Commentary Magazine


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Osama bin Laden’s Schwab Account?

Not long before September 11, 2001, someone placed large bets on Wall Street—buying “put” contracts—on the possibility that the shares of airline stocks would decline. After the attacks, the shares did fall sharply and a great deal of speculation ensued that the trades were placed by parties who had advance knowledge of the attack.

This theorizing was knocked down by the 9/11 Commission, which noted in a footnote in its report that there was an entirely innocuous explanation for the trading. Alexander Rose of National Review did an even more thorough job of explaining the irregular-appearing transactions and knocking down the rumors.

The same story has now resurfaced interestingly again with rumors circulating that a number of recent and odd Wall Street bets suggest that a September 11 reprise is on its way. Details, and another persuasive knock-down of the rumors, can be found on TheStreet.com.

But let’s assume for a moment that Osama bin Laden, logging on to a laptop in his cave, decided to make his portfolio grow via terrorism. Would he risk operational security by placing the trades or having a proxy place the trades?

That always seemed unlikely, and is especially unlikely now because the CIA and the Treasury Department are able to monitor all sorts of transactions through SWIFT, the European financial clearinghouse. The New York Times compromised the program when it tipped off bin Laden, and the whole world, to the existence of the highly classified monitoring program in June 2006.