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Need to Know, May 28, 2010

In this episode of Need to Know, we investigate money laundering in U.S. banks and talk with Felix Salmon of Reuters the latest developments in financial reform.

And Alison Stewart sits down with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in her first primetime interview since Elena Kagan was proposed as a nominee.

Plus, a look at the conflict art of Steve Mumford and an essay on Memorial Day from Jon Meacham.

And, of course, Next Week’s News with Andy Borowitz.


  • jan

    As I listened to Mr. Meacham say his little piece about Memorial Day I could feel my blood pressure rise.

    A couple of thoughts. Memorial Day is the day when you pause and remember but move on to spend the day with the living because the living are here and they matter. The dead are gone and there’s not really anything you can do for them. Another thought, Mr. Meacham. You may be lucky enough to have enough wealth in your family to avoid any loved ones going to war unless they want to, but the rest of us and nephews with pregnant wives who can’t find another job to replace the one they were laid off from. The rest of us already had great uncles, grandfathers, and friends who served and are in the cemetery. The rest of us don’t have the luxury of forgetting that war has a human price tag attached. I didn’t appreciate the little sermonette at all.

  • Kareen

    Oh Jan..I didn’t feel the same way at all about Jon Meacham’s comments..In fact, I do think that we Americans do not really show our appreciation for our Militaries service for all of us! I can remember when we spent the weekend decorating the graves of those that served our country and watching parades at which we waved our flags and little boys saluted the Military people as they passed by. Our middle son is serving “in the sandbox” right now and we are proud and thankful for what he is doing for our country. Jon, your comments touched us and did not offend us at all.

  • David

    Your piece about Steve Mumford’s work was great. Thought provoking and touching.

  • Carol stewart

    Alison Stewart is great, her reporting on the criminal drug laundering to-date was remarkable. It was a stunning and in-depth report replete with facts on our banking regulations or lack of regulation by the authorities, especially the OCC to-date. It was commendable to know about the whistle blowers and the prosecutors attempts, in-spite of risk to themselves and families to confront powerful banking interests with criminal connections and perhaps even government influence. Thank you for a remarkable view into the criminal behavior of Banks to enable Drug traffic and terrorists to support violence.

  • Richard

    I’ll have to watch this episode on tape today. In their infinite wisdom, WPBT Channel 2 in Miami, FL aired the show during the wee hours at 2 AM, and I don’t see it listed at all for the next couple of weeks.
    I wonder if any other PBS stations are opting out. I think the show is actually fairly good now, so in
    a way this adds insult to injury with the recent cancellations of Bill Moyers, and NOW. Unbelievable.

  • Alison Stewart-Co Anchor NTK

    Hi Carol Stewart ( no relation but my mother’s name coincidentally)
    I am so glad you liked the money laundering story. I must give credit where credit is due. All the work done on that piece was by a producer named Catherine Upin. I cannot take an ounce of credit. I was fortunate enough to be able to voice it. Sometimes an anchor works closely on a piece (i.e. The War Artist piece and Sandra Day O’Connor) and sometimes we simply track it. Maybe I’m telling state secrets here, but I really think the people who work behind the scenes deserve much more attention than they usually get.
    Sincerely, Alison

  • Chris Kerr

    Bob Mazur’s book, “The Infiltrator,” is a must-read. He gives a compelling first-hand account of one of the biggest money-laundering investigations in history. His story also shows what unbelievable obstacles a courageous agent running a big case has to overcome–both from the Bad Guys and the Good Guys!

  • Frank Gonzalez

    Banks officials who conspire to launder drug money are guilty of murder and should be prosecuted. Send just one to prison for life and you will see the changes at the bank. My hat is off to Mr. Mazur for having the guts to put himself in harms way in order to stop these people, and to Mr. Woods for calling it as he saw it, my hat is off to both of you and thank you for your service. Make the bank officials visit the medical examiners office to see what drug to human beings. Profit is not an excuse for murder. Lastly, the reason why memorail day is viewed as a short vacation period is because our congress (98%) have never served decided to move our days of respect and rememberance to Mondays. As a veteran, a father of two Iraq war veterans, I and an American, my family and I choose to attend parades, luncheons and church services honoring our veterans.

  • Catherine

    And I must add to Alison Stewart’s comment above – not just me – credit also due to co-producer Bob Reiss.

