Neoconservative Bloggers Continue Offensive Against HSBC’s Sanctions Busting… Ad

Blogger Alana Goodman, writing for Commentary‘s Contentions blog, and Jennifer Rubin, blogging for The Washington Post, are continuing their offensive against HSBC for daring to incorporate a statistic about women filmmakers in Iran into a recent advertisement.

Both Rubin and Goodman reported that HSBC CEO Niall Booker met with Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for economic energy and business affairs, on Monday.

Neither of the bloggers had any great insight about the closed door meeting—which could have touched on any number of topics—but that didn’t stop them from citing anonymous sources and continuing to make unsubstantiated accusations about the bank.

Goodman wrote on Thursday:

The bank’s controversial advertisement was discussed at a private meeting between HSBC CEO Niall Booker and Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for economic energy and business affairs, at the State Department on Monday, a source familiar with the conversation told me.

It seems unlikely that the State Department was concerned about HSBC’s rather innocuous ad that called attention to the high number of women in the Iranian film industry, but Goodman nonetheless raised the same regulatory order cited by Rubin in her initial post:

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin reported on Dec. 26 that the bank has recently “drawn the attention of various regulators” and is currently “being probed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” Regulators at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago also reportedly “found that the bank’s compliance program was ineffective and created ’significant potential’ for money laundering and terrorist financing. This opened HSBC to the possibility that it was conducting transactions on behalf of sanctioned entities.”

While making these accusations, neither Rubin nor Goodman have proven the existence of any business transactions with “sanctioned entities” or, indeed, given any concrete description (innuendo aside) of any business HSBC conducts in Iran.

On Friday, Rubin was quick to follow up with her own source:

… [A] senior administration official only authorized to speak on background told me that “we were previously told by HSBC that they were out [of Iran] entirely, but recent statements suggest they are still in the process of unwinding their business in Iran. We are seeking to clarify exactly where things stand.”

But even Rubin is willing to admit that all of her tough talk about sanctions—and even tougher talk towards HSBC for calling attention to Iran’s female filmmakers—is really just a stepping stone to “stronger measures.”

She concludes:

It is precisely this difficulty [in enforcing sanctions] — and the Iranian regime’s determination to plow ahead with its nuclear program despite sanctions — that has convinced skeptics of sanctions that stronger measures are needed to disrupt the Iranians’ nuclear plans.

Her conclusion is noteworthy in two ways.

First, it’s far from clear that HSBC has violated sanctions in any way, shape, or form. All the bank is publicly known to have done is to publish an advertisement–which was later withdrawn–calling attention to the accomplishments of female filmmakers in Iran.  From this, and a heaping dose of speculation, Rubin concludes that HSBC is an example of a regime-enabler and the epitome of the problems with sanctions enforcement? Some serious logical leaps are required to come to that conclusion.

Second, Rubin admits that none of this really matters for “skeptics of sanctions,” such as herself. She has already convinced herself that sanctions and diplomatic outreach are wastes of time and effort. HSBC might not have violated sanctions but, for Iran-hawks, any occasion to call sanctions a failure is an opportunity to inch the U.S. towards “stronger measures.”

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. HSBC made a fatal mistake withdrawing the ad.

    Neocons are nothing if not relenless. Their MO is not to take prisoners, but to make an example. If HSBC was spending a few millions on PR to give itself a good name, a concerted effort by neocons is aimed at not only laying waste to HSBC’s PR objectives, but is hoped to set an example for any international corporation, bank or otherwise, that neocons must be reconed with in all their corporate decisions.

    My advice: Don’t run away from a barking dog. You’ll suffer less damage if you stand your ground.

  2. Doesn’t Jennifer Rubin have a ‘conflict of interest’ by virtue of having worked in Hollywood for filmmakers like DreamWorks? How can she possibly be objective about the film industry in Iran? Naturally she would be defensive about the dearth of female directors in Hollywood as compared to Tehran.

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