Reviewed by Carolyn A. Betts, Esq., General Counsel, Solari, Inc.
Tower of Basel: The Shadowy History of the Secret Bank that Runs the World (PublicAffairs, 2013), although almost ten years old, appears to be the definitive review of the history of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the shadowy Switzerland-domiciled international institution created ostensibly for the purpose of administering World War I reparations payments by Germany and run by what Adam Lebor refers to as unelected “technocrats.” We might not be even that generous in our assessment of the players. Over the years, we have heard almost nothing of BIS from the old media, even though this central bank of central banks appears to have played—and is positioned to play in the future—a major role in the national and international financial lives of the rest of us.
BIS was founded in 1930, the brainchild of Hjalmar Schacht (then the President of Germany’s Reichsbank) and Montagu Norman (then the Director of the UK central bank). The two men became such good pals, notwithstanding World War II during which their countries were supposed to be at war, that Schacht’s grandchild was named after Norman, and Norman attended the child’s christening in Germany in January 1939—two months after Kristallnacht. Together with other officials at BIS, the two conspired in the name of “neutrality” to support the maintenance and creation of trade and other corporate money-making opportunities even though the corporations’ countries were at war. In fact, again in the name of “neutrality,” when Germany occupied Czechoslovakia, the BIS, at the direction of the Reichsbank, transferred the gold deposits of the central bank of Czechoslovakia to the BIS account of the German central bank! And if we in the U.S. thought Switzerland was a neutral county during the war, there is much in the book to cast doubt on our preconceived notions based on revisionist history.
Interestingly, the U.S. Federal Reserve initially declined to become a direct member of BIS, not doing so until 1994 when the stock held by its placeholder representative consortium of U.S. banks (J.P. Morgan, First National Bank of Chicago, and First National Bank of New York) and certain other non-bank shareholders were forcibly (by action of the BIS board) bought out.1 In a demonstration of BIS’s ability to avoid oversight by the courts of its sovereign member countries, challenges to the buy-out terms of the ousted members were decided in an international arbitration tribunal rather than by courts in the home countries of the complainants. Another example was evident in 1991 when Argentina defaulted on $81 billion in sovereign debt; creditors who were not satisfied with the 35-cents-on-the-dollar refinancing offered by the Argentine government sought satisfaction in various courts (including in the U.S.),2 but Argentine central bank reserves held in accounts at the BIS were proved impenetrable by courts of competent jurisdiction (and ultimately the Swiss Federal Tribunal, which upheld the BIS immunities).
Originally governed by the central banks of 13 mostly European nations (U.S. and Japanese representative banks being the exception), BIS’s membership has expanded over the years to include the central banks (now numbering 63) of most countries of any size—including Russia, South Korea, China, India, and Saudi Arabia—as well as central banks of smaller and less powerful nations (e.g., the Baltic and Eastern European countries and United Arab Emirates). BIS maintains a website but provides very little information to the public about its operations other than annual, and generally uninformative, financial reports. According to the most recent (2022) BIS Annual Economic Report, BIS held in the form of special drawing rights (SDRs, each worth at that time approximately $.57US) 292.2 billion in currency deposits and 18.9 billion in gold; its net profit was 341 million.
The founding documents of the BIS confer broad immunities under Swiss law for BIS staff, central bank governors traveling to BIS meetings, and directors. Catherine has suggested that some or all BIS immunities are likely being appliedto systemically important banks, financial institutions (i.e., insurance companies), and payment systems as defined by BIS. BIS employees are exempt from Swiss taxes on their generous incomes, and BIS itself is exempt from Swiss taxes. Senior managers of the BIS, while carrying out their duties in Switzerland, cannot be searched. The BIS also has the right to communicate in code and to send and receive correspondence in bags having the same protections as for diplomats. Swiss authorities need permission from BIS managers to enter the BIS building, and the BIS building is largely so self-sufficient (with, for example, high-tech sprinkler systems and a bomb shelter) that it does not need local municipal policing or similar services. BIS assets are not subject to civil claims under Swiss law and cannot be seized. No minutes are taken of regular meetings, with no formal records kept of deliberations and decisions, and agendas are not released in any form.
There are several reasons why we believe that revisiting Tower of Basel is both timely and a good use of our time. First, at Solari we have written and conducted interviews in both the recent and distant past about threats to national sovereignty in the form of existing and proposed international trade agreements that cede sovereign American legal provisions and decisions at the federal, state, and local levels to international courts on matters involving international trade (see, for example, “Trade Agreements Part Two” and “The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and Trade Promotion Authority”), missing money from the U.S. Treasury, and adoption in 2018 of FASAB Standard 56, which removes transparency from U.S. government financial statements and permits fudging of the U.S. government books.
