexico on drug, firearm and money laundering charges, he "could not be located." Why? Because he had fled to the United States where he awaits extradition to Mexico on drug trafficking charges.

Eventually indicted by U.S. federal prosecutors "for aiding and abetting the manufacture of methamphetamine," two years later "U.S. prosecutors dismissed the charges, after a witness recanted key testimony."

What made Zhenli's arrest particularly embarrassing to HBUS officials was the fact that internal documents revealed that Zhenli's Unimed "accounts were opened by Bital, retained by HBMX, and housed in HMBX's Personal Financial Services (PFS) division, even though the official clients were corporations and should not have been serviced by the PFS division."

Despite the dodgy nature of the accounts, they were not designated "high risk." One top HSBC executive, John Root, told the Senate that although the Unimed account "had attracted the attention" of HBMX regulators and they had been instructed to terminate the account, he and another top official, Susan Wright "did not realize the account was still open, until he and Ms. Wright saw the press articles regarding Unimed in 2007."

Imagine that!

Another Day, Another 'Investigation'

Regulatory "lapses" and half-hearted "investigations" continue.

Recently, The New York Times reported that "federal and state authorities are investigating a handful of major American banks for failing to monitor cash transactions in and out of their branches, a lapse that may have enabled drug dealers and terrorists to launder tainted money."

Citing (who else!) "anonymous officials," regulators "led by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, are close to taking action against JPMorgan Chase for insufficient safeguards, the officials said. The agency is also scrutinizing several other Wall Street giants, including Bank of America."

But rather than investigating the role of laundered drug money in inflating the balance sheets of the big banks, the Times, citing "compliance experts," argued that "violations are typically unintentional and often harmless because they aren't always exploited by criminals."

An April cease-and-desist order against drug-tainted Citigroup is instructive in this regard. Charging there were "gaps" in Citi's oversight of cash transactions, the order specified there were "internal control weaknesses including the incomplete identification of high-risk customers in multiple areas of the bank."

According to an unnamed "person close to the bank," Citi's "internal control weaknesses" were attributed "to an accident when a computer was unplugged from anti-money-laundering systems."

Such mendacity is the banking equivalent of "the dog ate my homework," yet for America's "newspaper of record" such fabrications are accepted at face value despite Citigroup's decades-long history of financial fraud, stock manipulation and other crimes, including laundering billions of dollars of drug money.

Today, the stakes are immeasurably higher. As the capitalist system threatens to implode and sinks ever-deeper into a liquidity crisis brought on in no small part by the gross criminality of our masters, a recent study by James Henry, author of The Price of Offshore Revisited, has shown that at least $21-$32 trillion (£13-£20.5tn) has been hidden in tax havens that operate as little more than global money laundering centers.

According to Henry: "The subterranean system that we are trying to measure is the economic equivalent of an astrophysical black hole." Indeed, "The very existence of the global offshore industry, and the tax-free status of the enormous sums invested by their wealthy clients, is predicated on secrecy: that is what this industry really 'supplies' as it competes for, conceals, and manages private capital from all over the planet, from any and all sources, no questions asked."

As former U.S. Customs deep-cover specialist Robert Mazur, the author of The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar's Medellín Cartel, explained to Business Insider, "'the international community is today doing the same thing that BCCI and their officers were doing 20 years ago'--citing the HSBC money-laundering scandal and the tax havens of the super-rich--and told BI that the problem is much larger than the estimated $2.1 trillion that crime generates each year."

According to Mazur, HSBC employed methods "traditionally used by banks in a big way [to] facilitate relationships with people who want to hide money from governments" and explained that bankers provide these services "to entice these people to bank with them" thereby enabling banks to increase their deposits.

More attuned to the needs of their banking "clients" to remain "healthy," regulators are "not as focused on the issue of criminal conduct." In fact, "there's nothing built in the system to engage criminal investigations up front."

"One straightforward way" to deter financial officers from profiting from criminal activities, "would be to crack down on bankers who solicit shady business--like the ones at HSBC--by putting a few 'behind bars for a very long period of time' instead of just giving them a fine," Mazur said.

This is unlikely to happen. After all, the first order of business during a period of unprecedented elite criminality is to shield financial institutions and their officers, deemed "too big to fail or jail" from accountability.

Never mind that such practices facilitate global crime in all their varied forms--from drug trafficking to terrorism and from imperialist wars of conquest to the outright theft of public property for private profit--incentives for regulators to crackdown or for prosecutors to send corporate criminals to prison remain virtually nonexistent.