  • Eric

    Get to the bookstore today and buy a copy on Robert Mazur’s book THE INFILTRATOR. Find out what the bankers are really like that are dirty. Great book and how we let Wachovia get away with such a light fine is beyond me. At least take away/fine the amount washed and a fine.! Read his book and get the facts. PBS you should dedicate a whole hour with this American Hero…..

  • Tom Lasich

    I would highly recommend Bob Mazur’s book, The Infiltrator, to anyone who is interesting in experiencing the real world of money laundering at the highest levels. The key factor in this book is that it is completely factual. It is the true story of an agent who risked his life every day to uncover corruption in banking and government while laundering 100s of millions of drug dollars. As an undercover agent posing as the world’s top money launderer, Bob jet setted around the word with the world’s largest drug dealers, corrupt bankers in London, Zurich and Paris and hit men from Colombia.

  • Gary

    An 18 year old gets stopped by the police for a minor traffic violation and sufficient crack is found in her (or his) car to warrant a felony conviction. Six months later she or he begins a five plus year term in prison and the beginning of a new life at the very bottom of society in the U.S. Upon release from prison, welcome to a new existence as an outcast, virtually relegated to the bottom of the employment heap, ineligible for a litany of federal and state assistance programs, and more than likely no longer able to vote.

    On the other hand, the corporate executives in a bank are caught enabling the laundering of drug money that finances the availability of drugs to tens of thousands of persons – including those not yet even old enough to drive. Not to worry – a relative pittance of a fine and a year to cover your rear (surely we can’t expect you to know how complicated financial regulations are!) and life for an elite goes on, permitted, in just the way our laws have been designed!

  • Steve Cook

    In reading Bob Mazur’s book The Infilitrator I was astounded at his ability to concentrate on his overall mission with all of the different players and situations swirling around him. He was able to capture facts, names, places, situations, and violations, even with the threat of violence or death
    always not far away. His dedication to his duty was outstanding, and he was successful because of his commiitment to the truth.

  • Daniel Balestriere

    The Infiltrator written by Bob Mazur is a fascinating look into the world of international money laundering. Mazur and his fellow undercover agents infiltrated the dangerous world of one of the most ruthless and vicious criminals of all time, Pablo Escobar. The book is an outstanding read that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Mazur and his fellow agents should have been awarded the US Treasury Department Medal of Valor for their unselfish efforts. They were out there all alone and never gave up. They are true heroes.

  • Tipping Point

    Ugh. Has everyone forgotten that the Glass Steagall Act of 1933 helped separate commercial banks from investment institutions which stopped this corrupt Wall Street “gambling” of banks with our hard earned deposit money? This was wisely drafted after the Great Depression. I’m 27 turning on 28 and even I know this. Some of these new rules just seem little more than political show as if claiming these “new” regulations were somehow finally challenging the high risk ventures of Wall Street when in fact such rules were already in place before it was repealed in 1999. Somehow our leaders thought it wise to repeal rules set in place by our wise predecessors who put them in place to prevent such catastrophes from happening again. All they have to do is put the Glass Steagall Act back in place. This fact is a “need to know”. The new “Vulcrum Rule” is political cover. I am kind of angry that very few has ever mentioned this as if there were no such rules set in place before to prevent this financial crash.

    As a side note: this program still does not go into enough depth. I tried and I gave it a few weeks before tuning in again, but it seems like at this point does a much better job than this program — thanks to those who pointed me to it. As a Moyers viewer, I miss the interesting topics and guests. This program seems to try hard to do investigative reporting, but is really missing the connection and depth of its stories to the people viewing it. For now, I am glad PBS still has Nightly Business Report, Washington Week, and Charlie Rose.

  • Judy

    How about the 187,000 contractors that served in Iraq?

    I’d like an up close and personal, down on the farm, interview with someone from that army of contractors.

    What are they feeling? Shouldn’t we be thanking them also?


    I saw your show on money laundering by big banks and I thought Martin Woods explained the subterfuge and egregious behaviour by Wachovia to be only the tip of the iceberg.Unless governments and I mean all governments not just the USA start enforcing legislation that is already in place,this behaviour will continue.

    It is a global issue and unless all the banks in all the G20 countries stop propriety trading and other sophisticated criminal activity within.It will be akin to taking an aspirin for a massive heart attack,it will perhaps stop it for now but it will recur again, unless the arteries of this financial disease are permantly eviscerated worldwide.Germany and the USA are the only two countries doing something other than lip service about it.Even squeaky Canada is not as clean as they propagate to be.In the meantime China sit and watches our undisciplined culture of greed eat our young!
    Great show!

