(photo: epicharmus)

(photo: epicharmus)

Email disclosures by AIG, responding to subpoenas from the House Oversight Committee, have revealed that the New York Federal Reserve requested that information about the AIG bailout be kept secret as if it were connected to national security.

U.S. securities regulators originally treated the New York Federal Reserve’s bid to keep secret many of the details of the American International Group bailout like a request to protect matters of national security, according to emails obtained by Reuters.

The request to keep the details secret were made by the New York Federal Reserve — a regulator that helped orchestrate the bailout — and by the giant insurer itself, according to the emails.

The emails from early last year reveal that officials at the New York Fed were only comfortable with AIG submitting a critical bailout-related document to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission after getting assurances from the regulatory agency that “special security procedures” would be used to handle the document.

As Ryan Grim notes, these are basically unprecedented steps to keep secret the details of the AIG deal with counter-parties. The emails tell a story of strictly enforced secrecy and massive PR efforts to get securities regulators and Congress to stand down on disclosure. It paints a picture of the Federal Reserve as evading not only the oversight responsibilities of Congress, but any effort to offer insight into their activities whatsoever. And the SEC eventually agreed to the request:

The SEC, according to an email sent by a New York Fed lawyer on January 13, 2009, agreed to limit the number of SEC employees who would review the document to just two and keep the document locked in a safe while the SEC considered AIG’s confidentiality request.

The SEC had also agreed that if it determined the document should not be made public, it would be stored “in a special area where national security related files are kept,” the lawyer wrote.

Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke are in their own ways culpable for this astonishing level of secrecy attempted by organizations they ran to get around accountability for the AIG deal. Geithner faces the House Oversight Committee in hearings on Wednesday.

David Dayen

David Dayen