Q: Another logistics question: you bring in the new bills and you exchange them with the money that the bank had, as well as with persons who came in?
TANT: Yes, let me say it my way. Let me just take you through the whole flow. We would bring the new currency into the Central Bank of Iraq, and let's say – we'll use the northern hub, up near Mosul. We would fly the currency estimated as necessary to meet those banks' requirements in their area of responsibility. There were probably about 50 or 60 banks up there that we delivered new currency to. When we delivered the new currency, those banks would sign for it. They would sign for it with an Iraqi Central Bank of employee who went with us on each of our convoys.
We kept the chain of currency custody in the hands of the Central Bank of Iraq the entire time. None of my people ever signed for any currency. We had a good working relationship with the Central Bank. An Iraqi bank manager would sign for the currency from the Central Bank employee, and then he would conduct business. The population in that community would come in with sacks of money, and they would exchange that money with that particular bank. They would receive their new currency on the spot.
Now, we did publish exchange procedures prior to the exchange. That was done through a very dynamic information operations campaign led by a lady named Karen Triggs out of the UK, who was fantastic. Through multimedia we let the population know, “If you have accounts with the bank, there's no need to draw your money out of that account and turn right around and exchange it. There will be an automatic exchange for the new currency based on the existing deposits.”
Q: You said earlier there was a 150 to one exchange rate for the Swiss dinar and the new dinar?
Q: What was the exchange rate for the Saddam dinar, seeing as it had been so devalue?
TANT: One to one.
Q: One to one?
TANT: One to one. I have to tell you, I had two dynamic guys, one from the UK Treasury named Jacob Nell and one from the Bank of England named Simon Gray. These guys are absolute geniuses in banking and treasury operations, and they worked closely with the Central Bank of Iraq on a regular basis, with all of the negotiations. We would have request meetings. I'd go to the big meetings over there with all the heads of the Rafidain, Rashid, and the Central Bank of Iraq. We would talk about deliveries, requirements, and incentive pay.
We would talk about all of these different issues to ensure we had teamwork that worked. Our motto throughout the operation was “Teamwork that Works.” We made that reality. We also had a second motto, “Delivery Under Fire”, because of the attacks that we had and the security situation in Iraq. We even minted our own coin. I emailed a sergeant major I knew up in Korea. I said, “I need some coins, because I can't present these great former soldiers and civilians that I worked with any sort of award.” I saw this thing was going really well, and so we ordered these coins as a small token of appreciation. And that's quite interesting, because now they have a touchstone that they can go to.
On the front it says "Teamwork that Works, Iraqi Currency Exchange" with a picture of a date palm tree on the front. On the back side, it says “Delivery Under Fire, Coalition Provisional Authority," and “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” It was done just to give them something to remind them of the great job they did for the Iraqi people.
Q: You gave that to the Iraqi staff as well as Central Bank?
TANT: I gave them to Iraqi staff. I gave it to all 700 of our guys and the one lady, Karen Triggs, who helped us. We also gave it to people like Ambassador Bremer and all who supported us wholeheartedly throughout the operation. I even had the wonderful opportunity to present the ICE (Iraqi Currency Exchange) coin to President George W. Bush when he visited Charleston, South Carolina in early 2004. He said he knew all about us and was proud of what we accomplished.
Q: That sounds like a good thing. That's the perfect memento for the mission.
TANT: Right. Yes.
Q: Back to the exchange operation: after the old currency had been sorted, double checked, shipped, and sorted again in Baghdad, what happened to it? Was it then disposed of?
TANT: Yes, good question. It was disposed of. After the 650 ladies verified the currency, the Central Bank of Iraq released it to us. Still continuing with their liaison, it would be taken to the incinerators. There were approximately 47 incinerators running when we were at full capacity. The incinerators would be loaded with the old currency, and ignited. On the third day, the incinerators would be cleaned out. These incinerators looked something like shipping containers, the 20-foot-long containers that you use to transport good on ships. They had been converted with smokestacks and all that sort of stuff. Just a real nasty operation.