Monday, September 3, 2012

'Managing' the Plaza: America's Secret Deal with Mexican Drug Cartels

In a story which should have made front page headlines, Narco News investigative journalist Bill Conroy revealed that "A high-ranking Sinaloa narco-trafficking organization member's claim that US officials have struck a deal with the leadership of the Mexican 'cartel' appears to be corroborated in large part by the statements of a Mexican diplomat in email correspondence made public recently by the nonprofit media group WikiLeaks."

A series of some five million emails, The Global Intelligence Files, were obtained by the secret-spilling organization as a result of last year's hack by Anonymous of the Texas-based "global intelligence" firm Stratfor.

Bad tradecraft aside, the Stratfor dump offer readers insight into a shadowy world where information is sold to the highest bidder through a "a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards. Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world."

One of those informants was a Mexican intelligence officer with the Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional, or CISEN, Mexico's equivalent to the CIA. Dubbed "MX1" by Stratfor, he operates under diplomatic cover at the Mexican consulate in Phoenix, Arizona after a similar posting at the consulate in El Paso, Texas.

His cover was blown by the intelligence grifters when they identified him in their correspondence as Fernando de la Mora, described by Stratfor as "being molded to be the Mexican 'tip of the spear' in the U.S."

In an earlier Narco News story, Conroy revealed that "US soldiers are operating inside Mexico as part of the drug war and the Mexican government provided critical intelligence to US agents in the now-discredited Fast and Furious gun-running operation," the Mexican diplomat claimed in email correspondence.

Those emails disclosed "details of a secret meeting between US and Mexican officials held in 2010 at Fort Bliss, a US Army installation located near El Paso, Texas. The meeting was part of an effort to create better communications between US undercover operatives in Mexico and the Mexican federal police, the Mexican diplomat reveals."

"However," Conroy wrote, "the diplomat expresses concern that the Fort Bliss meeting was infiltrated by the 'cartels,' whom he contends have 'penetrated both US and Mexican law enforcement'."

Such misgivings are thoroughly justified given the fact, as Antifascist Calling reported last spring, that the Mexican government had arrested three high-ranking Army generals over their links to narcotrafficking organizations.

In Conroy's latest piece the journalist disclosed that the "Mexican diplomat's assessment of the US and Mexican strategy in the war on drugs, as revealed by the email trail, paints a picture of a 'simulated war' in which the Mexican and US governments are willing to show favor to a dominant narco-trafficking organization in order to minimize the violence and business disruption in the major drug plazas, or markets."

A "simulated war"? Where have we heard that before? Like the bogus "War on Terror" which arms and unleashes throat-slitting terrorists from the CIA's favorite all-purpose zombie army of "Islamist extremists," Al Qaeda, similarly, America's fraudulent "War on Drugs" has been a splendid means of managing the global drug trade in the interest of securing geopolitical advantage over their rivals.

That major financial powerhouses in Europe and the U.S. (can you say Bank of America, Barclays, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, HSBC, ING and Wachovia) have been accused of reaping the lions' share of profits derived from the grim trade, now a veritable Narco-Industrial Complex, the public continues to be regaled with tales that this ersatz war is being "won."

While the Mexican body count continues to rise (nearly 120,000 dead since 2006 according to the latest estimates published by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, or INEGI, as reported by the Paris daily Le Monde in a recent editorial) the United States is escalating its not-so-covert military involvement in Mexico and putting proverbial boots on the ground as part of the $1.6 billion U.S.-financed Mérida Initiative.

But have such "initiatives" (in actuality, taxpayer-funded boondoggles for giant military contractors), turned the corner in the drug war? Not if estimates published the United Nations are accurate.

According to the 2011 World Drug Report, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC): "US authorities have estimated for the last couple of years that some 90% of the cocaine consumed in North America comes from Colombia, supplemented by some cocaine from Peru and limited amounts from the Plurinational State of Bolivia. For the year 2009, results of the US Cocaine Signature Program, based on an analysis of approximately 3,000 cocaine HCl samples, revealed that 95.5% originated in Colombia (down from 99% in 2002) and 1.7% in Peru; for the rest (2.8%), the origin could not be determined. The trafficking of cocaine into the United States is nowadays largely controlled by various Mexican drug cartels, while until the mid-1990s, large Colombian cartels dominated these operations."

