Now It’s Blame-the-Terrorists For the Crash of ‘08

We’ve had the blame-the-borrowers campaign a la Rantin’ Rick Santelli. We’ve seen the blame-the-gubmint campaign a la Peter Wallison.

Now we have blame the… terrorists. Really! Hey, anything to take your eye off the real culprits: A financial system let loose by decades of deregulation.

The credulous report in the cult-owned, right-wing Washington Times today is being pushed, naturally, by Matt Drudge, so it can’t be long until Fox News weighs in. Here’s the Times’s misleading headline:

Financial terrorism suspected in 2008 economic crash

Pentagon study sees element

That creds up what is essentially a one-source story by making it seem like the Defense Department endorses this kookiness. It doesn’t.

What evidence does the paper offer up to back up the idea that financial terrorism may have caused or contributed to the crash? Not much and when we do get some of this “theoretical evidence,” it comes in the form of red flags for the reader. Yep, the naked short conspiracy is here:

Another economic warfare tool that was linked in the report to the 2008 crash is what is called “naked short-selling” of stock, defined as short-selling financial shares without borrowing them.

The report said that 30 percent to 70 percent of the decline in stock share values for two companies that were attacked, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, were results of failed trades from naked short-selling.

Coincidentally, Bear Stearns and Lehman made a bunch of bad loans and were insolvent. But naked shorting by the Iranian mullahs is what really drove them under, I suppose.

The Times also gives us over-the-top quotes from the author of the report:

“This is the equivalent of box cutters on an airplane,” Mr. Freeman said.

And the list of suspects the Times names sure is long:

Suspects include financial enemies in Middle Eastern states, Islamic terrorists, hostile members of the Chinese military, or government and organized crime groups in Russia, Venezuela or Iran.

Somehow I doubt that the Venezuelan mafia, say, pulled off the Crash of ‘08.

And we get stuff like this:

The report concluded that the evidence of an attack is strong enough that “financial terrorism may have cost the global economy as much as $50 trillion.”

Behold! the new theory of the financial crisis, which moves Wallison into second place in the race for Nuttiest Explanation of the Crash:

The first phase of the economic attack, the report said, was the escalation of oil prices by speculators from 2007 to mid-2008 that coincided with the housing finance crisis.

In the second phase, the stock market collapsed by what the report called a “bear raid” from unidentified sources on Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and other Wall Street firms.

“This produced a complete collapse in credit availability and almost started a global depression,” Mr. Freeman said.

The third phase is what Mr. Freeman states in the report was the main source of the economic system’s vulnerability. “We have taken on massive public debt as the government was the only party who could access capital markets in late 2008 and early 2009,” he said, placing the U.S. dollar’s global reserve currency status at grave risk.

“This is the ‘end game’ if the goal is to destroy America,” Mr. Freeman said, noting that in his view China’s military “has been advocating the potential for an economic attack on the U.S. for 12 years or longer as evidenced by the publication of the book Unrestricted Warfare in 1999.”

In my understanding, the first phase of the economic attack came from a massive housing bubble fueled by Wall Street financial “innovation” and an epidemic of predatory lending and overborrowing. As Dean Baker has said about five thousand times, what about that whole $8 trillion housing bubble thing? Occam’s Razor, people.

This doesn’t mean there’s not a legitimate story on the potential of financial terrorism. But this one ain’t it.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , ,