WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday night, President Bush addressed the nation in an effort to persuade Congress to pass a bill to reduce the risk to major financial institutions and to safeguard American families and businesses. On Thursday, he met with Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama and other congressional leaders to build a consensus plan for bailing out our financial system. The potentates on the Potomac now are pondering the price tag for saving Wall Street. Unfortunately, corrupt officials in other nations' capitals are also hard at work -- undermining what's left of the U.S. dollar by printing and distributing their own versions of American currency.
Counterfeiting another nation's legal tender is not only a crime but also an act of aggression. During World War II, Adolf Hitler produced British bank notes to destabilize the U.K. Mao Zedong used phony money to undermine Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government through inflation. The Soviets created passable replicas of African and European monetary instruments to damage local economies. But no one ever has engaged in the kind of economic warfare against the United States as effectively or on such a scale as is being waged now by the regimes in Pyongyang, North Korea, and Tehran, Iran.
For more than five years, remarkably accurate duplicates of U.S. $100 bills have been circulating overseas. Called "supernotes" by our Treasury Department, Secret Service and FBI, they are printed on cotton-fiber paper with intaglio printing presses, the same type used by the U.S. Bureau of Printing and Engraving. The source of these nearly flawless notes is hardly a secret.
On Jan. 26, 2006, in a White House news conference, President Bush asserted, "We are aggressively saying to the North Koreans don't counterfeit our money." A Congressional Research Service report two months later concluded, "At least $45 million in such supernotes of North Korean origin have been detected in circulation, and estimates are that the country earns from $15 to $25 million per year from counterfeiting." Later that year, Hezbollah -- a wholly owned subsidiary of the repressive regime in Tehran -- began flooding Lebanon with supernotes. Thanks to Iran and North Korea, there may be billions in "phony Franklins" floating around the world. The bills also have turned up here at home.
Just how some of them arrived on our shores was revealed a few days ago, when former undercover FBI agent Bob Hamer took the witness stand in the Las Vegas courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan. While the so-called mainstream media were preoccupied with presidential politics, the Wall Street meltdown and the O.J. Simpson trial up the street from Mahan's court, Hamer -- using audio and video recordings -- revealed how two Chinese nationals and others plotted to smuggle anti-aircraft missiles, narcotics and counterfeit supernotes into the United States. On the tapes, the Chinese conspirators describe how the false bills are manufactured in North Korea and distributed through the Russian Embassy in Beijing to Chinese organized crime figures. One of them boasts of his ties to North Korea.
During the course of a three-year undercover operation code-named Operation Smoking Dragon, Hamer purchased $2 million worth of supernotes. The sting also netted 36 indictments and shut down a scheme to deliver 200 Chinese-manufactured QW-2 anti-aircraft missiles, capable of bringing down commercial airliners. It was, to put it mildly, a stunning success -- and completely ignored by those who purport to deliver the "news."
Full disclosure here: Bob Hamer is a friend -- not a word I use loosely. He is also a former U.S. Marine and a living legend within the FBI. During the time he was risking his life to stop the "importers" of counterfeit currency and of surface-to-air missiles, he also was posing as a pedophile, targeting the North American Man/Boy Love Association, an underground network of men seeking to justify their sexual attraction to young boys. His book, "The Last Undercover: The True Story of an FBI Agent's Dangerous Dance With Evil," was released the week before he took the stand in the Las Vegas counterfeiting trial. In the work, he chronicles his three-year infiltration of NAMBLA and details a dozen other remarkable undercover assignments.
His book is a riveting account of his years spent undercover for the FBI and of the kind of risks that are necessary in a world where criminals and our adversaries will go to any lengths to destroy us. The operation against those who were helping to undermine our economy was one of many intrigues in which Bob Hamer proved his mettle in an extraordinary career.
Last week, the Chinese conspirator who brought the counterfeit bills into the U.S. was found guilty and now faces up to 25 years in federal prison. The case against O.J. still is pending in a courthouse two blocks away. Congress may yet figure out how to bail out Wall Street without impoverishing the rest of us. Meanwhile, if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shows up in your restaurant for dinner, don't let him pay in cash.