Despite more than $8 billion lavished on programs such as Plan Colombia, and despite evidence that leading Colombian politicians, including former President Álvaro Uribe and his entourage had documented links to major drug trafficking organizations that go back decades, the myth persists that pouring money into the drug war sinkhole will somehow turn the tide.

But drug seizures by U.S. agencies only partially tell the tale.

As UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov pointed out in the introduction to the agency's 2011 report, Estimating Illicit Financial Flows Resulting from Drug Trafficking and Other Transnational Crimes, "all criminal proceeds are likely to have amounted to some 3.6 per cent of GDP (2.3-5.5 per cent) or around US$2.1 trillion in 2009."

UNODC analysts disclosed that illicit money flows related to "transnational organized crime, represent the equivalent of some 1.5 percent of global GDP, 70 percent of which would have been available for laundering through the financial system. The largest income for transnational organized crime seems to come from illicit drugs, accounting for a fifth of all crime proceeds."

"If only flows related to drug trafficking and other transnational organized crime activities were considered," UNODC asserted, "related proceeds would have been equivalent to around US$650 billion per year in the first decade of the new millennium, equivalent to 1.5% of global GDP or US$870 billion in 2009 assuming that the proportions remained unchanged. The funds available for laundering through the financial system would have been equivalent to some 1% of global GDP or US$580 billion in 2009."

"The results," according to UNODC, "also suggest that the 'interception rate' for anti-money-laundering efforts at the global level remains low. Globally, it appears that much less than 1% (probably around 0.2%) of the proceeds of crime laundered via the financial system are seized and frozen."

Commenting on the nexus between global drug mafias and our capitalist overlords, former UNODC director Antonio Maria Costa told The Observer in 2009, "that the proceeds of organised crime were 'the only liquid investment capital' available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result."

Would there be an incentive then, for U.S. officials to dismantle a global business that benefits their real constituents, the blood-sucking gangsters at the apex of the capitalist financial pyramid? Hardly.

Nor would there be any incentive for American drug warriors to target organizations that inflate the balance sheets of the big banks. Wouldn't they be more likely then, given the enormous flows of illicit cash flooding the system, to negotiate an "arrangement" with the biggest players, particularly the Sinaloa Cartel run by fugitive billionaire Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán?

In fact, as Narco News disclosed last December, a "quid-pro-quo arrangement is precisely what indicted narco-trafficker Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla, who is slated to stand trial in Chicago this fall, alleges was agreed to by the US government and the leaders of the Sinaloa 'Cartel'--the dominant narco-trafficking organization in Mexico. The US government, however, denies that any such arrangement exists."

Narco News reported that according to "Zambada Niebla, he and the rest of the Sinaloa leadership, through the US informant Loya Castro, negotiated an immunity deal with the US government in which they were guaranteed protection from prosecution in exchange for providing US law enforcers and intelligence agencies with information that could be used to compromise rival Mexican cartels and their operations."

In court pleadings, Zambada Niebla's attorneys argued that "the United States government considered the arrangements with the Sinaloa Cartel an acceptable price to pay, because the principal objective was the destruction and dismantling of rival cartels by using the assistance of the Sinaloa Cartel--without regard for the fact that tons of illicit drugs continued to be smuggled into Chicago and other parts of the United States and consumption continued virtually unabated."

Those assertions seem to be borne out by emails released by WikiLeaks. Conroy disclosed: "In a Stratfor email dated April 19, 2010, MX1 lays out the Mexican government's negotiating, or 'signaling,' strategy with respect to the major narco-trafficking organizations as follows:

The Mexican strategy is not to negotiate directly.

In any event, "negotiations" would take place as follows:

Assuming a non-disputed plaza [a major drug market, such as Ciudad Juarez]:

• [If] they [a big narco-trafficking group] bring [in] some drugs, transport some drugs, [and] they are discrete, they don't bother anyone, [then] no one gets hurt;

• [And the] government turns the other way.

• [If] they [the narco-traffickers] kill someone or do something violent, [then the] government responds by taking down [the] drug network or making arrests.

(Now, assuming a disputed plaza:)

• [A narco-trafficking] group comes [into a plaza], [then the] government waits to see how dominant cartel responds.

• If [the] dominant cartel fights them [the new narco-trafficking group], [then the] government takes them down.

• If [the] dominant cartel is allied [with the new group], no problem.

