How John Kerry busted the terrorists' favorite bank
Follow the Money
How John Kerry busted the terrorists' favorite bank.
By David Sirota and Jonathan Baskin
The Washington Monthly has a new article which tells us about John Kerry's leadership in going after the BCCI. One of Kerry's biggest contributions during his time in the Senate was his investigation into BCCI. Excerpts:
All that changed in early 1988, when John Kerry, then a young senator from Massachusetts, decided to probe the finances of Latin American drug cartels. Over the next three years, Kerry fought against intense opposition from vested interests at home and abroad, from senior members of his own party; and from the Reagan and Bush administrations, none of whom were eager to see him succeed.
By the end, Kerry had helped dismantle a massive criminal enterprise and exposed the infrastructure of BCCI and its affiliated institutions, a web that law enforcement officials today acknowledge would become a model for international terrorist financing. As Kerry's investigation revealed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, BCCI was interested in more than just enriching its clients--it had a fundamentally anti-Western mission. Among the stated goals of its Pakistani founder were to "fight the evil influence of the West," and finance Muslim terrorist organizations. In retrospect, Kerry's investigation had uncovered an institution at the fulcrum of America's first great post-Cold War security challenge.
Kerry pounced, demanding (and winning) authorization from the Foreign Relations Committee to open a broad investigation into the bank in May 1991. Almost immediately, the senator faced a new round of pressure to relent. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Democratic doyenne Pamela Harriman personally called Kerry to object, as did his fellow senators. "What are you doing to my friend Clark Clifford?," staffers recalled them asking, according to The Washington Post. BCCI itself hired an army of lawyers, PR specialists, and lobbyists, including former members of Congress, to thwart the investigation.
But Kerry refused to back off, and his hearings began to expose the ways in which international terrorism was financed. As Kerry's subcommittee discovered, BCCI catered to many of the most notorious tyrants and thugs of the late 20th century, including Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the heads of the Medellin cocaine cartel, and Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist. According to the CIA, it also did business with those who went on to lead al Qaeda.
And BCCI went beyond merely offering financial assistance to dictators and terrorists: According to Time, the operation itself was an elaborate fraud, replete with a "global intelligence operation and a Mafia-like enforcement squad."
By July 1991, Kerry's work paid off. That month, British and U.S. regulators finally responded to the evidence provided by Kerry, Morgenthau, and a concurrent investigation by the Federal Reserve. BCCI was shut down in seven countries, restricted in dozens more, and served indictments for grand larceny, bribery, and money laundering. The actions effectively put it out of business what Morgenthau called, "one of the biggest criminal enterprises in world history."