Stuff JP Morgan bankers say: "There’s no hope. … The book continues to grow, more and more monstrous."

The London Whale report, digested.

The first major investigation into the London Whale scandal is underway - JP Morgan has been accused of "lying to investigators" as losses escalated last year. The losses came from a synthetic credit portfolio - a series of wagers on credit derivatives - which grew rapidly to $6bn. According to the report, the downward spiral was evident by March, but CEO Jamie Dimon pretented it wasn't, calling it a "tempest in a teapot" in early April.

The report is here, (warning, it's over 300 pages). It gathers together a juicy selection of emails, telephone conversations and instant messages, which amount to an interesting reminder that, whether discussing libor-rigging or a trading-loss cover-up, whether at Barclays or JP Morgan, banker communications are all cut from the same cloth.

It charts their last-minute attempts to forstall the multi-billion dollar loss - which get increasingly burlesque:

I can’t keep this going, we do a one-off at the end of the month to remain calm. I think what he’s [Mr. Martin-Artajo’s] expecting is a remarking at the end of the month, you can’t do it unless it’s month-end. … I don’t know where he wants to stop, but it’s getting idiotic. … [N]ow it’s worse than before … there’s nothing that can be done, absolutely nothing that can be done, there’s no hope. … The book continues to grow, more and more monstrous.

At one point, bank executives "yell at" OCC examiners and call them "stupid":

When asked if the CIO’s aggressive reaction to the 2010 examination of the CIO was unique, the OCC indicated that it was not. In fact, the OCC Examiner-In-Charge at JPMorgan Chase told the Subcommittee that it was “very common” for the bank to push back on examiner findings and recommendations. He recalled one instance in which bank executives even yelled at OCC examiners and called them “stupid.” In another example, in early 2012, according to the OCC, the most junior capital markets OCC examiner arrived at a meeting at the bank to discuss with his bank counterpart the results of a recent OCC stress examination. But instead of meeting with a single risk manager, he was, in his words, “ambushed” by all the heads of risk divisions from all the lines of business at the bank, including JPMorgan Chase’s Chief Risk Officer, John Hogan. Given the senior rank of the bank officials, the junior OCC examiner normally would not have led the meeting, but the bank officials pressed him to disclose the OCC’s preliminary conclusions. According to the OCC examiner, on every issue, the bank’s risk personnel criticized the OCC’s findings and recommendations, and the meeting assumed a loud and “combative” tone.

The report details an email sent by Bruno "the London Whale" Iksil to Javier Martin-Artajo on 30th January in 2012, worrying about increasing losses from the bet. He said that it had become "scary". A second email to Martin-Artajo came from Achilles Macris, equally worried. He says that "the book doesn’t behave as intended”.

Nothing was sorted out, and in the weeks that followed, things got worse. On March 22nd, traders were told to stop trading, able to mask the losses by presenting them in a favourable light. However, the differences between these favourable valuations of the derivatives and the actual midpoint prices had by this point "increased to 300" (that's £300m), and traders found they had become unsustainable.

By the time Jamie Dillon made his teapot remark, the report found that he was “already in possession of information about the . . . complex and sizeable portfolio, its sustained losses for three straight months, the exponential increase in those losses during March and the difficulty of exiting the . . . positions”.

The Senate panel said that “the written and verbal representations made by the bank were incomplete, contained numerous inaccuracies, and misinformed investors, regulators, and the public”. The investigation continues.

JP Morgan is being investigated. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

Photo: Getty
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Mass surveillance doesn’t work – it’s time to go back to the drawing board

Lacking an answer to the problem of radicalisation, the government has confused tactics with strategy.

This week saw the release of not one but two parliamentary reports on the government’s proposed new spying law, the first from the Intelligence and Security Committee and the second from the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill.

Both reports suggested the government hasn’t fully made the case for some elements of mass surveillance put forward in the Bill. But neither went so far as to ask the most important question in this debate – does mass surveillance actually work?

The proposed law, known as the Investigatory Powers Bill, looks set to enshrine almost all the government’s mass surveillance powers and capabilities in a single law for the first time. It has been touted by the Prime Minister as a vital weapon in the UK’s fight against Islamic State.

Most of the noise about mass surveillance since the Snowden revelations has predictably come from civil liberties groups. But the privacy and safeguards debate skips over the highly dubious assumption underpinning the Investigatory Powers Bill – that mass surveillance will stop terrorists.

In fact, mass surveillance is not only ineffective but downright counter-productive.

A 2009 report by the US government found that only 1.2 per cent of tips provided to the FBI by mass surveillance techniques made a significant contribution to counter-terrorism efforts. Another recent study by the New America Foundation found that National Security Agency mass data collection played a role in, at most, 1.8 per cent of terrorism cases examined. By contrast, traditional investigative methods initiated 60 per cent of investigations. Suddenly mass surveillance doesn’t seem so vital.

This is because the technology is far from perfect. As computer scientist Ray Corrigan has written, “Even if your magic terrorist-catching machine has a false positive rate of 1 in 1,000—and no security technology comes anywhere near this—every time you asked it for suspects in the UK it would flag 60,000 innocent people.”

Perversely, this lack of precision means mass surveillance can actually frustrate counter-terrorism efforts. Michael Adebolajo, who brutally murdered Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013, was so well known to the security services prior to the attack they had even tried to recruit him as an informant. Yet insufficient monitoring later on let him slip through the net. The same thing happened with the Hebdo killers. Mass surveillance means intelligence analysts are forced to spend their time fruitlessly sifting through endless reams of data rather than carrying out the targeted monitoring and detection that’s really needed.

Counter-radicalisation experts have meanwhile argued that mass surveillance may alienate Muslim communities, making them distrustful of the police and possibly even contributing to radicalisation. In 2014, Jonathan Russell from the counter-extremism group Quilliam wrote that the “introduction of a sweeping [mass surveillance] law…will be exploited by extremists to show that the government wants to spy on its own citizens [and] that all Muslims are suspected of being terrorists.” This will set alarm bells ringing for those who know the fight against terrorism will ultimately be won only by preventing radicalisation in the first place.

And therein lies the real problem with this Bill. It’s tactics, not strategy. If we stop for a second and think about what the problem is – namely that thousands of young Britons are at risk of radicalisation – we’d never prescribe mass surveillance as the answer. It would be nonsensical to propose something that risks making alienation worse.

The trouble is we don’t have a convincing answer to the actual problem. The government’s counter-radicalisation strategy is mired in controversy. So instead a different question is being posed. Not how do we stop people from signing up to join Islamic State, but how do we gather as much communications data as possible? GCHQ have an answer for that. It’s a classic case of confusing a tactic – and a highly unreliable one at that – with a strategy actually designed to tackle the root of the problem.

Never mind our privacy for a moment. For the sake of our security, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and think of something better.

 

Andrew Noakes is Senior Advocacy Officer at the Remote Control Project. He writes about covert and unconventional methods of warfare, counter-terrorism, and human rights.