- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

A financial-crimes task force that has targeted terrorists' efforts to raise illicit cash expanded operations yesterday to more than a dozen U.S. cities and outposts in Europe and the Middle East in what was described as a major crackdown on international terrorism.
U.S. Customs Service Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said the number of intelligence analysts assigned to the Operation Green Quest task force will be doubled, that dozens of experienced customs agents will be assigned to field stations in 13 U.S. cities, and that offices will be opened in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and in Bern, Switzerland.
"When we [started] Operation Green Quest in October 2001, in response to September 11, we went on the offensive to attack terrorism directly," Mr. Bonner said during an interview at the customs headquarters in Washington. "With more than 600 active investigations, the task force is hitting stride, and it's time to expand the operation."
Operation Green Quest is a multiagency task force led by Customs, and its goal is to disrupt sources of terrorist financing. Since its creation, it has conducted 177 searches, made 79 arrests, obtained 70 indictments and seized more than $33 million in terrorist assets.
Last month, task force members dismantled a global, underground wire-transfer network that illegally funneled $12 million in cash and goods to Iraq in violation of the embargo by the United Nations against Saddam Hussein's government.
A Seattle firm and 12 persons in Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Great Britain and the United States were accused of money laundering and conspiracy in a grand jury indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
Task force investigators are trying to determine whether any of the cash was used to bankroll terrorist activities or to purchase weapons of mass destruction.
Those arrested included Hussein Al-Shafei in Seattle, whose family operates a money-transfer business that Iraqi immigrants and others use to send cash to family and friends in other countries. The task force had targeted the diversion of nearly $28 million in cash and goods out of the United States over 30 months $12 million of which found its way into Iraq through third parties.
Mr. Bonner said the task force maintains a targeting and coordination center at the customs headquarters that collects and disseminates information to agents in the field.
The expanded operation, he said, will include field offices in 13 cities from Seattle to New York, and from Detroit to Houston manned by experienced agents, intelligence analysts and support personnel.
Mr. Bonner said the coordination center also will add three district branches, which will oversee investigations of specific financial targets, direct the field offices and coordinate intelligence operations.
"The task force agents have developed an expertise and experience in money-laundering techniques," he said. "It has been a very successful effort and is a key part of the Customs Service's top priority keeping terrorists and terrorists' weapons out of the United States."
Mr. Bonner said terrorist groups need an effective financial infrastructure with sources of funds and a way to ensure that the money can be used to acquire items needed to commit terrorist acts.
Those sources, he said, include charity and relief organizations that divert cash to terrorists; legitimate businesses that mix legally and illegally obtained funds to avoid suspicion; and profits from criminal enterprises, including drug smuggling, identity theft and other fraud schemes.
"These are difficult investigative cases that require a high level of knowledge of the banking system," he said. "We have that knowledge and plan to put it to use on a much wider scale."
In addition to Customs, the task force includes agents from the Internal Revenue Service, the Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the FBI, the Postal Inspection Service, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Justice Department.

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