Is Fort Knox Empty?

A few weeks ago, CNBC announced that Ron Paul, the esteemed congressman from Texas, hoped to audit the supply and purity of the thousands of tons of gold stored in Fort Knox.  Of course, Paul’s wish makes one minor assumption…that there’s actually still gold in Fort Knox.

The Origin of Fort Knox?

The strange tale of Fort Knox, also known as the United States Bullion Depository, begins in 1933.  On April 5 of that year, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102 which, in effect, forced American citizens to turn in “all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates” to the Federal Reserve.  The federal government built Fort Knox in 1936 in order to store its newfound treasure.

Citizens received $20.67 for each troy ounce of gold they turned over to the government.  Subsequently, President Roosevelt offered other nations the opportunity to buy or sell gold at $35.00 per ounce, an inflationary measure designed to end the rising Great Depression.  It didn’t work.  However, with most other assets undergoing deflation, the higher gold price attracted massive amounts of sellers from around the world.  As such, by 1949 Fort Knox held nearly 70% of the entire world’s known gold supply.

The End of the Gold Standard?

During the 1950’s, the tide began to swing the other way.  The U.S. continued to transact gold at $35 per ounce.  However, due to the declining value of the U.S. dollar, other nations were now buyers rather than sellers.  The sell-off lasted until August 15, 1971 when President Richard Nixon “closed the gold window.”  By ending the last remaining links between the U.S. dollar and gold, he also ended the need for a bullion depository.  Thus, Fort Knox became little more than a glorified, high-security warehouse.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, that brings us to the main question.  What, if anything, is still in the facility?  According to official records, Fort Knox holds 4,578 metric tons of gold bullion, or roughly 2.5% of the entire world’s known gold supply.  At the present spot price, that works out to $225 billion dollars.

However, that amount comes with an asterisk.  You see, no visitors have actually been inside the facility since September 1974.  And an official audit has not been performed since January 1953.  Even worse, that audit was flawed in numerous ways.  It lasted only seven days and tested just a small fraction of the gold.  With so much wealth and secrecy rolled into one location, it’s not surprising that Fort Knox has given rise to a flood of conspiracy theories.  The most popular theory is that the vault is empty or perhaps, filled with fake gold bars.

Personally, I doubt that Paul’s efforts will prove successful, at least in the near-term.  But one can always hope.  If he does manage to crack the facility’s cloak of secrecy, we will finally know the answer to one of the greatest mysteries of American history.  Does Fort Knox truly hold 4,578 metric tons of gold?  More?  Less?  Or is it just an empty warehouse?  And if it’s empty, more questions arise.  Questions that could prove just as difficult to answer.  Questions such as…

Who took the gold?  And what did they do with it?

Lost Tribe Discovered in Brazil…Now What?

Two weeks ago, FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian Affairs agency announced the confirmed existence of a lost tribe living deep in the Amazon basin.  It is one of at least two dozen lost tribes located within Brazil’s borders and like the others, has very little, if any contact with modern civilization.

The Lost Tribe?

This particular lost tribe was discovered near Peru’s border in the Vale do Javari, a rain forest reservation of sorts for Brazil’s indigenous peoples.  The population is estimated at about two hundred.  They live in four large communal malocas and appear to be planting corn and bananas, amongst other things.

The story reminds me of 2008, when a photographer associated with FUNAI claimed to have discovered a lost tribe in the same general area.  A short while later, it turned out that the whole affair was a hoax and that the tribe had been discovered much earlier, in 1910 to be exact.  The purpose of the stunt was to shed light on the danger that the logging industry posed to Brazil’s tribes.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, that brings me to the question at hand.  Namely, how should society as a whole treat these people?  Popular opinion holds that we should “protect” the tribe.  Proponents point to the terrible treatment natives have traditionally received at the hands of outsiders.  They also believe that the lifestyle and traditions of these tribes are precious things that deserve to be protected from outside influence.  FUNAI is at the forefront of this argument, having actively sought to isolate Brazil’s tribes from the outside world.

Personally, I love the idea of lost tribes.  In a world that often seems devoid of mystery and romance, the very thought of an undiscovered, self-sustaining society gets my blood flowing.  However, I can’t help but disagree with popular opinion.  It strikes me that FUNAI is treating these tribes as a strange sort of sociological experiment where the people are, in essence, forcefully isolated on reservations while the rest of us watch via cameras high in the sky.  Its also quite possible that the tribes could benefit from food, medicine, and other things obtainable via peaceful trade (of course, this could make them vulnerable to communicable diseases as well).

Regardless, I don’t think that contact should be mandatory.  If Brazil’s tribes want to be left alone, then we should respect their wishes.  No one should be forced to accept change.  But at the same time, no one should be denied the opportunity to pursue change either.

