MI6 | Artwork used for Money Laundering

Credit Default Swaps killed the Moody 10 years ago…how will the FSB and CIA fare in Round II?

The names of the instruments might change, and the names of the participants might change, but history shows us, the outcome is normally the same.  The outcome for the many is nearly always eventually determined by the will of the few.  The question is.  Who are the few?

Now what new instrument do we know of that is not on a regulated exchange and has no reporting requirements just like CDS's in 2008.  Hmm...let's think for a Bit.  Here are some of our predictions.

Thought recoginition and mapping research began a long time ago. However, recent developments connecting Neuroscience with technology, will literally change how we think in the not too distant future.

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Artwork for Money Laundering

 

In the current climate of economic uncertainty, the investment focus is increasingly shifting towards alternative investments, which allow to diversify the investment portfolio and spread the risk incurred over various types of investments. Alongside traditional asset classes such as bonds, equity securities, real estate, and gold, new types of investments have emerged over the last decades. Accordingly, more and more investors, investment funds, family offices, or high-net-worth individuals decided to invest in more exotic products such as debt investment, venture capital, wine, cars, watches and other luxury goods, or artworks. After the 2008 crisis, most of investors indeed tried to reallocate their resources in safe investments, among which art was perceived as the newcomer.

Until recently, the fine art market fascinated the general public. However, the barriers to entry were high and access to art was reserved to the most upper class. However, through various phenomena such as crisis, globalization, new forms of investment pooling, and access to information, a much larger community has started to invest in art and collectible assets. Fine art markets have been in continuous evolution, expanding to new countries and new customers. This increase of customers can be explained by the increase of ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWI), which are expected to rise 43 percent to 275,740 by 2026, but also by the arrival of new market entrants which is facilitated through new ways of less restrictive investment (e.g. crowdfunding).

 

Let’s have a look at this (not so) “exotic” (anymore) investment, which remains however a very particular asset that continues to inspire passion, and its characteristics.

 

Art as a heterogeneous and physical product. Artworks are unique. Therefore, any damage to an artwork could have a much bigger impact than for other products. The physical and movable nature of such assets also triggers specific risks and costs, as the artworks need to be physically transported from one owner to another, from an exposition to the restoration room, etc. For each transaction, the transport and insurance of the artworks need to be considered carefully, representing costs that can be much higher than for other goods because of their unique feature.

 

In addition, artworks are exposed to incorrect attribution, forgery, fraud and theft. Protecting these assets should therefore be a priority. Thankfully, artworks can be insured against most (if not all) of the above-mentioned risks.

Art is illiquid. Art is an illiquid good. It is sold on a segmented market and does not pay dividends or interests. The selling of other types of assets such as gold, oil, or publicly traded stocks is indeed much easier as it is facilitated by the nature of the asset or the market on which the asset is exchanged.

 

Artworks can be very difficult to sell. Art business is affected or at the mercy of erratic public taste and short-lived trends.

 

Art is volatile. The volatility of artwork is a common perception. Indeed, the price of an artwork can fluctuate over time. The volatility of an artwork is influenced by the rate of the artist, the latter being volatile as well, the number of similar artworks at the same time, marketing expenses linked to the artwork sold, trends, etc. Depending on the art category, volatility could however remain within certain limits. As an example, private banks and asset-based lenders accept certain artworks as collateral for loans, which show that financial institutions are ready to give a minimum value to artwork that should not be undermined.

 

Art is difficult to value. Valuation is one of the most critical points when offering investment products in artworks. In finance, the price of a financial asset is determined by the market, an index or some specific factors. However, there is currently no standardized art valuation methodology.

 

Art is opaque. Art markets have neither self-regulated nor public statutory authority supervised exchange of artworks, which leaves the art market unregulated. No centralized system exists to gather the artwork transactions, and the tracking of data in relation to purchase and sale is much more complex than for regulated investments. However, some jurisdictions have imposed anti-money laundering requirements on art dealers in order to preserve the market from abuse, which allows to gather some data in relation to artwork and its exchange in the art market. Moreover, a group of art market businesses and specialists has formed the Responsible Art Market Initiative (RAM), the first of its kind. RAM seeks to provide art stakeholders with guidelines that aim to raise awareness of a growing number of operational and reputational risks faced by the art industry. Art offers unique values. Art assets offer values that no other investments offer. Among art investors, artworks can sometimes be seen as an investment product that could raise substantial economic benefits. However, in addition to a potential increase in value, artworks can enhance other needs and desires for the investor among which we can count the satisfaction of the investor’s motivations, the aesthetic value of artwork, the passion for collecting, the representation of a social status, a certain prestige, or social responsibility by financing/funding art (e.g. promoting young artists, promoting culture).

