Steven Cohen writes: It should come as no surprise that the CIA’s finances are a secret. One of the rare glimpses into the agency’s funding came when Edward Snowden leaked a copy of the intelligence “black budget” to The Washington Post in 2013. But if history is any indication, the CIA may well have resources that don’t appear on any congressional document, highly classified or otherwise. Covert operations, by their very nature, often require access to off-the-books funding. The CIA’s first operation was paid for with funds seized from the Nazis, and in the years since, the agency has been notoriously creative about how it obtains its money.
Adnan Khashoggi would know. A “principal foreign agent” of the United States, as one Senate report referred to him, the billionaire playboy made a fortune (more than $100 million between 1970 and 1975 alone) from commissions negotiating arms deals with his native Saudi Arabia. He used these windfalls, in turn, to cultivate political clout—including, allegedly, with President Richard Nixon. In the aftermath of Watergate, when Congress began reining in the CIA, Khashoggi helped establish the supranational intelligence partnership known as the Safari Club. Soon after, he aided the CIA in circumventing another congressional impediment. With money borrowed from the Saudi and U.S. intelligence-linked Bank of Credit and Commerce International, he financed the illegal arms sales that set off the Iran-Contra scandal.
One way Khashoggi structured his shadowy holdings during his heyday was through the specialized services of Mossack Fonseca, the law firm that is in the news for having helped global luminaries like Vladimir Putin hide their money. Thanks to a recent report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, we now know Khashoggi to be among a number of former spies and CIA associates implicated by the 2.6 terabytes of offshore financial documents provided to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung last summer.
That his name should appear in an international dark money scandal suggests something about the nature of tax havens that much of the media’s coverage has thus far avoided grappling with. The Panama Papers have largely been presented as an unprecedented insight into how global elites hide their fortunes from tax collectors and other regulators. But they also underscore how tax havens are used by covert agencies and other shadowy players to launder dirty money, a practice that has a long history in which Panama, in particular, has played a notable part. [Continue reading…]