What does the budget say about our priorities?

President Trump has a budget. Many people are dissatisfied with the cuts to various agencies. The most concerning in terms of anti money laundering and counter terrorism is the reduction in soft power funding by way of decreasing the State Department budget. Many people are coupling this reduction with increase is military spending. I choose not the couple it because our ability to combat money laundering and terrorism require both hard power and soft power. The problem the US has had since 2003, when we went into Iraq, is a heavy reliance on hard power. The inability to negotiate has put the country in a position where it has to spend more on military action as negotiating strategy. 

This is a terrible mistake. The Cold War told us that spending a greater portion of the national budget will bankrupt the spender and provide the upper hand to the weaker nation. 

I won’t go through how history played out. I will just give you the end, the overspender, Russia, lost. The roles have reversed, it seems. The US is increasing spending even though it already spends more than the next… Five nations? Ten nations? Instead of trying to win economically, the US will continue to let Asia climb to dominate the world stage. 

Time for a shift in defense spending

The United States is in turmoil because of an incompetent administration and an impotent congress. It does not help that the Supreme has become more outwardly political, choosing to be the arbiter of elections (Bush v Gore) and negotiator of legislations (classifying the Affordable Care Act as taxation). But let us remember that this is of our own making. 

And both the Russians and the Chinese are quickly taking notice of our weaknesses. While we fight amongst ourselves whether we have a de facto Muslim ban in medium-high risk countries, allowing free flow of people in high-high risk countries, our infrastructure is slowly being dissected for inspection. Simply put, our energy systems are at threat from cyber attacks. 

By now, my audience already knows this. However, I want to point out a sliver of light in the darkness; our financial sector is well fortified. It is not perfect, as the last few years have shown. But because our banks are quite profitable, regulations and concerns of adequate spending on cyber defense systems is being addressed. 

What we need is cyber police and cyber defense. The latter is something President Obama wanted to tackle but the long campaign trail he had to participate in derailed him from much of his agenda. It is, however, much more likely to be higher on President Trump’s agenda, if for no other reason, there is sign that he wants to be aggressive about defense. The concern right now is that this administration intends to be aggressive without permanent advice of the top Defense officer and the top Intelligence officer. That means this administration prefers intimidation abd bullying over actual defense, which requires the constant involvement of Defense and Intelligence. 

The former, however, is being overlooked. We don’t have very thoughtfully implemented cyberpolicing. We rely on an outdated litigation system to resolve disputes and prosecute cyber crimes. President Obama would have been a great leader to tackle this issue since he has a background in constitutional law. Sadly, we leave it to the Trump administration, which, if it’s approach to the security of our nation is of any indication, will favor large brand name corporations over justice. 

If the new administration has not been sufficiently offended by this concerned compliance professional, then I suggest an overhaul of the defense organization. As we move toward robotic forces, human resources could be better served in the use and management of the robotic forces. The robotic forces will communicate with human resources through cyber technology. We will need a secure cyber communications system and even a cyber offensive to demobilize opponents. 

Right now is not an opportunity to get ahead. We are far behind. We spend more on our defense than the next 10 top defenses combined and yet they are moving ahead of us in this regard because we have had two administration’s that were too concerned with now and not concerned enough about the future. 

A year after Bangladesh

A year ago, Bangladesh Central Bank was attacked. Its SWIFT networking credentials were stolen by malware specifically designed to do so. SWIFT is the messaging sytem is used between banks to transfer money and other assets. The attackers were able to get away with $81 million dollars.

The details are much more troubling. The malware had information about the spcific brand of printer the bank used. Thi meant the malware not only was targeting the SWIFT’S logging system but the BCB itself. And it was doing so with likely help from insiders.

Even more troubling is the context. This happened to in Vietnam and Ecuador as well. It is believed to be part of broader campaign to attack the biggest institutions.

The saving grace was that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York did not process all of the 35 payments because it could only confirm five. But this still meant $101 million was transferred. Had all of them process through, $951 million would have been taken out. Then, $81 million were sent to Philippine casinoes and $20 million to Pan Asia Bank in Sri Lanka, the latter having found the funds to be suspicious and did not release it. Less than a tenth of the originally stolen funds were actually stolen. The thing is, the denominator is so large that this theft still goes in history as being one of the largest bank robberies in history.

The consulting firms are all trying to provide actionable advice, but it is pretty clear has to get done: improve controls around insider information and communications, centralize financial crimes units, centralize data, improve cybersecurity, and develop transaction approval standards. Much easier said than done, though. Imagine trying to control the insider information flows while centralizing the data improve oversight across the data. The key to all of this is the one thing consulting firns are not really saying probably because it isn’t an area where they can compete: people. Training and education of the workforce for skills, awareness, experience, and encouraging action is where trust and competence is built. With it, everything else can be built.

Panama Papers Investigation Suspended

Source: Süddeutsche Zeitung via Deutsche Welle

Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the center of the Panama Papers investigation, argued that the documents were obtained illegally and, therefore, the investigation is constitutional. In Panama, the law firm was able to suspend the investigation with that argument, reports Deutsche Welle.

