Anyone who has ever picked up and read a sanctions list from OFAC or the UN should check out series three of a program called Homeland. One particular series of the show pits the simultaneous might and fragility of the secret services – in this case the Central Intelligence Agency – against terrorists and their hidden financiers. The fictional bank is named HLBC which continued to deal with the holding company of a bank, even after the bank itself was placed on the sanctions list.
The show does perhaps romanticise the often uninteresting and hard work put in by analysts who sift through reams of data to find the one transaction that connects the suspect to a regulated financial institution. I have never had the chance to either sit in on a secret service analyst’s briefing (although if I had, I would not be able to tell you about it) , nor work in the sanctions department of a bank (which may also elicit silence from me, albeit for different reasons). Friends in both fields tell me that their working lives are generally not so highly charged. I still wondered if the Homeland writer’s dig at HLBC (ahem) was entirely fictional, or based on a grain of truth?
Here is how the scene panned out.
A CIA veteran, and a new young financial intelligence officer call a meeting at CIA headquarters with the head of HLBC who is surrounded by flunky executives and an aggressive legal team. When the analyst confronts the bank with the proof of their connections to a sanctioned business, the lawyers rebut with a question about the provenance of the information, nicely sidestepping the point and focusing on the irrelevant detail of how-they-got-caught, rather than what-their-actions-have caused, which in this case is a fictional attack killing several hundred CIA staff.
The bank head honcho gets angry with the analyst, for daring to suggest that he had any knowledge of the illegal transactions. Using all the might and pomp placed on his office by, no doubt, the executive flunkies surrounding him and a corporate structure which puts aggression and the ruthless pursuit of profit and personal gain above all other objectives, he thumps his fist on the table, berates the analyst and storms out of the room. We are left thinking that the meeting was a disaster.
That is, until the next day when the bank boss and his entourage look over the evidence again, pick up their toys and put them back in the pram, and dutifully send over all of the requested data to the secret service for scrutiny.
Can anyone on the inside tell me if it actually happens like this? I really hope so.