When the Swiss Aren’t Neutral: Chocolates and the CIA

Switzerland believes its reputation as an independent mountain-fortress and refuge is being eroded by American meddling

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Gianluca Colla / Bloomberg / Getty Images

The Swiss national flag flies above buildings in Zurich on Dec. 12, 2011

On Sept. 25, Switzerland’s highest court brought a long-winded case to a close, convicting three Swiss engineers — a father and his two sons — of selling nuclear equipment to Libya. The Swiss were scandalized, but not by what you’d think.

Friedrich Tinner, 74, and his sons, Marco, 43, and Urs, 46,were arrested in 2004 and sentenced to 24, 41 and 50 months respectively. They were immediately released, taking into account the time they already served in detention, as well as their cooperation with the CIA, which led to the dismantling of the network they had been a part of.

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But what the Swiss remember most about the case is not that the Tinners worked for the network operated by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the notorious “father” of the Pakistani atom bomb, who supplied Libya, North Korea and Iran with the nuclear-weapons technology. What they recall is a widespread rumor that the CIA ordered the shredding of tens of thousands of pages of the Tinners’ documents in 2007 to hide its involvement in the case.

The allegation was never proved, and Swiss authorities said at the time that they destroyed the documents because the blueprints and plans posed a security risk. But the implication that a foreign government might have meddled in Switzerland’s affairs riled up the citizens more than the shredding itself. “We are not the stooges of the CIA or the United States,” fumed Christoph Blocher, who served as the Justice Minister at the time.

This kind of outrage flares up every time a foreign government intrudes in Switzerland’s affairs — which has happened often lately — and reflects the mentality of its people: fiercely independent, protective of their rights, proud and even smug sometimes — the characteristics borne out of living comfortably in a stable and prosperous economy, with the government that is responsive to the grassroots needs. “The feeling that they can decide everything by themselves is deeply rooted in the Swiss tradition of direct democracy,” says Georg Lutz, director of the Social Science Research Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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Through frequent referendums on all kinds of national and local issues, the Swiss believe they have hands-on control over what happens in their country, “and they believe that outside interventions jeopardize this right to self-determination,” Lutz adds. In fact, the fear of having to comply with E.U. laws that would compromise Switzerland’s political and economic independence was one of the reasons the country refused to join.

Unfortunately, in the past several years, repeated intrusions — mostly from the U.S. — have challenged Switzerland’s view of itself. For example, in its search for tax evaders, the Internal Revenue Service has pressured Swiss banks to release the names of American account holders or face hefty fines and even a ban from doing business in the U.S. Though the Swiss finally caved in, the demands have sparked widespread criticism of Washington’s strong-arm tactics.

Adding fuel to the fire, earlier this month inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration demanded access to Switzerland’s chocolate factories to rule out any bioterrorism risk that Swiss-produced chocolate might pose when sold in the U.S. Not surprisingly, chocolate manufacturers are not sugarcoating their reaction. “The fact that a foreign authority is involved in our Swiss businesses is unseemly,” Daniel Bloch of Chocolats Camille Bloch, told the Handelszeitung newspaper.

Faced with a ban on exports to the U.S., chocolate makers, like the bankers, have given in to the pressure, but this acceptance is far from sweet for some Swiss. “Imagine if a Swiss delegation showed up at Hershey, demanding the inspection of their premises,” said one caller to a radio show. “We’d be kicked out of there so fast. But we, as a nation, allow ourselves to be bullied.”

It may not be a matter of choice. The lack of reciprocity might be frustrating, but for all their ornery pride and sense of independence, the Swiss have little recourse against larger nations. “In the globalized world, size does matter,” Lutz says. “Switzerland tends to overestimate its importance and that anybody actually cares about its particularities.”

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75 comments
Leila Singh
Leila Singh

For as long as I can recall the Swiss have always diligently guarded their special "Neutrality Status" at the UN.  Meanwhile, their BANKS have an unchallenged SECRECY for shielding the BLOOD MONEY  depositers for many of the world's most notorious dictators et al. Many of them  third world countries where starvation/poverty is the normal way of life for their hapless citizens. While they live and behave like royalties!

