Essay; B.C.C.I.: Justice Delayed
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
Published: July 25, 1991
The Underworld Bank scandal is oozing out all over.
Conceived in Karachi, financed in Abu Dhabi, the conspiracy reached into the world’s Western capitals and perhaps the U.N. under the protection of high-paid lobbyists and naive spooks. The B.C.C.I. scandal involves the laundering of drug money, the illicit financing of terrorism and of arms to Iraq, the easy purchase of respectability and the corruption of the world banking system.
For more than a decade, the biggest banking swindle in history worked beautifully. Between $5 billion and $15 billion was bilked from governments and individual depositors to be put to the most evil of purposes — while lawmen and regulators slept.
Now the fight among investigators is coming out into the open. Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who gave impetus to long-contained probes, told a Senate subcommittee headed by Senator John Kerry that he is getting no cooperation from the Thornburgh Justice Department.
Justice’s Criminal Division chief, Robert Mueller, tells me he will have a hatchet-burying session with the independent-minded D.A. next week, and vehemently denies having told British intelligence to stop cooperating with the Manhattan grand jury.
And what about the revelation last week by the New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth that the C.I.A. was using B.C.C.I. for payoffs abroad, which may have been used by the swindlers as a cover? “At no time have we received a request from the intelligence community,” insists Mr. Mueller, “to alter or suspend or in any way change the course of our investigation.”
He may not know everything that is going on around him; one of the threats to Robert Gates’s nomination to head the C.I.A. is the question of what use he made of B.C.C.I. in the 80’s; the agency is now preparing a report for Senate Intelligence.
When asked in 1981 by the Federal Reserve Board for the background of a key investor in B.C.C.I., the C.I.A. neglected to note that he was the chief of Saudi intelligence — later code-named “Tumbleweed” — a relevant fact of which the Agency could hardly have been ignorant. When asked about this dereliction, the top Fed enforcement officer, William Taylor, chirped: “Some people like that become President.”