Extradition for thee but not for me

CIA agent Robert Lady, convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to 7 1/2 to 9 years in prison in Italy, has been arrested in Panama under an international arrest warrant. For some reason, though, the Panamanians have not held him, but have allowed him to board a plane bound for the US.

He probably think he has cleverly eluded justice. The joke is on him, though, because as we all know, the US is now a passionate advocate of international cooperation in arresting international fugitives, and of the rigorous enforcement of extradition treaties. So we can be sure that Mr Bob (as the Italian press has apparently taken to calling him) will be on his way back to Italy in handcuffs soon. Unless… But it can’t be that kidnapping (and abetting torture) is seen as a less weighty crime than publishing embarrassing political secrets. Can it?

Blackmailing Uncle Sam

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist responsible for the NSA disclosures, may be going a bit too far into spy noir territory. In a recent interview he announced that

Snowden has enough information to cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had. The U.S. government should be on its knees every day begging that nothing happen to Snowden, because if something does happen to him, all the information will be revealed and it could be its worst nightmare.

I am not making moral judgements. I find this rhetoric understandable, though clearly, whatever Snowden’s motives — and no one in politics has unmixed motives, nor should they be expected to have — by placing this dangerous information in the hands of persons unknown with some kind of dead-man’s trigger, he’s clearly increased the likelihood of it being released accidentally, which is quite a responsibility to take upon oneself.

But I’m thinking about Greenwald’s position. So far, despite the wish of some grandstanding congressmen to criminalise his role, Greenwald has clearly been a journalist. The Obama administration seems eager to draw some kind of line between “real journalists” and everyone else to prevent his administration’s witchhunting from completely gutting press freedom, so they might have played along. But they seem eager to prosecute national security leaks to the extent that they can find a bright line separating a given case from the bulk of journalism. Greenwald has given it to them, and I would be surprised if there were not a secret grand jury preparing charges against him for attempting to pervert the course of justice, or whatever the US federal term is for that.

However he meant it, Greenwald’s announcement sounds an awful lot like the language of blackmail, and that’s surely plenty of a hook for them to hang him on. This moves him from being a reporter to being a participant or, as I’m sure they’ll phrase it in the indictment, a co-conspirator. Blackmailing the feds is a pretty heavy game to play.

[Update 7/15: Greenwald has commented on his remarks, and it definitely looks as though Reuters has gone out of its way to frame a defence of Snowden’s motivations — he has held on to a lot of information that could be of great value to enemies of the US which he has not divulged, though he could reap significant rewards for it — in the theatrical argot of a mobster’s shakedown. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s not hard to imagine creative prosecutors twisting this story into a noose for an uncomfortable journalist; and that Snowden is playing a very dangerous game — just to make one obvious point, not everyone who might be in a position to harm him is opposed to his info bomb being detonated. Beginning with his current hosts…)
Continue reading “Blackmailing Uncle Sam”

Where the money is…

Mathematical finance as an accessory to crime

Not long after I finished my PhD in probability theory, a significant fraction of the field was devoured by the financial mathematics moloch. Particularly in Europe, probability theory positions disappeared, to be replaced by openings in financial mathematics, which either went unfilled or cycled among a very few senior researchers and a few quick-change opportunists (and, gradually, their fledgeling academic progeny).

Everyone felt they had to get in on the action, and of course there was a certain amount of positive feedback. When many jobs chase few graduates, it generates huge demand among students for training in such a demonstrably burgeoning field. Obviously, the academic feedback was limited by the fact that most of the eager young ‘uns were seeking employment in banks, not in academia — but the banks were hiring as well. Anyway, just about 10 years ago, a Dutch colleague asked me if I might be interested in joining his own institute’s planned financial mathematics group, for which they were proposing to create TEN new positions. My reply was that finance did not interest me as a topic of research, but I added that there was something unseemly — bordering on unethical — in mathematicians’ headlong chase after banking lucre. The current generation of mathematicians is the trustee of a vast and powerful system of analysis, whose creators were supported, honoured, and financed by public institutions. What is it but a crime, when we abscond with the fruits of this scholarship, and sell it off (cheaply) to banks, who will use it to extract billions of dollars from financial markets? Continue reading “Where the money is…”