• If [a new] group comes in and start[s] committing violence, they get taken down: first by the government letting the dominant cartel do their thing, then [by] punishing both cartels.

"MX1," Narco News revealed, "then goes on to describe what he interprets as the US strategy in negotiating with the major narco-trafficking players in Ciudad Juarez--a major Mexican narco-trafficking 'plaza' located across the border from El Paso, Texas:"

... This is how "negotiations" take place with cartels, through signals. There are no meetings, etc. ...

So, the MX [Mexican] strategy is not to negotiate. However, I think the US [recently] sent a signal that could be construed as follows:

"To the VCF [the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes] and Sinaloa cartels: Thank you for providing our market with drugs over the years. We are now concerned about your perpetration of violence, and would like to see you stop that. In this regard, please know that Sinaloa is bigger and better than [the] VCF. Also note that CDJ [Juarez] is very important to us, as is the whole border. In this light, please talk amongst yourselves and lets all get back to business. Again, we recognize that Sinaloa is bigger and better, so either VCF gets in line or we will mess you up."

I don't know what the US strategy is, but I can tell you that if the message was understood by Sinaloa and VCF as I described above, the Mexican government would not be opposed at all.

In sum, I have a gut feeling that the US agencies tried to send a signal telling the cartels to negotiate themselves. They unilaterally declared a winner [the Sinaloa Cartel], and this is unprecedented, and deserves analysis. If there was no strategy behind this, and it was simply a leaked report, then I will be interested to see how it plays out in the coming months.

Keep in mind that this "analysis" is from a senior CISEN officer describing U.S. "strategy" for managing, not putting a stop to the flood of narcotics crossing the border.

"In a separate Stratfor email dated April 15, 2010," Conroy wrote, "MX1's views on the US strategy with respect to the drug organizations in Juarez, essentially favoring the Sinaloa 'Cartel,' is referenced yet again:"

We believe that when the US made an announcement that was corroborated by several federal spokespersons simultaneously (that Sinaloa controlled CDJ [Juarez]), it was a message that the DEA wanted to send to Sinaloa. The message was that the US recognized Sinaloa's dominance in the area [Juarez], although it was not absolute. It was meant to be read by the cartels as a sort of ultimatum: negotiate and put your house in order once and for all.

One dissenting analyst thinks that the message is the opposite, telling Sinaloa to take what it had and to leave what remains of VCF. Regardless, the reports are saying that the US message to the cartels was to negotiate and stop the violence. It says that the US has never before pronounced that a cartel controls a particular plaza, so it is an unusual event.

"Unusual" perhaps, but not surprising given the secret state's documented history of close collaboration with major drug trafficking networks that serve as unofficial, though highly-effective instruments, for advancing U.S. imperial strategies.

In a recent piece published by Global Research, analyst Peter Dale Scott observed that America's two "self-generating wars" on "terror" and "drugs" have "in effect become one."

"By launching a War on Drugs in Colombia and Mexico," Scott wrote, "America has contributed to a parastate of organized terror in Colombia (the so-called AUC, United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) and an even bloodier reign of terror in Mexico (with 50,000 killed in the last six years)."

And by "launching a War on Terror in Afghanistan in 2001, America has contributed to a doubling of opium production there, making Afghanistan now the source of 90 percent of the world's heroin and most of the world's hashish."

"Americans should be aware of the overall pattern that drug production repeatedly rises where America intervenes militarily--Southeast Asia in the 1950s and 60s, Colombia and Afghanistan since then," Scott noted. "(Opium cultivation also increased in Iraq after the 2003 US invasion.) And the opposite is also true: where America ceases to intervene militarily, notably in Southeast Asia since the 1970s, drug production declines."

"Both of America's self-generating wars are lucrative to the private interests that lobby for their continuance," Scott averred. "At the same time, both of these self-generating wars contribute to increasing insecurity and destabilization in America and in the world."

In this light, Narco News revelations make perfect sense. As the global financial crisis deepens, brought on in no small part by the massive frauds perpetrated by leading capitalist institutions, they have inflated their balance sheets with a veritable tsunami of hot cash generated by the Narco-Industrial Complex.

In turn, the American secret state, working to recapitalize financial markets beset by a seemingly insolvable liquidity crisis resulting from massive bank frauds, turn a blind eye as these same institutions become major centers of organized crime, monopoly enterprises which could not survive without the trillions of dollars of illicit funds parked in offshore accounts.