Mr. Tom Ridge, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, has unveiled comprehensive new programmes designed to protect U.S. financial systems from criminal exploitation.

Speaking at the New York Federal Reserve earlier this week, Secretary Ridge announced:

· the creation of a new financial crimes investigative initiative;

· expansion of already successful electronics crime task forces;

· a groundbreaking initiative designed to share specific information with the nation’s top financial institutions.

Operation Cornerstone is a new financial investigations initiative that will not only prosecute money laundering crimes but will initiate a new approach of working with the private sector to shore up potential weaknesses in financial systems. It will be run by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and will identify vulnerabilities in financial systems through which criminals launder their illicit proceeds, bring the criminals to justice and work to eliminate the vulnerabilities.

A Department of Homeland Security release said through a working partnership with industry representatives, ICE will share information learned from these investigations to eliminate industry-wide security gaps that could be exploited by money launderers and other criminal organizations.

The Secret Service is expanding its highly successful Electronic Crimes Task Forces to four additional cities. The Secret Service currently runs task forces in 9 cities. The four new cities are Cleveland, Houston, Dallas and Columbia, South Carolina. The 9 existing task forces are operating in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Charlotte, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

These task forces investigate a wide range of computer-based criminal activity. Examples include e-commerce frauds, identity crimes, telecommunications fraud, and a wide variety of computer intrusion crimes that affect a variety of infrastructures. Since its inception in 1995, the New York Electronic Crimes Task Force alone has charged over 800 people with electronic crimes valued at more than $500 million. ICE’s own El Dorado Task Force has investigated numerous money laundering and other financial crimes since its inception in 1992. In eleven years El Dorado Task Force agents have arrested 1,753 individuals and seized nearly $560 million in criminal proceeds.

*”Safeguarding the integrity of America’s financial systems is a key part of homeland security,”* said Secretary Ridge. *”Criminal organizations are seeking new ways to finance their operations, and the Department of Homeland Security is moving aggressively to identify vulnerabilities within U.S. financial systems that could be exploited to those ends.”*

Further, to aid the financial industry in its own efforts to shore up vulnerabilities in its systems, Secretary Ridge announced a new program jointly run by ICE and the Secret Service. Under this new program called SHARE (Systematic Homeland Approach to Reducing Exploitation), officials from the Secret Service and ICE will jointly conduct semi-annual meetings with executive members of the financial and trade communities impacted by money laundering, identity theft, and other financial crimes. In these meetings special agents and analysts from the two Homeland Security agencies will share data on specific investigative outcomes from investigations into money laundering, identity theft, and other financial crimes.

Taking the Secret Service’s long experience with investigating crimes like counterfeiting, identity theft and credit card fraud, and ICE’s long experience with investigating illegal efforts to launder or mask the true source of criminal proceeds – and sharing that experience with the financial community, American pocketbooks and bank accounts will be “far safer”, according to Secretary Ridge. He said, *”It’s critical we work in partnership with the financial community. Unless we share the specific findings of our investigations, we run the risk that our nation’s financial systems will remain vulnerable to exploitation. We can’t let that happen.”*

The first meeting under the SHARE programme is expected to take place by mid-October.