Q: It was literally printed only in those two denominations? There were no other denominations?
Q: That's incredible.
TANT: Now, with the new dinar, we have six denominations for the people. I understand that they're going to reestablish some coinage and perhaps two additional denominations, giving them a total of eight denominations plus coinage to continue progressing the currency situation. But, of course, my team and I, we dealt in the six new denominations. I can send you pictures of that and descriptive information of each of the notes NOTE: These materials have been supplied by General Tant as a supplemental to the interview.
Now the other thing is, you needed to have a currency that was meaningful to the people. It was important to take Saddam's face off the currency and replace it with meaningful characters, persons and places that were had historical and cultural significance to Iraqis. There were discussions with the Central Bank of Iraq and leaders in the Kurdish area, and all of them decided that they would like to basically use the characters that were on the Swiss dinar (the original currency of the country), but change the denominations.
And so that's what we did. We contacted a British company called De La Rue. This company was almost 200 years old and had produced currency for over 150 nations. They were the masters in anti-counterfeiting techniques and using high-quality paper. The cost to produce the currency was approximately six cents per note, which allowed for a very high-quality paper. All of the currencies, the six denominations, are different colors and different sizes, based on their denomination. That also helps prevent counterfeiting. The currency has metallic threads and metallic strips. It has a watermark, where you hold the currency up to a light and you an see a white Arabian stallion. And, when you rub your thumb across the face or the back of the currency, the numbers and letters are raised. It's not just flat like on cheap paper.
It's wonderful now, the characters they now have on there. For example, on the back of the 25,000-dinar note, which is the largest denomination, is a portrait of Hamurabi. In 1700 BC, 3700 years ago, he issued the first code of laws. He is a famous character in world history. On the front of the 10,000-dinar note, there's a gentleman with his turban on, and he was born in 965 in Basrah, in southeastern Iraq. He was an absolute genius. He published over 200 volumes on math and science. He published seven volumes on how the eye operates, and this was in the Middle Ages! He was designated the father of ophthalmology or something like that. That might not have been the exact title for him, but he was credited with being the first scientist to actually determine how the eye works with reflective light off of an object back into the eye.
Q: That's incredible.
TANT: He also developed analytical geometry, tying geometry and algebra together. He was quite a genius, and so he's on the face of the 10,000-dinar note. There are all kinds of images of Iraqi culture on the notes: minarets, a grain elevator, the University of Baghdad, and even an ancient gold dinar on the front of one of the notes. “Dinar” is derived from Greek and Latin, perhaps from “denarius” or “denari” (I don't know my Greek and Latin as well as I should). In both cases it means “money”. Many other countries in that part of the world use dinar as the word to describe their currency.
Q: The British company that did the printing, how did you guys decide on them? I'm not sure how big the money-printing world is. How was that decision made?
TANT: The Central Bank of Iraq, again, we worked very closely with them and throughout the entire effort, we wanted to put an Iraqi face on this entire effort. We were doing it for them in all instances, and we were not trying to force anything on anybody. It was mainly to help the Iraqi people and help the Central Bank of Iraq. They did not have the capability to transport and secure the currency to the 243 banks throughout Iraq (these were the banks we used for the exchange), so we did that. But we did that task with them, and we had one of their bank representatives on every one of the convoys. We performed about 1,000 convoys throughout the entire exchange period.
Q: Convoys to the 243 banks scattered throughout the country?
TANT: Yes. Iraq is a little bit larger than California, and so there was a lot of driving by our security and logistics teams. They normally traveled in 35-man armed convoys, and we had about six to eight trucks. The trucks went out to the banks to carry the new currency in. After it was exchanged, they carried the old currency out. We also liaised with the active duty units, the military units, in whose areas we would travel. We had several layers of communications, redundant communications, with them. If we were to come under attack they would send out a quick reaction force to fly to our aid.
Sometimes, when we were going through dangerous areas, they would provide us escorts and supplement our 35-man armed guard teams. That was very helpful. The 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, the 1st Armored Division, and the British division down in the Basrah area, they were all very helpful, as well as the Poles and the Spanish units. They would help make sure we had safe passage. We were attacked 15 times directly over there. We had 11 people wounded, and there are other stories.
Q: That is during the exchange?
TANT: During the exchange, yes.
Q: That seems like a pretty low number, though, considering all the money that you were moving.
TANT: Yes, it was 1,000 convoys but only 15 attacks. It wasn't enormous in terms of us being attacked, you're right.
Q: The people moving the currency, was that coalition forces, or were there also private security contractors?
TANT: The people who helped us with some of the escorting business, on top of our contractor security, were the active duty units. When we were going through a dangerous area, they would often give us direct support, leading and following us through areas. That was the coalition military’s role. The 700 men we had on the Iraqi currency exchange team were contractors. Most were former soldiers from several different countries. They were contracted by CPA.
Q: Right. I had spoken with a gentleman who was a security contractor. There were groups like Blackwater doing that…
TANT: Yes. Our contractor for security and logistics was Global Risk Strategies.
Q: When you were carrying out the operation, what was the logistics train? First, you had to work with the Iraqis to figure out what the currency would look like and how many denominations were going to be printed. Then you had to find the printing company. After that, how did you get all the new currency into your hands? Did the printers set up shop in Iraq, or did you have to import the notes from their printing operations were?