  • Anna Spencer

    I watched with great interest the Money Laundering segment – I found the graphic on the white board very helpful in undersatnd the Gambling Casino concept of our banking industry worldwide. Felix Saloman also made understandabel what I have become very interested in. I agree that the Vulcer Rule when it passes will need regulaors with very large teeth!
    Thanks for a great show.

  • Dee

    The American people are clamoring for justice but our voices are still being ignored. Inept interviews such has that of a Reuters banking shill see to it that silence will remain golden for the privledged few. Politicians have rode the justifiable populist anger and we watch as the banking influence pruned the long needed structural reforms, hard capital requirements, compensation, break-up (resolution trust) and derrivative transparency and more. Financial services then had the chutzpah to criticize homeowners as irresponsible. Meecham alone has done much to damaged the very credibility that has warranted our PBS support…more mind numbing, finespun twaddle is not What We need To Know.

  • guillermo a. ramirez

    NTK so far, so good. Interview with Justice O’Connor a softball. Why can’t she answer the questions? Because she is so invested in a system that is rotten and that she did nothing to help improve while she was on the bench. Shame on the Justice Department for allowing banker perps to walk in exchange for a fee while small fry will be swimming for life inside a U.S.Penitentiary tank. A sad but necessary good work by the artist on those oil paintings. And as far as what we owe all those Americans that “gave the last measure of devotion”, we need to get up every morning and do something constructive for the republic to acknowledge, we will never be able to repay, such sacrifice. If we prefer freedom but show no civil courage to preserve it we will not enjoy it for long.

  • savetheusa

    Great program on the Drug money laundering from Mexico. This is what the NAFTA is really about! Time to get out of NAFTA.

  • Eugene C. Eggers

    This was one of the most excellent PBS TV program segments I’ve ever seen, and the investigative reporting about money laundering on-going scheme by U.S. and foreign banks was par none. Moreover, the discussion with Felix Salmon of Reuters concerning the latest developments in financial reform provided balance to the overall “Big Picture” concerning the situation.

    It doesn’t surprise me a bit that there is a long history of American and international big banks doing money laundering for the drug cartels and the terrorists amounting in the billions of dollars. Moreover, while lightly implied in the program segment, that the international and American banks launder billions via nameless accounts created by unknown entities, and that the banks purposely facilitate these money exchanges and transactions with a complete blind eye to it.

    While it is true that many other banks have been fined for money laundering, but the fines are usually small and inconsequential compared to the great profits that these banks continually make.

    I have done a bit of on-line investigating of my own and have come up with a short-list of banks that have received fines for money laundering that amounted to only light slaps on their wicked, naughty corporate wrists:

    Wachovia (as stated in this program segment)
    Bank of America Investment Services
    The Royal Bank of Scotland
    The Jyske Bank in Spain
    Jordan-based Arab Bank
    The former ABN AMRO Bank
    The Union Bank of California
    The American Express
    The Bank Of New York
    Bank of Ireland
    United Bank for Africa
    Israel’s Bank Leumi
    Riggs Bank

    There are many international banks, some noted in the list above, that have been fined for dealings with countries tied to terrorist activities. The short-list above does not reflect the vast number of banks that have so far (for unknown reasons) been left alone. One example on one bank that was caught in 2005 is when American Federal and state financial regulators levied $80 million in fines against ABN Amro Bank NV, a giant Dutch lender, for violating money-laundering laws and sanctions restricting dealings with Iran and Libya. But this fine was merely a slight financial loss and irritant to this bank compared to the prospect of continued big profits in money laundering.

    The watchdog federal agency in the United States that is supposed to have oversight over the banks’ dealings exert a minimal amount of effort to investigate these slimy, on-going financial dealings. The reason given on the program segment is that again this oversight federal agency are in bed with the banking industry. These and other corruptible, long-standing practices are part of the surreptitious and insidious Washington’s ‘wink-and-nod’ loose conspiratorial culture that John Q. Pubic is unaware of (or in denial of) and where such things in Washington go on as business as usual. Such corruption has been exposed mostly by independent investigative reporting and admirably presently in program presentations as this. In the past, many oversight federal entities such as the FDA, FAA, and currently in the news, the agency that regulates and has oversight of the oil industry, have been asleep in bed with Corporate America. One suggestion given by a person interviewed on the program segment is for those in the federal government who have oversight responsibilities be given quite substantial raises in salary as an incentive so they will be less tempted to get in bed with Corporate America and actually become the true watchdog and first-alert whistle-blower they are meant to be.

