I spent last week in the Middle East, travelling the region
and seeing some sights as well as meeting many banks from across the region.
As always, it’s an interesting space and place, full of
Eastern promise as they say.
Right now a lot of the discussion has been around the
reactions to the trade sanctions in Iran, the laundering fines of HSBC and
Standard Chartered, and the impact it is having.
It has certainly created a division of opinion between the
pro-Islam and pro-Israel factions.
I don’t want to get into the politics of this debate, having
done that in a previous blog, but I do want to consider how sanctions work in a
Whilst in several Middle Eastern countries, I find the
frustrations of bans on access to web services that I rely upon.
Websites such as skype, twitter, youtube, facebook and more
are heavily restricted in some territories and, for a few days, I was unable to
get access to the blog’s content editor and other services at all.
This is a challenge for a guy who blogs every day, so I
started on work arounds.
First, I started emailing back to the UK and asking
colleagues on the ground to update the blog remotely.
This was fine, but slow, and reminded me a little bit of
using neighbours to perform money transfers and cross-border transactions on
behalf of nations banned from the money networks.
It works for a while, but then the neighbours start getting
nervous and the transactions are traced.
So, if I moved away from remotely emailing and asking for
help to get to my blog, what would be another alternative?
Find another website that could feed the blog.
It can be updated via Facebook, so maybe I could do it that
way, except that Facebook access is blocked in many of these countries
too. My blog can be updated via mobile
texts, so I could write really long text messages and update it that way. But that’s not really workable.
What I need is a feed to the blog, so I could start looking
for other ways to update via other sites, which is what I ended up doing.
I won’t say what I did, but will put it in a different
context. If I found I couldn’t access
BBC News, then I would use Sky News instead.
If I found I couldn’t access Facebook and Twitter, I would use LinkedIn
There was always a way around.
This made me think about how I could use the banking system.
If I wanted to work around the banking system, maybe I would
find alternative counterparties to get to my end goal. I would find ones that were legitimate to get
to my end goal, rather than those that were illegitimate. So I might use a global bank to get from A to
C via B without showing it’s me.
But this also gets cracked down upon eventually and becomes
So I go back to square one, and think about how to get to
the information I need without barriers.
The easiest way would be to reset my system so that I look
like I’m a friend and not a foe.
Reset my IP address so that I appear to be trying to access facebook
et al from Europe, rather than the Middle East.
Again, it works if you know how, but technically this is
getting more challenging and harder to manage.
But again, it can be done.
Therefore, if my neighbours had alternative routers for
getting global transactions through the network, then they can find alternative
ways of covering their ground by creating a subsidiary operation in China or
Russia to get from the Middle East to America.
For internet access, it’s an IP disguise; for banking, it’s
a counterparty cover.
This is getting into tricky territory and can only last for
as long as my trusted partners allow me to operate.
So maybe I mix all three approaches and maybe they work or
maybe they don’t and, either way, it’s difficult so, in order to work around
such bans, what I really need to do is to find a new way to do things.
I need a new model.
Instead of blogging, I need to move into delivering ideas
via Skype or iTunes or Pinterest or … the next generation of social media.
And, instead of trying to trade via the traditional banking
system, I need to find new ways to trade via neighbours or partners or
disguises or … the next generation of trading.
Now what might that be?
I have an answer but don’t think it politic to share, but
there are new ways around internet bans all the time, just as there are new
ways around trade sanctions all the time.
An interesting and enlightening journey, and one that will
be debated for some time to come.
Sky News BBC