Vic Kelley
Vic Kelley

The Swiss are at a disadvantage - they're Western Europeans.  If they were a member of a recognized victim group - like Africans, Muslims, or Mexicans - then they'd have special status and would be left alone.  Consier Mexico - a dirty country overflowing with dirty people and dirty money.  The Swiss made honest attempts to prevent narco $ from their banks.  Mexico is selling out heart, body, and soul to narco$.  Mexicans are getting away with it, too.  Mexico will soon lead the world in money laundering and America will be - because of White guilt - unable to do anything about it.

truenorthfree2
truenorthfree2

The Swiss are a proud nation of crooks helping other crooks get away with tax evasion.

I would have nothing to do with a Swiss company or export of any kind any more than I would of Afghanistan or Germany.

CatNews
CatNews

If you take any medications, antibiotics, flu shots and such, chances are you already use Swiss products.

Matthew W. Hall
Matthew W. Hall

The antibiotics I recently took was made in New Jersey by an English company.

Chinga_Tu_Madre
Chinga_Tu_Madre

I'm an American, and I hope one day there will exist a superpower that can render the U.S subservient. It would be an act of justice for the American empire to suffer all the indignities we've arbitrarily imposed on the world. With our arrogance and greed, we deserve the worst.

Molon Labe
Molon Labe

Y Chinga Tu Madre tambien. Ella va a ser servienta a los Chinos entonces sufriendo las indignidades de la arrogancia y gulla de ellos. Y tu pepe? Shoeshine boy!

jayman419
jayman419

The Swiss banks may have protested the "strong-arm tactics" that the US employed, but no other approaches worked.

For as much as wealthy Americans like to point out that our tax laws require little to no payment from many poorer people, they sure are willing to do what they have to (oftentimes even going beyond legal measures) to make sure their own tax bills are as small as possible.

If there weren't so many eager tax havens around the world welcoming and sheltering unreported US money, we'd have had a reformed and simplified tax code long ago.

Surfboat Dan.
Surfboat Dan.

Superficially: the issue of Swiss insistence on its sovereign  independence while accepting fees for money storage seems untenable at best.   That they live in isolation to the point of pride seems more self defeating than protective of anything valuable.    The USA got built on venturism  as in : "Nothing ventured nothing gained" c.f. landing on the moon; Apple; Facebook etc.

And yet some of those things were acquired by virtue of inequality and intellectual secret-ism.    The problem is that the intellectual growth failed to mature into the rest of the economy.    In order to perpetuate that the same people could continue to enjoy the pleasure of being boss of the plantation only it became managerial interests;   Our Economic Society grew skewed towards the former slave owners families and their children.  Those children And the children of the former slaves have never truly reconciled.   As a result:  virtue died, like the root of a weed.

ProwdLiberal
ProwdLiberal

@FlatFoot:disqus

 "Right. In lieu of 'Proud' you choose 'Prowd' when aloof, assuming, audacious, autocratic, biggety, bossy, bragging, cavalier, cheeky, cocky......."

I am BWL at your anger! Take an aspirin, you might get a heart attack!

You may not seek medical help because it is socialized medicine! LOL!

sue-marie
sue-marie

When have we ever gone into a country to inspect their facilities?  NEVER...we need to learn to inspect them at the entry point....we just may end up without products from across this planet.  Imagine us trying to strong arm China?  They would tell us to take a flying leap.

Molon Labe
Molon Labe

Ah the admirable Swiss! Hitler's bankers. Arafat's ski hoteliers of choice. Fastidiously neutral during the long Cold War behind the West's (the US's) defense shield. Yet quick to wag that Teutonic finger at Americans while slipping murdering Commies amp; Dictators everywhere their slimey tongue. It wasn't enough that they pushed fleeing Jews (the dirty Juden) back into the hands of their brother Germans (so much for neutrality) while keeping appropriated riches. They shamelessly still flaunt their selective anti-Semitism by embracing Israel's every enemy.

Then there's the vaunted Swiss Army. A speed bump really. But go ahead, puff your ample flabby chests. You've been chocolatiers to the devil. Your Toy Soldiers only guard the chocolate shop.

Spectator
Spectator

Imagine a world w/o US leadership. What would it be like?  Well for one thing Europe would have had at least 2 major wars in the last 50 years. History shows that to be true. Little countries would be swallowed up or exterminated by larger ones. If China or Russia were the big dog again what would happen? Well China is showing exactly what that will be like right now. After successfully overrunning Nepal and Tibet. With border incursions with India, outrageous claims of sovereignty over islands far from it's shores and generally bullying it's neighbors.

Russia showed what they would be like, just look at Eastern Europe.

True America isn't perfect but thinking about alternatives might give some a pause.