    Much of such oversight is the responsibility of Congress but many of their congressional membership are quietly in the pockets of Corporate America, having already been “paid” through campaign contributions, concealed perks, and hidden deals. As for the idea of increasing the pay of oversight entities in the federal government, that is in already written in the Wallstreet/Banking legislation that Congress is presently working on. Many other parts of this legislation are vital to changing the way credit cards operate to protect consumers, to make transparent the previously hidden Wallstreet dealings that brought our national economy to its knees, and to limit the ability of banks to create off-shoots of their banking enterprises that take huge risks with the investors’ (and tax-payers’) money. I do not know if there are strong anti-money-laundering provisions in this proposed legislation. Does anyone know?

    Oversight scandals pop up from time to time and are totally forgotten by the American public, but the current BP oil spill disaster will probably not be one of those easily forgotten. Corporate America (and our government) counts on the public’s very short-term memory and complacency concerning such controversial issues.

    The money laundering for the drug cartels directly and negatively affects our nation’s border-land security endeavor costing us billions of dollars and lives lost. The money laundering for the terrorists directly funds the insurgent terrorists fighting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It wasn’t the watchdog for the federal government that exposed all this, it was interestingly a foreign outsider – a British journalist who was the whistle-blower on all this elusive money laundering.

    What does our federal government do to those banks that get caught? They are fined for a very few hundreds of millions of dollars, laugh to themselves about the fines they pay, and continue to do business as usual raking in billions of dollars profit from the money laundering. The British journalist whistle-blower, who obviously became mentally and emotionally worn down doing this exposé work and was insidiously eventually forced out of his job by the power-that-be, warn that predictably banks will continue as they’ve always done in the past.

    Because of their insatiable financial greed, it’s too tempting for them not to do this kind of dirty business, and what’s more, they have no moral or ethical conscience as to how their evil dealings are hurting our country and taking lives.

    The British journalist pragmatically further asserted that what would help stop this wholesale money laundering is to earnestly convict and put the nefarious corporate heads of these banks in prison with lengthy sentences. Come on – what chance is there for that to actually occur? I am an evolved skeptic with aging – so don’t hold your breath for that kind of justice to ever happen within our present political milieu within the United States.

    Lastly, your valiant and brave public service programming needs to be highly commended and publicly appreciated for exposing the hideous extent of this inherent evil and flourishing ethical turpitude within our banking system. Thank you from this American citizen for providing this very necessary public service, and for further validating my longtime nagging suspicions. Now I know that these past feelings were not just simply driven by unexplained paranoia – but by intuition.

  • JanisL

    Well, we all know about Riggs Bank, no shock there. Missed the show, will have to catch on Encore. I believe that tons of illicit money laundering goes on in Florida, along with all the rest of the corruption. The level of mortgage fraud, ignored by the regulators in Tallahassee–directly tied to the enormous amount of foreclosures here! The FDOT, Illicit Chinese contributions laundered thru it by the GOP/Bushes/RPOF, the murder in Valdosta GA of an investigator who tripped on this explosive Bush scandal prior to the election it would have dramatically affected! Ray Lemme was his name. The corruption is thick as Florida cane sugar. Ordinary Floridians are drowning in it. Our home values have dropped like a rock (45%++), as Charlie might say! Thanks a whole, Jeb. Your mafia tactics did a job on our state. Nobody in the press ever talks about that, do they? Maybe PBS will hone in and blow the lid off this sub-tropical cesspool. Sure hope so.

  • Naomi

    The audio of Martin Wood’s session, ‘Whistleblowing Damaged Our Careers: The Incredible Stories of Employees Who Blew The Whistle on Allen Stanford and Wachovia Bank’, that was recorded during the OffshoreAlert Conference can be downloaded at:

    Additional Whistleblower topics from the OffshoreAlert Conference include:

    Interview with a Whistleblower: The Rudolf Elmer story ( and How To Legally Profit from The Crimes of Others: Emerging Areas for Whistleblowers (see