Controversial Treasure Unearthed in Kerala

Yesterday, the BBC reported that a gigantic treasure, worth in excess of $500 million, is being unearthed in Kerala, a state in southern India.  The treasure, accumulated centuries ago, was stored in six secret underground vaults beneath the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple.

The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Treasure?

The Kallaras, or granite chambers, were sealed up in the 1860s to protect the treasure from the British Raj.  Two of these chambers have remained unopened since that time.  The other four were last opened in the 1950s.

The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple itself was constructed in the 1500s by the kingdom of Travancore.  The Travancore Maharajahs dedicated themselves, the temple, and its wealth to Padmanabhaswamy, “an aspect of the Hindu God Vishnu in eternal sleep.”  Since that time, their descendants have controlled the temple along with the treasure.  However, a recent court case allowed the state government to seize control of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple and its wealth, supposedly to protect the treasure from theft.

Despite numerous Hindu protests and court appeals from the family, India’s Supreme Court ordered the vaults to be opened.  It also appointed a seven-person committee to inventory and assess the treasure.  According to the Business Standard, the recovered treasure includes:

  • Three sets of golden crowns of the kings of Travancore
  • Kulasekhrara Perumal crown
  • Precious stones including pearls, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires
  • Heaps of gold shaped like paddy
  • Around 1,000 Sarappoli chains, the longest of which is eighteen feet long.  Four of these weigh around 2kg each. Total weight of these is more than a quintal
  • Long ropes of gold like the traditional coir rope of Kerala
  • Diamonds
  • Hundreds of golden coins kept in bags and wooden boxes
  • Pendants and a large number of golden batons
  • Around 100,000 gold and silver coins
  • Golden waistbands studded with diamonds, each weighing 2kg
  • Gold and silver bars weighing 1-2kg each
  • Gold and silver utensils, crowns, golden umbrellas and pots

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

What a haul!  It’s exciting to see these treasures, some of which date back centuries, come to light.  But I’m deeply troubled about the way in which it happened.  Essentially, the Supreme Court declared that private property belonging to a religious temple was a national treasure and then used that as an excuse to seize possession of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple.

I sincerely hope that the treasure of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple adds to our understanding of the kingdom of Travancore.  Still, I wish that Kerala’s government and the Supreme Court had gone about this in a far different manner.

The Hunt for Bin Laden’s Corpse

Did Osama Bin Laden really die in Pakistan?  Was his corpse truly stuffed into a rubber-lined canvas body bag, weighed down with lead, and then buried in the North Arabian Sea?  According to a recent interview with TMZ, deep sea treasure hunter Bill Warren intends to find out.

“I am doing it because I am a patriotic American who wants to know the truth.  I do it for the world.” – Bill Warren

Where is Bin Laden’s Corpse?

Warren wants to raise $400,000 in order to fund his expedition to recover Bin Laden’s corpse.  It’s an incredible story, one torn straight out of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

Adding to the drama are the many conspiracy theories that have cropped up in the wake of Bin Laden’s demise.  According to the official White House line, Bin Laden was killed by members of SEAL Team 6 during Operation: Neptune Spear on May 2, 2011.  Afterwards, the corpse was removed to a U.S. base in Afghanistan.  Biometric facial recognition and DNA tests confirmed that the body belonged to Bin Laden.  Al-Qaeda confirmed the death on May 6.  Less than twenty-four hours later, the corpse was taken aboard the USS Carl Vinson and buried at sea.

Searching for Bin Laden?

Warren plans to use side-scanning radar to locate the body bag.  The problem with his strategy is obvious.  The Arabian Sea is gigantic and side-scanning sonar is a slow, tedious process.  Finding a corpse in it is like finding a needle in a haystack…a haystack that measures 1.5 million square miles.However, conflicting accounts as well as the White House’s refusal to release photographs have created significant doubt.  Some people think he’s still alive.  Others think he died years ago.  Still others believe that he died on May 2, but under entirely different circumstances or that his body was disposed of in some other manner.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Perhaps even more problematic are the limitations of side-scanning sonar.  Even shipwrecks, with their hard edges and solid structures, are difficult to discern from the natural underwater landscape.  Distinguishing something as small and with as little acoustic resonance as a corpse is next to impossible, even when taking into account two-hundred pounds of lead in the body bag.  And the deeper the corpse lies, the harder it will prove to find.  At the same time, depth is desirable as it, along with low temperatures, will slow decomposition.

It’s a waste of money.  It’s a waste of time.  But I’m still rooting for Warren.  If he succeeds, maybe we’ll finally be able to put all of those crazy Bin Laden conspiracy theories to rest.  After all, the man’s dead and buried at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

Isn’t he?