from the book
The CIAs Greatest Hits
by Mark Zepezauer
Since British bank examiners first shut
down its London branch in 1991, BCCI (the Bank of Credit and Commerce
International) has become known as "the world's crookedest
bank"-or, as CIA Director Robert Gates called it, the Bank
of Crooks and Criminals International. He, of all people, should
Throughout its entire history, the CIA
has set up an elaborate shell game of "proprietaries"
(front companies), money-laundering operations and off-the-books
projects so complex that no outsider- and few insiders-could ever
keep track of them. BCCI was neither the first nor the last of
An important predecessor was the Nugan
Hand Bank, which helped the CIA topple a pesky government in its
host country, Australia. Capitalized with booty from drug and
weapons deals in the last years of the Vietnam War, it helped
finance agency operations in Angola and the Middle East
Nugan Hand's board was loaded with spooks,
including former CIA Director William Colby. When Australian bank
examiners closed in on the bank in 1977, Nugan killed himself
and Hand disappeared with billions in depositors' funds.
The CIA flirted with a similar operation
in Hawaii, but eventually chose the Pakistan-based BCCI. It welcomed
anyone with large amounts of cash to launder, from narcotics traffickers
to arms merchants, terrorists to gangster governments.
Naturally, the CIA felt right at home.
In fact, one former BCCI official claims to have been told that
the CIA, and Director Richard Helms in particular, actually started
the bank, and that it "wasn't a Pakistani bank at all."
Before collapsing, BCCI managed to facilitate
a host of CIA covert operations, notably George Bush's efforts
to pump weapons to Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Edwin Wilson's "unauthorized"
arming of Libya.
Efforts to unravel all of BCCI's mysteries
will never succeed. Its directors had the good sense to feather
the nests of enough prominent US politicians, of both parties,
to ensure that any investigation will be half-hearted at best.
Not surprisingly, CIA-connected lobbyists
have worked to undermine any probe. Roughly $20 billion of BCCI's
assets remain unaccounted for.