The Iraqis did that. They actually did the loading. We did the transporting and securing – mainly transporting – that had to occur. Then they offloaded the pallets of old bills and set it on fire, supervised the burning, and then cleaned out the incinerators. And then the process was repeated over and over and over again.
Q: Of course you also had extra check, that if any money got blown away on the wind, it was dyed red so it couldn't be converted again.
TANT: That's right.
Q: Now, the counterfeiting issue, you had mentioned earlier that there was an estimated two to three fake notes per thousand?
TANT: Yes, that was according to the Secret Service.
Q: What was the rate that you discovered?
TANT: It was less than 1 percent.
Q: Less than 1 percent?
TANT: We would get these reports from the Central Bank of Iraq, and they had less than 1 percent. So that was much better than what we anticipated.
Q: You also mentioned that there was a vigorous public information campaign. Could you tell me a little bit more about that?
TANT: Absolutely. Karen Triggs led it. We used multiple media outlets: newspapers, television, and radio. We used handbills that were issued by the civil affairs soldiers on the streets throughout the country. These were colorful handbills that illustrated the new currency, and explained the program and how it would be run from 15 October to 15 January.
We of course explained that they didn’t all have to show up on the 15th of October, because there was going to be plenty of money to go around. There would be enough for everybody to exchange their money, so don't think you have to rush to the bank. Words to that effect were written in the Iraqi language, and it just reassured people that this was going to be a very high-quality currency and it would be something that they would be proud of, how it would have illustrations on it that were meaningful to their history and culture.
And it was widely well received by the Iraqi people. I only saw one article where a guy said, "I don't think we need to do this. We don't have to get rid of Saddam." He was a guy up in Tikrit, if I remember correctly. That was Saddam’s hometown.
Q: I'm not surprised.
TANT: But all the other articles, and there were a lot of feedback-type articles from the people, were glad about the new currency. So it was a wonderful thing. Now, some of them wanted additional denominations, and my understanding here recently is that Central Bank of Iraq is proceeding with achieving additional denominations. So they're going to end up with something like eight denominations. There is also the coinage, and that will be very helpful to people.
Q: Who's going to be printing this in the future? Are there are efforts underway to create an indigenous printing capacity, or is that going to continue to be farmed out?
TANT: I don’t know for certain. We talked about that when I was over there, but they did not yet have the capability to do it. I believe they're going to continue to use De La Rue, at least in the near term. That's not to say that they wouldn't, in the future, develop their own capability to print their own currency. But I don't know if that's going to happen anytime soon.
Q: Looking back on your experience, what were the major lessons learned? Why was this so successful?
TANT: Well, it was successful because we worked like the best team in town. We had established a chain of command and we had meetings every day to get feedback and plans for the next day. We had to work hard and communicate with one another. In my main cell, I had a wonderful guy, Colonel Wilkinson, retired from the British armed forces. He led my security and logistics operation. He was just fantastic.
My deputy, John Rooney from Scotland, I couldn't have done it without him. There was also a fellow named John Dulle from BearingPoint, an American consulting firm, who helped us. He and his team helped with program management, doing things like arranging for flights, arranging schedules, and keeping track of how much currency we had actually taken out of the hub and transported. Essentially they were keeping daily track of everything we did to ensure overall accountability.
We had to stay on this thing constantly. We had learned as leaders to go and meet with the people who were doing the job to build spirit and keep the troops motivated. We did all of those things: we worked like just one big family. We knew the importance of what we were doing, we were proud of what we were doing, and we were very successful in getting it done. Every aspect of it was a success. Karen Triggs with her campaign, getting the word out to the entire population. We were prepared to go to the desert to take care of some of the Bedouin tribes! We got the word out to them where their nearest bank was. If they had any problems, they knew how to contact us. We got the word out to everybody, and everybody got their money exchanged. It just took a lot of energy and a lot of teamwork to make it all happen.
Ambassador Bremer and the military gave us everything we asked for. There was no hesitation. I mean, if we needed another aircraft, we got another aircraft. We just had a great team effort.
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