Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Good Money Afer Bad

Last month, I read William Gibson's excellent new novel, Spook Country, the plot of which centers on the MacGuffin of a shipping container full of cash, making its way back from Iraq to the United States. It's a great book; read it.

First, though, read "Billions over Baghdad," an appalling piece by Donald L. Barlet and James B. Steele which describes how, with incredible naiveté and incompetence, the United States government transferred nearly $12 billion (with a B, as they say) to the non-government in Iraq in the months after we toppled Saddam. 12 billion bucks, entirely in cash.

By all accounts, the New York Fed and the Treasury Department exercised strict surveillance and control over all of this money while it was on American soil. But after the money was delivered to Iraq, oversight and control evaporated. Of the $12 billion in U.S. banknotes delivered to Iraq in 2003 and 2004, at least $9 billion cannot be accounted for. A portion of that money may have been spent wisely and honestly; much of it probably wasn't. Some of it was stolen.
There are too many fantastic, nauseating details in the piece to really do it justice, from the extra-legal existence of the CPA to the sheer physical dimensions of this much money. Viz.:
During the [Coalition Provisional Authority]'s little more than a year of life, the New York Federal Reserve Bank made 21 shipments of currency to Iraq totaling $11,981,531,000. All told, the Fed would ship 281 million individual banknotes, in bricks weighing a total of 363 tons.
726,000 pounds of cash, all belonging by law to the Iraqi people, now mostly gone into the hands of crooked American contractors, regular Iraqi crooks, insurgents and terrorists, and who knows whom else. Sick, and sicker for being just one example of the towering incompetence of the Bush administration.