Also on point, John Titus has educated us through Solari Report Money & Markets commentaries, his BestEvidence offerings (including on Substack), his video titled All the Plenary’s Men, and Solari’s 2021 Annual Wrap Up dedicated to “Sovereignty” about the dual role played by U.S. Treasury and Fed officials and their roles as international central banking appointees through the BIS’s Financial Stability Board (FSB). The wearing of two hats by the likes of Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke resulted in the Department of Justice (DOJ) failing to seek criminal sanctions against HSBC, an institution designated by U.S. Treasury regulations as a “systemically important financial institution” (SIFI), for admitted money-laundering. (SIFI is a term coined by the FSB as part of the Basel Accords’ capital requirements, which have been enacted into law by many, if not all, BIS members as regulatory requirements for their banks.)
The story goes that DOJ had entered into a settlement agreement with HSBC for $1.92 billion and had planned to criminally indict HSBC and its high-level managers. The deal ultimately cut by Eric Holder (then Attorney General and former partner at Covington & Burling, the DC law firm that represented HSBC) and Tim Geithner (then Secretary of Treasury and also a former Covington & Burling partner) not to indict HSBC or any individual for criminal wrongdoing appears to have been reached at the behest of George Osborne, then UK Treasury Chancellor, who was alerted in advance to DOJ’s plans to indict HSBC by the Financial Stability Authority (FSA) of the UK. The UK’s FSA had been copied on U.S. officials’ correspondence regarding DOJ’s plans to indict, presumably under the veil of Financial Stability Board membership—Osborne served with both Bernanke and Geithner on the FSB. BIS “hosts” the FSB, and the reason given by Osborne as to why DOJ should not indict HSBC was that indictment of a SIFI could lead to “contagion” and pose “very serious implications for financial and economic stability, particularly in Europe and Asia.” This incident illustrates the relevance of the BIS in uniquely American legal enforcement matters.
More recently, we have linked to and discussed proposals at the World Health Organization (WHO)—another shadowy organization subject to the same types of sovereign immunity waivers of member countries—that WHO assume oversight of international bioweapons research. We told listeners of CHD.TV’s Financial Rebellion, Episode 36, about the proposals to this effect by Jeffrey Sachs,3 as chair of the COVID-19 Commission of the Lancet, a leading medical journal. And, importantly for our current concerns, we have provided links to damning statements made in October 2020 by Augustín Carstens—BIS General Manager, member of the BIS-hosted FSB, and alum of the University of Chicago economics department (small world, huh?)—telling us how great it would be if proposed central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) were put into effect, because then central bankers would be able to track our personal financial transactions (see second link). In his remarks, part of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) panel discussion titled “Cross-Border Payments—A Vision for the Future,”4 Mr. Carstens describes the problem with cash that would be solved if CBDCs were to replace cash and other existing bank payment systems: In the case of cash, he says, “we” (the unelected international central bankers) “don’t know who is using a $100 bill today” or “a 1,000 peso bill today.” He goes on to explain:
The key difference with the CDBC is that [the] Central Bank will have absolute control on the rules and regulations that will determine the use of that expression of Central Bank liability. And also, we [presumably, the BIS or FSB] will have the technology to enforce that. Those two issues are extremely important and that makes a huge difference with respect to what cash is.
Carstens is not a native English speaker, but his meaning is perfectly clear. At a different event, prominent central bank expert, economist, and author of Princes of the Yen Richard Werner revealed (see first link) that a European central banker had seen a CBDC; he held his index finger and thumb an inch or so apart and said, “It’s about this large and would be implanted under your skin….” Let us be clear: it is—or may be—the BIS that would be the administrator and operator of the proposed CBDC system and any social credit component thereof.
In the introduction to the Solari Report’s 1st Quarter 2022 Wrap Up, titled “Does the BIS Owe Us $21 Trillion (Or Owe You $65,000)?” Catherine suggests that the immunities from prosecution enjoyed by BIS under its Swiss founding documents may reach beyond BIS and its employees to systemically important banks, financial institutions, and payment systems as defined by BIS. It therefore behooves us to revisit the definitive book on the BIS to better understand how this mother of all boys’ clubs has operated from its founding through the book’s publication in 2013. We would love to see an update.
The title Tower of Basel is apt in describing the BIS, with reference to both its imposing home in a 1970s-era skyscraper located in Basel, Switzerland and the Biblical story, The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9), according to which the world’s different languages and the inability of peoples of different nations to understand one another originated in Yahweh’s wrath that humans were blaspheming Him by building a tower to avoid a second flood. Perhaps author Adam Lebor is suggesting that the existence of the BIS itself blasphemes the God-created individual and national sovereignty of the peoples of the nation-states allegedly represented by their respective central banks at BIS (and the various committees and boards hosted by the BIS, including, notably, the FSB and, of more recent vintage, the BIS Innovation Hub).
