The “supernotes” conspiracy theory

Graphic by McClatchy I’ve known about the questions regarding the “supernotes”—brilliant forgeries of U.S. $100 bills—for some time, but until Tuesday’s McClatchy story, I considered them to be loony conspiracy theories. But now the Swiss federal police have weighed in: WASHINGTON – Swiss police who closely monitor the circulation of counterfeit currency have challenged the ...

601678_070524_mcclatchy_05.jpg
601678_070524_mcclatchy_05.jpg

Graphic by McClatchy

I've known about the questions regarding the "supernotes"—brilliant forgeries of U.S. $100 bills—for some time, but until Tuesday's McClatchy story, I considered them to be loony conspiracy theories. But now the Swiss federal police have weighed in:

WASHINGTON - Swiss police who closely monitor the circulation of counterfeit currency have challenged the Bush administration's assertions that North Korea is manufacturing fake American $100 bills. [...]

Graphic by McClatchy

I’ve known about the questions regarding the “supernotes”—brilliant forgeries of U.S. $100 bills—for some time, but until Tuesday’s McClatchy story, I considered them to be loony conspiracy theories. But now the Swiss federal police have weighed in:

WASHINGTON – Swiss police who closely monitor the circulation of counterfeit currency have challenged the Bush administration’s assertions that North Korea is manufacturing fake American $100 bills. […]

The Swiss federal criminal police, in a report released Monday, expresses serious doubt that North Korea is capable of manufacturing the fake bills, which it said were superior to real ones.

Until Tuesday, this argument had been advanced by a German journalist named Klaus W. Bender, author of Moneymakers: The Secret World of Banknote Printing. Bender accuses the CIA of producing the bills—which is why I looked upon his tale with a jaundiced eye when I first saw it last year. (The McClatchy story doesn’t explore the CIA angle, presumably because it would undermine the story’s credibility.)

In any case, the Swiss report as relayed by McClatchy may not be loony, but it’s no more convincing than Bender. The U.S. government never accused North Korea of pulling off this counterfeiting scheme all by itself, as you can see from this Congressional Research Service report (pdf). Rather, the allegation was that there was a network, as this LA Times article from 2005 explains:

U.S. authorities have unsealed hundreds of pages of documents in support of the cases in recent months, including an indictment that directly accuses North Korea of making the counterfeit bills … The documents paint a portrait of an extensive criminal network involving North Korean diplomats and officials, Chinese gangsters and other organized crime syndicates, prominent Asian banks, Irish guerrillas and an alleged ex-KGB agent.

Also worth noting, from the CRS report: The Chinese government and South Korean government, too, believe that North Korea is involved in counterfeiting. Are they, along with the Treasury Department, supposed to be in on the CIA plot? And finally, if North Korea can produce and test a nuclear weapon, why shouldn’t they be able to make fake $100 bills? It’s not exactly rocket science.

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