TANT: Good questions. All of the currency was produced outside of Iraq, in Kenya, Sri Lanka, Malta, Germany, Great Britain, and Spain. These various printers produced the currency under the auspices of De La Rue. They were provided plates and a mission to perform a certain portion of the currency. All of the currency was then taken into England and flown into Baghdad from Manston.
The plan called for 27 747 loads of currency to be transported. It was about 90 tons of currency that was flown in on these 747-type flights. Now, we actually did about 18, 19 of those. At that time, the DHL flight was shot down. That wasn't our flight, but it was...
Q: In the same period?
TANT: Yes, during that period. So Hanover Aviation, who we contracted with for the flights of the money, didn't want to fly directly into Baghdad. They had to use a circuitous route: they flew it into another country where it was offloaded, secured, and put on smaller aircraft. And so it almost doubled the aircraft that we had to use to get the entire 2,300-plus tons (almost 2,400 tons) of new currency into Iraq.
Q: But it went off all right? I mean, you were still able to meet your deadlines?
TANT: Oh, yes, we didn't miss a beat. We received the first shipment of currency on the 18th of September. Al-Jabouri, one of the Bank’s deputy governors, went to England and flew in with it. I met him at the Baghdad International Airport with some of my team. Our security force was all around, securing the area. The U.S. Air Force offloaded the currency for us with big, heavy-duty forklifts. They put it onto the flatbeds that we had arranged for and then we transported it to a secure hub inside the Baghdad International area, where we secured our funds.
Q: Was that the Green Zone?
TANT: No. Not the Green Zone. We had three main distribution hubs. We had the main hub in Baghdad, Baghdad International Airport. We had one in the north near Mosul, where the 101st Airborne Division was. Then we had one down in the south, in Basrah, where the British forces were located. These were all located near airports so we could use the former Russian aircraft that we had to ship currency around the country. We had two IL-76s and two Antonovs. An IL-76 is equivalent of like a C-141.
The Antonovs are equivalent of like a C-130 aircraft. We used those aircraft to fly the necessary amounts of currency to the north and the south. They would also fly the old currency back to Baghdad. We had approximately
300 troops – our contracted former soldiers, security and logistics teams – right there at Baghdad International Airport. We had about 200 up near Mosul at Q-West, and we had 200 down in Basrah. And we had trucks at all three of those locations. So if you can just imagine, we covered all of Iraq from those three main hubs.
We would fly new currency in and it would be taken out by trucks to the banks in their particular area of responsibility. The collection of the old currency would then be accomplished and driven back to that particular hub. Once a load of old currency was driven back to, let's say the northern hub, it would be put on the aircraft and flown down to our central hub at Baghdad International Airport.
It would then be called forward to a location in Baghdad where we had about 650 verifiers (predominantly Iraqi women) from the Central Bank of Iraq. They would verify the currency to make sure it was properly accounted for. They would also check for counterfeit currency in those. The old currency was transported in big sacks 80-or-90 pound sacks. There were just thousands and thousands and thousands of sacks that we had to bring back.
There was also a training program that went on. A fellow named Larry Blume, out of Treasury, was on my team. He went on what we called “the Road Show”. He had a few people that went with him. They trained the bankers on how to exchange the money, how to check for the counterfeit using the ultraviolet lights. We provided generators to power operations. We provided Thuraya satellite phones for communication.
To deface the old currency as exchanged, we provided aprons and red dye. When the currency came across to the teller, the first teller would verify the amount there and check if it was counterfeit. A second teller, collocated with the first teller, would double check it for counterfeit and to ensure accountability. A third teller would then take it and dip one-third of the note into red dye. Then the currency was put into these sacks and it was identified by the bank, the name of the teller, the date, and the amount of
money contained. This was done for each sack.
The ultimate accountability check was done by the 650 people back in Baghdad, working for the Central Bank of Iraq. They could identify if there was any problem with any particular teller or any particular bank. Luckily, we had any few problems. The tellers and bank managers were paid incentive pay to work longer hours to get this thing done. They were also given incentive pay for their accuracy – checking for counterfeit and not including counterfeit in the sacks. We had procedures to handle all of that. If there were any problem cases at any bank, we had a chain of command, so to speak.
For example, if a person came to the bank and tried to exchange counterfeit, the teller would have to explain the problem. The teller would explain that counterfeit money could not be exchanged, no new dinars would be passed over, and that the counterfeit would not be returned. Instead, the customer would get a receipt indicating they had handed over counterfeit currency. If the teller had problems explaining this, or if the person wanted to talk to somebody at the bank other than the teller, it was set up so that they could talk to the bank manager. If that didn't satisfy the customer, then somebody from the Central Bank of Iraq would come.
We didn't have to execute that, but we still had the plan in place. We also had to provide security for each of those banks to make sure that there was no disruption of the exchange program. There were generally five to 20 people, depending on size and location of the bank, that were there to secure it during operational hours. There were also Iraqi security guards who spent the night in the banks. That provided us the degree of protection that we thought was necessary to have as smooth an operation as
possible, and it worked.
Work like you don't need the money,
Love like no one has ever hurt you,
Dance like no one is watching,
Sing like no one is listening,
Live as if this was paradise on Earth