Lebor’s sources are rich. He includes many quotes from key BIS players and their associates (including, for example, the ever-spooky spymaster, Allen Dulles) found in speeches, newspaper articles, and many relatively obscure materials, presenting them without overt but perhaps justifiable irony.
The litany of issues dealt with over the period of years spanning from the 1930s through 2013 is expansive and telling of the power held in the hands of unelected “technocrats,” particularly during the period when the central bank members’ countries were at war. One of the most important observations of the book appears when Lebor describes a key historical event in the development of this power, the establishment of the European Monetary Cooperation Fund (a short-term credit arrangement for EU members) and the BIS role as agent for the clearing and settlement system for the European currency:
But the most dramatic and far-reaching peaceful re-ordering of Europe in modern times—the steady and relentless erosion of national sovereignty—was implemented by sleight of hand. The key, for both the European project and the ever-broader mandate of the BIS, was to present decisions, policies and actions as ‘technical’ and ‘apolitical,’ and of no concern to the average informed citizen. In fact, the opposite was true. There could hardly be anything more political than the handing over of national powers to unelected supranational bodies, while the necessary financial mechanisms were arranged and managed by a secretive and completely unaccountable bank in Basel…. By the late 1980s this process was effectively unstoppable.
An example of a purportedly “apolitical” action by the BIS at the beginning of World War II after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Hitler was the decision in 1939 to transfer, at the behest of the Reichsbank (through an obviously coerced order by directors of the National Bank of Czechoslovakia made under threat of death), the 23.1 metric tons of UK gold reserves held in the name of the BIS for the account of the National Bank of Czechoslovakia to the BIS account of Reichsbank, also held at the Bank of England.
The adoption of the euro is another example of behind-the-scenes shenanigans implicating the BIS. In the summer of 1988, European central bank governors were asked to engage in discussions in their personal capacities (according to Lebor, in order not to be seen as representing their central banks) on the Committee for the Study of Economic and Monetary Union, known as the “Delors Committee,” which was formed to work out the technical aspects of the single currency. The committee met in Basel, home of the BIS and its dedicated staff, not at the site of the European Commission (Brussels), at the European Parliament (Strasbourg), or in Frankfurt. Conveniently, some important members of the Delors Committee also served as governors of the BIS and attended the weekly governors’ meetings in Basel.
The final committee product, the Delors Report, had unmistakeable imprints of the BIS. It called for a single European currency and unified monetary policy free from national government control, with the creation of a new institution to decide and coordinate member states’ monetary policy, the European System of Central Banks, which comprises the European Central Bank (ECB) and the national central banks of European Union member states. The ECB’s primary task would be to ensure price stability, free from political pressures (and oversight by elected officials as well as considerations of the welfare of the common people5), just as the mission of the BIS was to safeguard the price stability of international financial markets, thus illustrating what Lebor refers to as the “technocrats’ belief” that “the wise guidance of a managerial and financial elite [was] all that was needed for Europe to prosper and to prevent its fractious ungrateful peoples from reverting to their natural warlike state.”
This foreshadows the subsequent HSBC “hat changing” by the U.S. Treasury Secretary in his role as BIS representative in discussions with the head of the UK central bank.
The history of the BIS as described in this thoroughly researched and heavily footnoted definitive book on the central bank of central banks largely involves European financial matters and intrigue; the evolution of the BIS from a war sanctions disbursing agency to an international powerhouse; the extent of U.S. interests in international affairs; BIS-sponsored committee work in the areas of and the establishment of bank reserve limits policies (thus, the “Basel Accords”—who of us who are not monetary policy scholars or economists knew that the origination of U.S. and international banking reserve policies originated in the decisions of “technocrats” at the BIS?6); and other key international financial matters. Nevertheless, this book is a must-read for those interested in the political and financial risks posed by our entry into international trade agreements and treaties and governance by international institutional rules and decisions that may or may not be in acccordance with the U.S. Constitution and other duly-adopted U.S. laws, regulations, and court decisions. One might think that the current role of the BIS in establishing and supporting a system of international financial secrecy and control is an instance of unintended consequences7 of an inspired legal invention created by two English and German politicians who merely wanted to find a way to assure that a neutral agent could administer war reparations without political interference. In creating an institution free from the pesky problems posed by the elected officials of sovereign governments, however, the central bankers created a Frankenstein that now needs to be dismantled.