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US Boosts Money Laundering Investigation

U.S. Boosts Money Laundering Investigation Capabilities

(Homeland Security Dept. also to help private sector eliminate vulnerabilities)

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has launched a new initiative intended to intensify investigations of money laundering crimes and help the private sector shore up weaknesses in financial systems.

In July 8 remarks at the New York Federal Reserve, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said that the department has taken action in response to criminal organizations' attempts to seek new ways to finance their operations.

Operation Cornerstone, as the initiative is known, aims at identifying ways in which criminals launder their illegal profits, bringing them to justice and eliminating vulnerabilities in financial systems, according to a July 8 department news release.

The department also announced a new program to share with the private sector data on security gaps discovered during investigations to help private companies improve defenses against money laundering and other financial crimes. In addition, the department said, it is expanding a task force that investigates computer-based crimes.

Following is the text of the news release:

(begin text)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY Office of the Press Secretary July 8, 2003

SECRETARY RIDGE ANNOUNCES NEW FINANCIAL INVESTIGATIONS INITIATIVES

Unveils Comprehensive New Programs to Protect U.S. Financial Systems from Criminal Exploitation

NEW YORK, NY -- In a speech at the New York Federal Reserve, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, today announced programs to safeguard the nation's financial systems against criminal exploitation. Two of the many actions being taken by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) include the creation of a new financial crimes investigative initiative and an expansion of already successful electronics crime task forces. Secretary Ridge also announced a groundbreaking initiative designed to share specific information with the nation's top financial institutions, about financial systems weaknesses discovered through the Department's criminal investigations.

Secretary Ridge announced Operation Cornerstone, a new financial investigations initiative that will not only prosecute money laundering crimes but will initiate a new approach of working with the private sector to shore up potential weaknesses in financial systems.

In short, Operation Cornerstone, run by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is a new financial investigations program that will identify vulnerabilities in financial systems through which criminals launder their illicit proceeds, bring the criminals to justice and work to eliminate the vulnerabilities. Through a working partnership with industry representatives, ICE will share information learned from these investigations to eliminate industry-wide security gaps that could be exploited by money launderers and other criminal organizations.

Secretary Ridge also announced that the Secret Service is expanding its highly successful Electronic Crimes Task Forces to four additional cities. The Secret Service currently runs task forces in 9 cities. The four new cities are Cleveland, Houston, Dallas and Columbia, South Carolina. The 9 existing task forces are operating in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Charlotte, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

These task forces investigate a wide range of computer-based criminal activity. Examples include e-commerce [electronic commerce] frauds, identity crimes, telecommunications fraud, and a wide variety of computer intrusion crimes that affect a variety of infrastructures. Since its inception in 1995, the New York Electronic Crimes Task Force alone has charged over 800 people with electronic crimes valued at more than $500 million.

Earlier in the day Secretary Ridge toured the Secret Service's Electronic Crimes Task Force in New York, as well as ICE's El Dorado Task Force. The El Dorado Task Force has investigated numerous money laundering and other financial crimes since its inception in 1992. In eleven years El Dorado Task Force agents have arrested 1,753 individuals and seized nearly $560 million in criminal proceeds.

"Safeguarding the integrity of America's financial systems is a key part of homeland security," said Secretary Ridge. "Criminal organizations are seeking new ways to finance their operations, and the Department of Homeland Security is moving aggressively to identify vulnerabilities within U.S. financial systems that could be exploited to those ends."

To aid the financial industry in its own efforts to shore up vulnerabilities in its systems, Secretary Ridge announced a new program jointly run by ICE and the Secret Service. Under this new program called SHARE (Systematic Homeland Approach to Reducing Exploitation), officials from the Secret Service and ICE will jointly conduct semi-annual meetings with executive members of the financial and trade communities impacted by money laundering, identity theft, and other financial crimes. In these meetings special agents and analysts from the two Homeland Security agencies will share data on specific investigative outcomes from investigations into money laundering, identity theft, and other financial crimes.

By taking the Secret Service's long experience with investigating crimes like counterfeiting, identity theft and credit card fraud, and ICE's long experience with investigating illegal efforts to launder or mask the true source of criminal proceeds -- and sharing that experience with the financial community, American pocketbooks and bank accounts will be far safer, Secretary Ridge explained in his remarks.

Before his speech, Secretary Ridge met with leaders from the top financial institutions to brief them on the new initiative. "It's critical we work in partnership with the financial community," Secretary Ridge told the financial leaders. "Unless we share the specific findings of our investigations, we run the risk that our nation's financial systems will remain vulnerable to exploitation. We can't let that happen."

Secretary Ridge announced that the first meeting under the SHARE program will take place by mid-October.


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