Let’s quickly go over the background. Some 2.6 Terabytes of the firm’s data were obtained and provided to International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which released a report and all of the documents to the world. The data included 11.5 million documents that contained how the firm helped the wealthy all around the world form shell corporations to hide wealth and avoid taxes in tax havens with complicated organizational structures to elude tax authorities. The fallout included ousting of national leaders and revelation of unlikely political connections.

This does not stop investigations in other nations of their subjects, but it does crimp some of the investigations because Panama is one of the major sources of those investigations because of its status as original jurisdiction.

Ending sanctions on Russia might be good

Sanction are backed by legislation and one key element of it is that the President of the United State does not need to run the list of those being sanctioned by Congress. There is a question as to whether the President can end Sanctions against our enemies, which the Democrats might address by filing a lawsuit. However, while such a judgment has not been given, the President has the sole decider of the active sanctions list. 

Sanctions work on a political level because it works on an economic level, impacting people’s wallets. Which means, this is a tool which the President use to target individuals. It is one of the rare few such tools. It also differs in that many of the other tools targeting individuals positively affect the target, such tools as pardoning convicted criminals. 

Sanctions is also an interesting tool because it can be used as a law enforcement tool but without coupling it with any other tool. If the President sanctioned an individual without any other acts, it will stand as is. In that sense, it is powerful and versatile. 

So, to lift such a thing from our enemy and our allies’ enemy opens us up to the risk of financing interests against our own. While most would agree that there are no benefits worth that risk, but most don’t realize what those benefits might be. 

One benefit is simply the opening up of channels of transactions we can observe. If, for a brief time, we let the flood gates open to the money laundering and the financing of counter-American interests, we might discover new alliances we had not observed before. 

We cannot know how the such benefits will be worth the risk. And not knowing the value of those benefits is a risk in itself. 

So, how long are we willing to take those risks to find out what Russian money laundered has bought real estate in Manhattan, a very common practice?  

The Biggest National Security Risk of the Trump Presidency

President Trump has some very interesting priorities and preferences. Interesting, in this case, could be signs of risks in areas that this blog often does not venture into. This blog focuses on risks and potential risks of money laundering and terrorist financing. But this blog cannot ignore the fact that the incoming president introduces new risks in these areas that did not exist before. The primary risk is a switch in policy toward Russia.

U.S. officials say a Russian hacking operating penetrated a utility in Vermont. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

When Russia was our enemy, we were adamant about two things: defending ourselves from whatever the Kremlin would throw our way, and proving that Capitalism works better than Communism.

The latter we have stopped proving after the fall of the USSR in 1989. The result is that we no longer have Capitalism. Most of our wealthiest people are not productive people, they are people who know how to fix the economic rules in their favor or find ways to define other people’s economic output as capital gains. I won’t go into the economics here.

However, the former, the defense, now has new dimensions that we did not face in the cold war. The worry is that if President Trump decides to “side” with Russia against our current allies, we would be pulling down our defenses against a state that has been on the constant attack of our defenses and infrastructure. Terrorism is one thing that attacks us and our way of life. Russia has been another, with constant cyber warfare, land and people grab of allied nations, and, most recently, outright lying about its support for a terrorism financing state.

Let’s also note that if President Trump decides that the United States should take sides with Russia against our current allies, we are not ready to defend ourselves from our allies. This is setting aside the fact that Russia is not likely to give up its efforts to disrupt the US in fundamental ways since President Trump and his policies are not likely to last beyond his term(s) in office. This is an incredible opportunity for Russia.

Even with our defenses, there are signs that Russia is getting through, as Washington Post recently reported. Now, if we let them in, it will be worse that the Trojan Horse because we would not require them to hide themselves in anyway.

The other banking problem

Deutsche Bank is the most connected bank in the world. As such, it poses the greatest risk to a banking crisis. And right now, in the midst of good trading revenue being reported by banks this season, Deutsche Bank’s problem makes it difficult for banks to keep fueling the economy and reduce the impact of risk weighted assets.

And despite what people say about low unemployment rate, let’s remember that we have the lowest labor participation rate. Nearly 1 in 10 working age men are on disability. Women, less. The current gap between the working and the working population is more than twice what it used to be. 
Plus, we have been spending the past 8 years replacing higher paying jobs with lower paying jobs. Not only that, we have been replacing a lot of higher productivity jobs with lower productivity jobs. Another way to look at it, we have been taking a road construction worker from building roads and placing him at the fact food cash register, or nothing at all. Nothing is wrong with working as a cash register person, but feeding a few people simply isn’t as productive as creating a path for food to travel to that fast food restaurant and thousands of other ones. 

The saving grace on this is that corporations have more cash than ever, which has reduced the need to borrow. The US policy of letting corporations to pile up cash when we have a year’sworth of GDP in debt, $1.3 Trillion of which is student loans, seems ridiculous. At least that means there is more money to lend to smaller businesses. 

Now, back to the issue of risk: smaller businesses are riskier. This makes it difficult to manage risk. The result is back to where we started. That is part is the nasty cycle Deutsche Bank may worsen.