Former US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is coming out swinging.

Timothy Geithner
Timothy Geithner

Speaking with Andrew Ross Sorkin on CNBC this morning about his new book, Stress Test, the man on the inside of the 2008 derivatives collapse found his vocal cords and delivered a common refrain: it could have been worse.

Timothy Geithner says calls by “terrorists” to hold banks accountable occurred “before the plan landed

Comparing the 2008 to a jetliner just before it crashes, an apt analogy, Timothy Geithner waxed nostalgic on what is likely to be his most significant public policy involvement.

“You’re in a plane, in the cockpit,” Timothy Geithner said.  “The engine is burning.  There is smoke filling the cabin.  You’ve got a bunch of terrorists on board with people who built the plane, or somehow messed it up.  They (the terrorists) want you to come out of the cabin and like beat up the bad guys. But you have to land the plane first.”

Let’s take this mouthful apart in pieces.  Most significant is Timothy Geithner labels those who want accountability for the 2008 crash “terrorists” and says they wanted him to “beat up the bad guys” while he was landing the plane.  This is false on several counts.

Timothy Geithner – Call to hold those accountable did not come before crash

The call to hold those who violated common sense derivatives principles and exploded the economy responsible didn’t come before the plane was landing.  It came after.  The two issues of holding the banksters responsible for their actions and Geithner landing the plane are two separate issues and did not occur at the same time.

The misdirection play didn’t stop there. “When you land the plane safely, you can figure out how to bring a measure of justice to those who were responsible,” Timothy Geithner continued.  “But your first obligation, and the only way to make sure you are preventing mass damage, is to make sure you are protecting the people most vulnerable from a panic.”

Timothy Geithner failed to address real reform when he had the opportunity

When he speaks of those most vulnerable, is Timothy Geithner referring to the banks as who he protects?  Sorkin then asks a key question:  “You landed the plane safely.  But when there was an opportunity for reform – to truly reform the system, to fundamentally change the system – you didn’t take it.”

Sorkin was hitting on a key topic that Nomi Prins, the author of “All The President’s Bankers” and a former Goldman Sachs managing director, addressed recently.  Speaking on CSPAN’s booknotes, she said the Dodd Frank act is deep in complexity and page count but short on meaningful change.  The big bank derivatives contracts have only gotten more extensive and dangerous.

Without accountability big bank derivatives only grew larger, more destructive

The lesson of 2008 is that failure to identify and hold those who codified and packaged the dangerous derivatives has only made the situation worse.  This message won’t make it into the mainstream, however, because the truth is seldom told about the bipartisan heros who gave the banks a blank check and not only seldom questioned, but placed on a pedestal. Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers, Robert Rubin and Bill Clinton – as hard as this sounds to some people – is on the list of those responsible for unwinding logical derivatives protections that have unleashed a dangerous genie from the bottle.

Timothy Geithner, predictably, disagreed, saying the cops on the beat have more authority and that the system today much safer.  With $600 trillion in big bank derivatives underlying the economic system, many multiples larger and more complex than 2008, simple numbers would disagree with Timothy Geithner Further, with warnings from hedge fund titans Paul Singer, Ken Griffin, Warren Buffett and Carl Icahn noting that little has changed and the derivatives problem has only gotten worse, the questions remains: when will deterrence be back on Wall Street?

Are these the thoughts of terrorists or just those who see a derivatives nightmare in the future?