WikiLeaks Targets a Bank


So Julian Assange is going to release a big dump of bank documents.  Kevin Drum is conflicted.  I find it interesting that so many of his commenters, and for that matter the commentators I'm seeing on television and the web, seem to be assuming that this will reveal criminal activity.

I'd say that's far from certain.  Prosecutors have been trawling through their internal documents pretty heavily, looking for something that might help them run for higher office make a case against malfeasant bankers.  They haven't found much, which is why one of their most high profile cases fell apart.  You can decide for yourself whether this is because there was no criminal activity, or because bankers have had a decade of prosecutorial aggression to learn not to write anything down unless you'd be willing to see it blown up into a 48-point headline above a picture of yourself being led out of headquarters in handcuffs.

Moreover, how would a leaker know where to lay their hands on documents indicating criminal activities?  Having worked in bank IT, I can attest that the networks are vast; they may be siloed (with, say, equity and fixed income having their own set of servers that the other team doesn't have access to); and the people in IT are pretty diligent about making sure that you only have access to the stuff you're authorized for.  To get your hands on confidential, explosive stuff, you'd have to a) know where it was and b) have access to it.

Who is most likely to fit that description?  Someone who's involved in the criminal activity, of course.  In which case, they'd be a colossal fool to hand the evidence over to Julian Assange.  If they want to blow the whistle, they need to head to the nearest US Attorney's office to cut a deal.

It is, of course, not impossible that someone innocent managed to stumble onto an explosive treasure trove of evidence.  But I'd say it's at least as likely that the documents reveal little in the way of malfeasance, and a great deal of bankers saying things that sound bad: making fun of customers and other bankers, whining about regulators, and so forth.  In other words, much like the diplomatic cables, a bunch of stuff that is embarrassing, but doesn't actually tell us much of anything that we desperately need to know.

That sort of openness doesn't seem to me to accomplish much other than causing banks and other vulnerable corporations to practice tighter security.  But perhaps readers have high-minded justifications I'm missing. 
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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