 

The knowledge of the general public about artworks and its characteristics have grown among the years. Economics professors at the University of Luxembourg notably observed a low but often slightly positive correlation of art with the broad financial markets, whereas art has a negative downside Beta. Investing in art could serve as a useful function in a diversified portfolio, by hedging against financial market risk. However, investment products offering an exposure to the art market are still very limited.

 

Art can nonetheless represent a significant opportunity in a holistic wealth management approach. Wealth allocated to art assets is increasing and services around wealth protection, monetization, estate planning, and philanthropy are in demand but require substantial knowledge and expertise of the art market ecosystem. Private banks, family offices, and other investors need to build an adequate strategy in order to efficiently serve art assets. We noticed that more financial institutions are actually seeking to develop their knowledge and adapt their services to respond to this asset investment market trends and client demands.

 

The remaining mystery and fog surrounding the art market—which is not as well-known as other sectors—on top of the individual considerations proper to each complex transaction, thus require a deeper understanding and a closer cooperation between the financial and art business actors. Building a bridge between these two traditionally separate universes would allow to create synergies which should be beneficial and allow to share each other’s expertise. In this respect and for 10 years now, 

Q: Can we induce an event which leads to a material and significant change in a person’s ability or behaviour which would be useful to an organisation such as MI6?

Straps yourselves in for a little bit of a wild ride, so if extreme sports of the academic or indeed philosophical kind are not your thing, then please unbuckle now and leave the park. The four terms used in the title would appear at first glance to be connected, but for the purposes of this article, are not.  There is a distinct, and key difference in that they refer to a journey of sorts.  The journey of the mind and neural functionality that eventually leads to a change which has been caused by an ‘event’. Each term describes a condition.  A condition of the brain at a point in the journey. 

Where did my Taxi Driver and my money go?”

 

Whenever there is a radical and rapid development in Technology, the voices of those who fear the human effects of such developments sing loud.  Of course, debate is ultimately a healthy proposition when conducted in the correct manner i.e a respectful exchange of ideas, evidence and facts to determine the truth or at least the likelihood of why ‘something’ happens.  The problem is that as we venture further up the emotional curve and hit the raw nerve of public consciousness, a healthy debate, absent of extreme views, is less and less likely.   This is quite possibly the stage we are at now when it comes to the vast changes of technological development at exponential rates of growth.  If one then throws into the mix a subject such as Artificial Intelligence, which has been the subject of many a doomsday prophecy, especially in the fictional world, then the prediction of likely effects  becomes distorted.  There are a vast number of capillaceous issues branching out from each topic within AI and on a scale which precludes us from analysis in this article due to time.  However, there are rarely more topics as emotive as a person's job and their ability to generate income in order to survive...so will driverless cars render the taxi driver extinct and will money even be necessary in any form? Read More. 13.08.19

Dark Web

An Opportunity or Threat?

Perceived wisdom suggests the Dark Web is synonymous with illegal activities involving weapons, drugs and pedophiia.  The assumption has been that if you use it, then you have something sinister to hide.  To be fair, closure of drug giants like "Silk Road" did nothing to change those perceptions.  However, in the big brother world of surveillance, the search for privacy is demanded by the majority and will be found in some way or another.  Furthermore, in a society where people are being increasingly attracted to the fringes of life,  the shift to increasing usage of the Dark Web is a given.  That does not mean it is wrong however, and as we often witness, it is people from the 'fringes' who sometimes operate outside of social norms, who provide the greatest sources of innovation.  We firmly believe the dark web will undergo an upgrade of sorts and although usual, non-secured browser based sites will attract some attention, their days are numbered.  The really exciting proposition is to predict Dark Web 2.0, 3.0 and so on. Rather ironically, but understandably, it is the law enforcement and intelligence agencies who are spending more and more resources on hiding within the shadows of the Dark Web.  It has been the most effective way so far.  However, as it grows, it will it continue to be the safe haven of the criminal or will some form of regulation (such as was with the legalisation of drugs etc), prevent the extreme offenders?  Take the example of Silk Road. It is not only possible, it is probable.  Whether you are in favour of legalisation generally or not,  in many cases it is a safer option.  Many of the sites that offered Marijuana were ran as slick commercial organisations where consumer satisfaction was paramount.  The product was therefore of superior quality (apparently) and it was offered within the relative safety of the internet and not some dark street corner.  Maybe that one is for the liberals out there.  For our purposes however, it shows that the deep dark web does actually have a USP which can be monetized, namely privacy.  Looking further head therefore, the real drug that will sell well in our 'Orwellian' future, is anonymity.  That will undoubtedly be the most precious of commodities.

 

As it stands now however, people and the societies they live in tend to display tendencies to self-regulate and yes, whilst there is always potential for abuse, the masses will (or should) drive the market to some degree of parity.  There are certainly huge opportunities around the corner.  A secured 'blockchain'esque' physical depository for parcel delivery is bound to happen on a large scale and accompany the growth of the Dark Web.  That is because the only chink in its armour at the moment is complete anonymity with delivery of items. Imagine a secure facility where parcels (aka Data) entering from one side, is subjected to 'scrambling' (aka 'Encryption') and leave the other side to be collected by a seemingly unconnected party (aka 'You').  Now multiply that across every City in the UK.  You then have what one can REALLY call an encrypted, secure, supply chain that would be undetectable to all agencies and, most importantly, legal  Read More.

