Ridge unveils programs for protecting financial systems

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Tuesday announced several programs designed to protect the U.S. financial system against criminal exploitation.

In a speech at the Federal Reserve Board in New York, Ridge highlighted the creation of a new initiative to investigate financial crimes and the expansion of a program of electronic-crimes task forces. "Safeguarding the integrity of America's financial system is a key part of homeland security," he said.

The program of electronic-crimes task forces is run by the Secret Service. It was expanded from the original New York-based program to nine cities under a 2001 anti-terrorism law.

Tuesday's action extends the program to four additional cities: Cleveland; Columbia, S.C.; Dallas; and Houston. The existing task forces are in Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Miami; New York; San Francisco; and Washington.

The 13 task forces will focus on computer-based crimes such as identity theft, network and computer intrusions, and telecommunications fraud. They will partner with federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as segments of the private sector, such as the telecommunications industry and academic community, to identify and try to eliminate weaknesses in networks.

Since its inception in 1995, the New York-based task force has charged more than 800 people with electronic crimes valued at more than $500 million, according to a Homeland Security Department release. On Tuesday, Ridge toured the New York task force's office.

Ridge also toured another task force called El Dorado. Operated by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, it has investigated money laundering and other financial crimes since it was begun in 1992. In that time, El Dorado agents have made 1,753 arrests and seized nearly $560 million in illegal funds.

The new investigation initiative, called Operation Cornerstone, will permit prosecution of money-laundering crimes and launch an effort to work with the private sector to plug weaknesses in the financial system that allow money laundering.

The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement also runs Operation Cornerstone. The bureau will share information from the investigations with the private sector. A dedicated special agent will be assigned to each of the 25 bureau field offices to liaise with the private sector.

Ridge also announced a joint program between the bureau and the Secret Service called the Systematic Homeland Approach to Reducing Exploitation (SHARE), under which officials from both agencies will meet twice a year with private-sector officials affected by financial crimes.

Officials will share the latest information on specific investigations on money laundering, identity theft and other crimes. The first meeting is planned by mid-October.

Under the SHARE program, the Secret Service and CERT Coordination Center at Carnegie Mellon University have begun an analysis of network, system and database intrusions by company insiders with bad intentions.

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