The U.S. Customs Service appreciates the opportunity to provide this statement for the record.
The U.S. Customs Service has long served as one of the most active money laundering investigative agencies in federal law enforcement. For years, the agency has worked to disrupt and dismantle the money laundering techniques used by the world’s drug cartels to launder narcotics proceeds.
Our criminal investigators are well trained in all types of financial crimes. Using a systems-based approach, we target not only the individuals involved in money laundering and those who finance and fund criminal activity, but also the networks they use to carry out their criminal activities.
Now, we are turning this expertise full-force on terrorist organizations and their financial backers and supporters, and against those who help move money for terrorists.
Three weeks ago, Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner joined Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Kenneth Dam, Treasury Undersecretary of Enforcement Jimmy Gurule, and Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff in announcing the launch of a new financial enforcement initiative known as Operation Green Quest.
Green Quest is a multi-agency task force targeted against terrorist organizations. It is aimed at freezing and seizing the accounts and assets of terrorist organizations; not just those groups associated with the attacks of September 11th, but all the terrorist groups that pose a threat to the United States and to all nations of the world.
Green Quest brings the money laundering investigative expertise of the Treasury agencies to bear on terrorist networks and their financial supporters. It is led by U.S. Customs, and includes the Internal Revenue Service, the Secret Service, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) and FINCEN.
The Operation also draws on the new Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center, and will be supported by the FBI and federal prosecutors from the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.
Green Quest seeks to combine our strengths in a more effective way, by melding the intelligence gathering abilities of offices like FINCEN with the investigative expertise of agencies like U.S. Customs, IRS, OFAC, and Secret Service.
A senior U.S. Customs special agent serves the Director of Operation Green Quest. An IRS criminal investigator is the Deputy Director.
Green Quest operates through two components: a command and coordination center here at Customs Headquarters in Washington, and a field task force made up of dedicated and experienced agents in New York.
These agents have been drawn from a long-term, highly successful money laundering initiative based in New York known as Operation El Dorado.
Drawing on the expertise of Customs and IRS agents who have worked money laundering cases in New York and elsewhere, Green Quest will supply the investigative muscle and expertise to identify, freeze, and seize the accounts and assets of terrorist organizations and their supporters.
This operation will also generate new information on sources of terrorist funding and the systems used to fund terrorist activities. In short, Operation Green Quest will deprive terrorist organizations of the financial means to carry out their activities in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.
One week ago today, the United States delivered a major blow against terrorist financing in a coordinated action against a global money transfer network known as Al Barakaat. Acting on intelligence, and equipped with federal search warrants and blocking orders, agents from Operation Green Quest executed warrants and served blocking notices on a number of affiliated U.S. companies of Barakaat, which had been linked to Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organization and other terrorist groups.
Green Quest executed warrants and served blocking notices in six cities across the country, Boston, Falls Church and Alexandria, Virginia; Columbus, Ohio, and Minneapolis and Seattle. Eight Al Barakaat businesses were shut down or searched and, their assets were frozen. In the days that followed, more searches of U.S. firms affiliated with Al Barakaat took place.
These are the first of what we expect to be many actions by Operation Green Quest. We will pursue all avenues of terrorist funding -- those that exploit our global banking system, those that manifest themselves through the more informal hawala network, and other insidious methods, including the use of international trade.
We suspect terrorist organizations of employing trade-based schemes to mask funding sources. What does that mean? Terrorist front companies might overvalue or undervalue merchandise. They might use double invoicing. They might fabricate shipments altogether.
Customs enjoys a longstanding expertise in identifying trade-based money laundering schemes too. Our dual mission to facilitate trade and enforce laws gives us access to vast amounts of financial and trade data. In the trade area, we can look at the import and export history for tens of thousands of companies. We can cross-reference that information against other records and various law enforcement databases through special applications developed by Customs employees. That allows us to spot trends and anomalies in a particular company’s or a particular industry’s activities.
Other terrorists may resort to simpler methods of money laundering, such as Bulk Cash Smuggling. New anti-money laundering laws enacted by Congress and signed by President Bush strengthen the laws against those who smuggle concealed cash out of the country, above the $10,000 dollar allowable amount.
Prior to this new legislation, the smuggling of cash was mainly a reporting offense. The new statute provides for criminal forfeiture of the property involved, and outlines more stringent penalties against violators.
Customs has taken its own, aggressive measures to combat bulk cash smuggling into and out of the U.S. Outbound inspections alone of persons and vehicles have resulted in currency seizures over the past six years of close to $340 million dollars.
Again, whatever the terrorist funding source may be, we will pursue it. The combined strength of federal law enforcement, as manifested in Operation Green Quest, makes for a formidable defense along this crucial front in our global war on terrorism. The active support of the Congress, as demonstrated by this hearing today, lends yet further strength to that effort.
Thank you for this opportunity to provide the views of the Customs Service on this important new initiative.
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