There are many ways to recruit a spy.  Certainly too many to cover in an article such as this. It really depends on who the particular intelligence agency is looking for, which organization, and what its objective is.  It will come as no surprise that some methods are more or less well publicized than others.  For SIS in particular, given that the organization did not officially exist until 1994, many of the methods used for recruitment are, for obvious reasons, still closely guarded secrets.  Graduate recruitment is one thing, but developing a potential (currently operational) agent is another, especially if they are already in full time professional employment or indeed, working for another intelligence agency. 

 

The PR stance at the moment may well be to promote a progressive, modern image, and in many ways it most definitely is.  However, the traditional ‘tap on the shoulder’ approach was really symptomatic of a desire to retain control of the recruitment process.  To that end, things have not really changed.  SIS has, and always will be, more cautious about the ‘walk in’ candidate and will have entirely different, and more complex, processes in place to evaluate such a person.  Furthermore, the complex recruitment cycle is now refined to the point where SIS can recruit individuals without them even knowing.  Now that’s surely the recruiters’ holy grail.  As with all things ‘intelligence’ orientated, there is a constant focus on resources and purchasing power.  SIS needs to maximise the value of each pound spent and therefore, long and complex targeting of individuals used to gain information, has to be considered against the costs of recruiting those intelligence officers charged with interpreting that information.  So, in essence, a balancing act in the same way as any other modern-day commercial organisation.  Let’s not forget however, that despite the budget allocated by the Intelligence Committee and oversight of section 5, 6 and GCHQ, there are still relatively few intelligence officers out there. Especially in the ever-changing competitive world of private intelligence agencies and their corporate counterparts which compounds the problems caused by the brain drain and external temptations.

 

SIS Chief Alex Younger said in his speech at St Andrews that “If you think you can spot an MI6 officer, you are mistaken. It doesn’t matter where you are from. If you want to make a difference and you think you might have what it takes, then the chances are that you do have what it takes, and we hope you will step forward.”  Clearly this is a nod to the future and the recognition that with Espionage 4.0 around the corner, intelligence agencies need to invest now and allow time for the training and development of new individuals.  Individuals that could take two or more years to develop before assuming roles of increased responsibility and clout.  This is the likely reason and not, as some cynics have suggested, merely PR propaganda developed for the benefit of our adversaries to suggest that UK intelligence is growing.  The argument here being that even if the funds are not available, and even if the organisation is cutting costs, creating the illusion that the funds are there is just as effective.

 

So far the common denominator is money.  Whether it is the level of funding, or the maximisation of value for each pound spent.  Mr Younger’s comments clearly pushes ideology as a motivator and driver for potential candidates, and one can hardly blame him.  Let’s face it, it would be hard for SIS to push the financial incentive when faced with free market competition.  So, it is a given that the organisation has to, regardless of whether it is true or not, sell the notion of ‘making a difference’ as the key driver.  So, enter the ‘buddhist spy’ i.e. someone who has forsaken all desires of financial or materialistic rewards in favour of….that little bit more.  Here, the idea that freedom is power is never more true, but by god it’s a tough one to find, especially in the younger recruits.  Money can never be the sole motivator in this profession, but the complexities of life, youth, character and practical issues, means it simply is important.  One cannot really attribute this simply to youth either.  Yes, the younger recruits may well be ambitious and dazzled at the prospect of financial reward, but then again so is the 42 year old married man with three children.  So its not that.  Indeed, the tap on the shoulder system which focussed on the Oxbridge folk probably worked largely because they were the elite and on the whole from upper middle class affluent backgrounds where they always has the family vault to nudge open in times of desperation.  Ironically, this student and the buddhist spy are similar in that they are both free from financial pressures thereby making them more effective. 

 

So, they key thread to pull from the above is that there is power to be had from the freedom of external influences.  Without wanting to drift down the spiritual or philosophical road too much, a successful spy in todays world could be the one who can happily remove any influence, both positive or negative.  In the case of the honey trap, it would be rendered useless if the person did not attribute so much influence to sex.  In the case of financial reward, bribery or extortion, if one truly has zero desire for money then it is powerless.  In the case of power itself, if one is sufficiently self confident to the point where the affirmation from power is not needed, then that too is rendered useless.  So the buddhist spy almost becomes machine like.  Perhaps this is another case for the advancement of the neurodiverse, or those people less emotionally driven to some extent, in favour of the ‘safety’ of the binary world.  In essence, the buddhist spy is simply a person who cannot be bought, and therefore cannot be compromised.  Could you be that person?

 

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