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Homeland Security Chief Unveils Initiative to Combat Criminal Financial Activities - 2003-07-08

On Wall Street Tuesday, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced new programs to safeguard the nation's financial system against criminal activities.

Mr. Ridge announced a new initiative called Operation Cornerstone to prosecute crimes such as money laundering, insurance schemes and securities and credit card fraud and to identify and strengthen vulnerabilities in the nation's financial systems.

Speaking to financial industry leaders at the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Secretary Ridge said one of the prime missions of the Department of Homeland Security is working with the private sector, which owns 85 percent of the critical infrastructure in the United States. He said economic security is the cornerstone of homeland security

"We cannot be satisfied as a country, we certainly cannot be satisfied as a department, with simply standing guard at our borders, at our ports or at our airports or at our landmarks," he emphasized. "We must also stand watch over our private sector. We must stand watch over our financial institutions. We must investigate and apprehend criminals who try to infiltrate them. We must shut down money laundering and identity theft schemes. We must close the gaps in our electronic systems and cyberspace. We must educate businesses and citizens on how to prevent financial crimes and we must seize ill-gotten assets before they can be used to fund terror."

Operation Cornerstone is run by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"ICE agents recently shut down a drug cartel scheme to launder money through the purchase of life insurance," explained Mr. Ridge. "In another case, ICE agents, posing as drug dealers themselves, foiled a scheme to buy gold and diamonds with drug proceeds."

In addition, Mr. Ridge says the Secret Service is expanding its task force to investigate computer-based crimes.

"Identity theft alone cost Americans more than $1 billion in 2001 and it certainly can be a gateway to other crimes, including terrorism," he said.

Mr. Ridge says the department wants to share information with key members of the financial community to prevent future financial crimes.