Personally I'm all for letting the world solve it's own problems. I served in Viet Nam and I'm sick of American treasure and blood being shed for ungrateful nations full of America bashers. Far as I'm concerned you can fight your own wars. Then when the s--- hits the fan you can live in it. 

Ruckus_Tom
Ruckus_Tom

We could use a little Swiss neutrality ourselves.  In many ways the Swiss have developed politically the way our founder fathers us to.

Do business with everybody but stay out of other countries' politics; only wage war when attacked; neither accept nor make payment for others' friendship; and don't try to be the worlds policeman.

SteveThomas39
SteveThomas39

The obama administration has been a complete sphincter to the  Swiss. Bad enough that he has established a fascistic government here; treating other countries the same way is arrogance taken to a level that cries for divine intervention. President Zero has been the worst thing to happen to the world in my lifetime.

iabouncing
iabouncing

All of this is in the the Holy Bible.  

mamaotis
mamaotis

Does anyone recognize that Swiss "bioterrorism' chocolate is also a subtrefuge means of planting a little more fear in the mind of the American public? As in, the-world-is-out-to-get-us. I'd be more afraid of a Hershey chocolate product and the fillers they put in it.

ProwdLiberal
ProwdLiberal

"Adding fuel to the fire, earlier this month inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration demanded access to Switzerland’s chocolate factories to rule out any bio terrorism risk that Swiss-produced chocolate might pose when sold in the U.S."

This is the kind of BS that gives US a bad name. GWB personified American arrogance, cowboy idiocy during his two terms to such an extent that the whole world, after being a friend of US immediately after 9/11, started hating US for its shock and awe adventure in Iraq. The whole world was shocked and awed by the US arrogance. If US is bent on making enemies around the world no country will help in its war against terrorism and will end-up spending trillions on defense of the country and eventually be bankrupt.

FlatFoot
FlatFoot

 Jeez -- Bush Derangement Syndrome rears its ugly head yet again.

Who is Barack Hussein Obama going to blame when he inherits the horrific mess of all things that the last administration made over the last 4 years if he's reelected ?

By the way -- it's spelled 'Proud' -- not 'Prowd'. Dummkopf.

...

ProwdLiberal
ProwdLiberal

"By the way -- it's spelled 'Proud' -- not 'Prowd'. Dummkopf"

No wonder you are a big supporter of GWB!

Have you heard of IMPROVISATION?

When Proud is taken by someone I have improvised on it to use Prowd so that I can still convey the same meaning.

I do not expect it (improvisation) from someone who supports the idiot of the century (GWB). Just like GWB, you must be having a very high IQ - Idiocy Quotient that is Moron!

FlatFoot
FlatFoot

Right. In lieu of 'Proud' you choose 'Prowd' when aloof, assuming, audacious, autocratic, biggety, bossy, bragging, cavalier, cheeky, cocky, conceited, contemptuous, cool, disdainful, domineering, egotistic, haughty, high and mighty, high-handed, imperious, insolent, know-it-all, lordly, on an ego trip, overbearing, peremptory, pompous, presumptuous, pretentious, puffed up, scornful, self-important, smarty, smug, sniffy, snippy, snooty, snotty, stuck up, supercilious, superior, swaggering, uppity, vain, and wiseguy - Liberal ... were all available.

Coupled with the utter lack of anything remotely intelligent and honest to say plus your double quick retreat to ad hominems when challenged [S.O.P. for all Liberals -- natch] -- the take-away from this is that you're about as sharp as a bowling ball.

Go figure, SuperciliousLiberal.

DG41
DG41

Personally, I have always believed that neutrality is  overrated.  I've never understood how intelligent human beings who have any ethics or morals can be neutral.  For instance, if one was aware of the gas chambers used in WWII, how could that person remain neutral? 

Leila Singh
Leila Singh

Aptly put, neutrality has it's advantages in the long run for those who looked the other way, during and long after the WW2 debacle.  Switzerland, Spain et al comes to mind.  "Money is a Cancer of the Soul."

Khadijah BintMuhammad
Khadijah BintMuhammad

 Political neutrality is not the same as individual neutrality. Although Switzerland stays neutral as a national policy, that certainly doesn't mean its citizens don't have deeply held opinions on matters such as you mention, and engage in individual activism across the borders, putting those opinions into motion.

If you want to see political neutrality hotly debated ad nauseum, just watch Star Trek. The Prime Directive is an example of political neutrality, and as such it's pros and cons are quite familiar to any fan.