LIBOR rigging and a Few Good Men

This morning there was a fascinating article  in the Daily Telegraph from an “insider” about the deliberate and open way misinformation was carefully supplied as they went about manipulating the bank borrowing rate.

A first person account. I think that it is a first person account from an individual is important.

You can read it here

There are some phrases in that article that made me think of one of my favourite films a Few Good Men.

In that film everyone has a good argument for what they are doing, they have rationalised it. The General preserving the American way from the  Communist Cubans, the prosecution asserting martial authority over the junior marines who had accidentally murdered another and bringing them to book. The defenders arguing that they were obeying orders, but somehow not in the Nuremburg way. The murdered marine’s story of bullying and wanting to leave. It is a brilliantly scripted piece, demonstrating the incongruence of pretty much all parties, even when argued tightly.

I love that film and I think one of the quotes that is often missed and should be lifted high  is the exchange between the Tom Cruise character Galloway and his number 2  Lt Weinberg. Weinberg is disturbed by the case in a way that most of the others are not. Most of the other characters have their interest intellectually driven in some way. Later Galloway becomes engaged in a more emotional way about how the Marine’s are using a double standard to condemn people for doing what was asked of them. It is Galloway’s version of The Truth.

Weinberg’s version of the The Truth even as he defends them is more raw, less sophisticated, less cynical and clever and as such for me, more trustworthy.

Galloway: Why do you hate them so much?
Lt. Weinberg: They beat up on a weakling; that’s all they did. The rest is just smokefilled coffee-house crap. They tortured and tormented a weaker kid. They didn’t like him. So, they killed him. And why? Because he couldn’t run very fast.

Clearly what little we have seen of the unfolding scandal emerging here is not about life and death in such a basic way. But the structure of the group think behaviours are very similar.

The American Marines , as portrayed in the film, intent on building and defending one picture of how life is, what their purpose is and what needs to be done to defend it at all costs, in the name of honour. The General and his senior officers colluding and the hierarchical structure of the military meaning the marines will follow, because believing the words of honour, they trust that their officer’s are acting in their best interests. And therefore do not question.

The lines in the article that had that effect on me were these.

“What I was explaining was that the bank was manipulating Libor. Only I didn’t see it like that at the time.”

And more particularly:

”  “everyone knew” and “everyone was doing it”. There was no implication of illegality. After all, there were 20 to 30 people in the room – from management to economists, structuring teams to salespeople – and more on the teleconference dial-in from across the country.”

They were defending the bank, this was their rationalisation and as a rationalisation it had a logic to it.

“Looking back, I now feel ashamed by my naivety. Had I realised what was going on, I would have blown the whistle. But the openness alone suggested no collusion or secrecy.”

And in the  final paragraph there is a phrase  which has a direct parallel with the film

“to hide the true issues within the bank.”

The individual perspective is important here because it is as an individual this insider has looked back and made his own judgement using rationality, morality and I guess a whole bunch of different things to arrive at the final conclusion. It is as an individual he  (assuming it is a he)  has thought it through, rather than unconsciously taking the lens that the group are viewing things through..

The collective is a great thing when working well. Individualism is not a bad thing either both for the individual AND the collective.  Each person has an opinion to add to, not just to join in with.



The LT Weinberg actor is Kevin Pollack, easily overlooked in the company of Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Kevin Bacon. YET the script writers put for me, the pivotal  reality checking phrase, into HIS character’s mouth.


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