Oh, were Mark Lombardi alive today! Two stories broke last week—one by Bloomberg on how a right-wing Colombian hacker who, in league with a Miami-based political “consultant,” worked to throw elections to conservative politicians throughout Latin America. The second is the year-long investigation by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists into the Panama Papers, the leaked 2.6 tera trove of documents from the law firm Mossack Fonseca revealing the dark web of offshore finance.
An artist, Lombardi is famous for trying to find ways to represent financial scandals and conspiracies. Take a look at some of his work found here and imagine what he would do with either the hacker who ran covert teams of coders to execute electronic “dirty wars” or the information found in the Panama Papers. Lombardi was active through the 1980s and 1990s, and his work was focused on trying to synthesize the information piling up from investigations into scandals such as BCCI, Lincoln Savings, Charles Keating, Iran/Contra, and so on. We can now look back and see those crimes as birthing what we now call neoliberalism—a global political economy defined by deregulated finance and resource extraction and maintained by crime and corruption.
From a distance, Lombardi’s “narrative structures,” as he called his art, look like beautiful constellations. Step closer and you’ll see the names: Oliver North, Neil Bush, Manuel Noriega, John Connally, George Shultz, etc., etc. Lombardi coded the lines linking various nodes—solid, dotted, or squiggly lines represented differing degrees of influence or capital flows, a struggle to “render the invisible visible,” to “represent what cannot be represented.”
Born in the late 1950s near Syracuse, New York, Lombardi’s life seemed from an Umberto Eco novel. He first became interested in financial conspiracies when he worked as a reference librarian in the fine-arts department of the main branch of the Houston Public Library. This was in the 1980s, during Iran/Contra. Here’s one 1991 description of that scandal, from Time magazine: “The Iran-contra affair may be only part of a broader and previously undisclosed pattern of illegal activities by intelligence agencies during the tenure of Ronald Reagan and his CIA chief William Casey. Sources close to the unfolding investigation of the Bank of Credit & Commerce International told Time that U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA, maintained secret accounts with the globe-girdling financial empire, which has been accused of laundering billions of dollars in drug money, financing illegal arms deals and engaging in other crimes”—including drug running, funding death squads, and running sophisticated psychological warfare operations on US citizens to create a sense of confusion regarding foreign policy.