The Justice Department is really pumping out the pointless prosecutions these days.
First it was an absurd indictment of five Chinese military computer hackers who are charged with hacking into some major US companies to steal trade secrets — notably about nuclear power technology and solar energy. Then it was a negotiated settlement with Credit Suisse, one of the world’s big global banking enterprises, based in this case in Switzerland, in which the bank agreed to plead guilty to criminally aiding and abetting some 20,000 US taxpayers in avoiding US taxes over a period of decades.
At first blush, these might sound like big deals, but if you think about it, they are both meaningless gestures designed to make the US public think the Justice Department is doing something.
In the China hacking case, you have China’s military doing exactly what the US military, in the form of the National Security Agency, has been caught doing — hacking into corporate computer systems to steal not just trade secrets, but also to gain an inside track on trade negotiations. And of course, we have already learned that the NSA has done even more nefarious things, like intercepting computers and switching equipment during shipment, before they are delivered to customers abroad, with NSA staff inserting bugs and malware thus rendering that equipment an open book to NSA snoops.
Besides the sheer absurdity of the US, of all countries — the world’s major abuser of the Internet — indicting China for engaging in some relatively small way in exactly what the US has been caught doing on a grand scale, there’s the question of just why this alleged Chinese spying on American companies is seen as so egregious, while the NSA’s much more invasive spying on the American people is seen as no big deal at all.
Oh yeah., I forgot: This is all about profits and capitalism. What has the US Justice Department all in a lather about this Chinese spying on US corporations isn’t national security, and it isn’t violation of privacy. It’s the violation of “property rights.”
As the New York Times writes:
“At the core of this indictment is the argument that while large countries routinely spy on each other for national security purposes, it is out of bounds to use state-run intelligence assets to seek commercial advantages. ‘When a foreign nation uses military or intelligence resources and tools against an American executive or corporation to obtain trade secrets or sensitive business information for the benefit of its state-owned companies, we must say enough is enough,’ said Attorney General Eric H. Holder. Jr.”
Wow! Wouldn’t it be great if AG Holder could get himself that worked up about government spying on all those American citizens who are just exercising their Constitutionally protected First Amendment rights, and could order the NSA and the FBI to stop monitoring the communications and movements of political activists, anti-war and anti-corporate protesters, and opponents of things like Monsanto’s GMO seeds and the KXL Pipeline?
Besides, this indictment of five Peoples Liberation Army hackers is also a joke because there’s no way to even serve them, much less bring them to trial. They live and work in Shanghai, were acting at the behest of the Chinese government, and even if China did have an extradition treaty with the US (it does not), the Beijing government would never hand them over for prosecution, or even let them be deposed, any more than the US has been willing to hand over former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger or former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to the Hague for war crimes.
As for that big bad settlement with Credit Suisse, under which the bank is now an admitted felon, it too is a totally meaningless thing. Not a single Credit Suisse executive was indicted. Not one executive will even have to leave the bank in disgrace under the terms of the agreement, though the Justice Department could easily have demanded such a condition the deal. The $2.5-billion fine is no big deal either: Credit Suisse reported net revenues of $26 billion last year. The fine — a one-time affair — will hardly trouble the operation, and will simply be written off as an operating expense.
The interesting thing here is that Holder, backed by President Obama, has from the beginning said he would not consider criminally prosecuting this nation’s big banks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citicorp and Wells Fargo, not because they don’t deserve to be prosecuted, but supposedly out of fear that doing so could cause a big bank to fail, or could “unfairly” hurt bank employees and shareholders. Yet here we see Holder doing exactly that to a foreign bank, and with no such concern for the employees and shareholders. Furthermore, there’s no indication that Credit Suisse is now going to go under, or probably even cut back on the $11 billion it paid in compensation to its staff and executives last year.
So really, rather than demonstrating that the Justice Department as finally getting tough on the big banks, this indictment proves the opposite. The questions Congress and the American public should now be asking are:
If it’s appropriate to criminally indict a foreign bank like Credit Suisse for the relatively minor crime of aiding and abetting tax fraud, why isn’t it appropriate to criminally indict America’s megabanks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, B of A, Citicorp and Wells Fargo for massive mortgage fraud that destroyed the US and the global economy, for brazen contempt of Congress, and for fraud, conspiracy and a host of other felonies?
If criminally convicting a bank doesn’t really inflict any damage on the guilty institution, why isn’t the Justice Department also criminally indicting the executives responsible for the banks’ serial criminal behavior, the way the government did earlier with Enron or the many banks involved in the earlier S&L scandal?
The Justice Department obviously concluded that the risk of a collapse of Credit Suisse as a result of this criminal settlement and subsequent damage to the Swiss, European or global economy, was minor, and so went ahead with this case. Why not try a similar test case against one of America’s heretofore “too big to jail” banks and see what happens?
While you’re at it Holder, how about taking an egregious institution — say JP Morgan Chase, which your department last year fined a total of $23 billion, all of it non-criminally, for destroying the US economy through massive mortgage fraud, and going after its top executives? Instead, you let JP Morgan Chase’s board of directors thumb their collective noses at you in February, when they voted their CEO Jamie Dimon a 74% raise in compensation to a whopping $20 million in what amounts to a valentine thank-you for keeping them all out of the hoosegow.
What a sorry excuse for a Justice Department we have in the US!
Under AG Eric Holder, the Justice Department is just a collection of top-flight lawyers who spend their time hounding political dissidents, trying to figure out a way to induce whistleblower extraordinaire Edward Snowden to come back and face “justice” in the US, developing a sealed indictment against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, locking up protesters against America’s criminal drone wars, and continuing to imprison hundreds of thousands of Americans for non-violent drug “crimes,” giving the US the world’s biggest prison population. And all this same Justice Department is ignoring the massive crimes of America’s financial elite, and the crimes of those political leaders who over the last decade have turned the US into the world’s greatest rogue terrorist state.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).