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Why not let AML bloggers meet with Treasury?

September 13, 2010

The U.S. Treasury Department has been hosting occasional gatherings of economic bloggers.  Steve Waldman at Interfluidity offers this:

Last Monday, I had the privilege to meet up with a bunch of bloggers and Treasury officials for what might be described as a “rap session”. The meeting was less formal than a previous meeting. There were no presentations, and no obvious agenda. Refugees from the blogosphere included Tyler Cowen, Phil Davis, John Lounsbury, Mike Konczal, Yves Smith, Alex Tabarrok, and myself. Our hosts at Treasury were Lewis Alexander, Michael Barr, Timothy Geithner, Matthew Kabaker, Mary John Miller, and Jake Siewart. You will find better write-ups of the affair elsewhere [Konczal, Lounsbury (also here), Smith, Tabarrok]. Treasury held another meeting, with a different set of bloggers, on Wednesday.

It is bizarro world for me to go to these things. First, let me confess right from the start, I had a great time. I pose as an outsider and a crank. But when summoned to the court, this jester puts on his bells. I am very, very angry at Treasury, and the administration it serves. But put me at a table with smart, articulate people who are willing to argue but who are otherwise pleasant towards me, and I will like them. One or two of the “senior Treasury officials” had the grace to be a bit creepy in their demeanor. But, cruelly, the rest were lively, thoughtful, and willing to engage as though we were equals. Occasionally, under attack, they expressed hints of frustration in their body language — the indignation of hardworking people unjustly accused. But they kept on in good spirits until their time was up. I like these people, and that renders me untrustworthy. Abstractly, I think some of them should be replaced and perhaps disgraced. But having chatted so cordially, I’m far less likely to take up pitchforks against them. Drawn to the Secretary’s conference room by curiosity, vanity, ambition, and conceit, I’ve been neutered a bit. There’s an irony to that, because some of the people I met with may have been neutered, in precisely the same way and to disastrous effect, by their own meetings and mentorings with the Robert Rubins and Jamie Dimons of the world.

Reading this, it would be positive if the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI), a major division of the Treasury Department, hosted a similar affair for anti-money laundering and CFT bloggers.  Geithner wouldn’t even have to attend.  It could be hosted by Stuart Levey.  Send folks like Rachel Ehrenfeld from the American Center for Democracy (whose work also appears on the Huffington Post and Terror Finance Blog), Steven Emerson from Family Security Matters, Matthew Levitt or Victor Comras from Counterterrorism Blog, and our friends at Shariah Finance Watch.  Some of them may end up, like Mr. Waldman, slightly and temporarily “neutered,” but they can take it.  TFI has to open itself up to a little give & take.

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