The Super Dollar Famous Fakes and Frauds

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A superdollar or super note is an almost perfect counterfeit of a United States banknote believed by the government of the United States to be produced in North Korea. The United States government has outlined two reasons behind the North Korean distribution scheme: as a source of income and to undermine the U.S. economy. They have been circulating since the late 1980s. The name derives from the fact that the technology incorporated to create the note exceeds the one of the original. Currently, it is estimated that 1 in 10,000 bills is a super note[1].

North Korea calls the accusations 'sheer lies' and accuses the U.S. of using the issue as a pretext to war.[2][3] Recently, North Korea accused the CIA of manufacturing the superdollar themselves to undermine the North Korean government.

The notes

The notes are made with the highest quality ink and paper, designed to recreate the various security features of United States currency, such as the red and blue security fibers; the security thread; and the watermark; even experts need to study a note intensively before determining if it is a forgery. Officially they are known as the PN-14342 family, after the classification system the Secret Service uses. The notes are printed using the intaglio and typographic printing processes.

Several North Korean defectors have described the operation. They say the factory where the notes are printed is located in the city of Pyongsong and is part of Office 39[4]. One defector had taken the notes to experts in the South Korean intelligence agency, who did not believe that they were fakes.[5] The San Francisco Chronicle interviewed a North Korean chemist who described the operation; insisting on anonymity, he spoke about the technical details of the process as well as the distribution method, which he said was through North Korean diplomats and international crime syndicates.

Distribution method

The notes are believed to be spread in two ways:

  • North Korean diplomats almost always travel through Moscow on their way to other destinations. At the North Korean embassy they receive dollars for their expenses. The forgeries are intermingled with real dollars in about a 1 to 1 ratio. Most of the diplomats themselves do not know that they are being given fakes. In addition, it is reportedly possible to purchase a $100 bill for US$70 directly from North Korean agents. [6].
  • The British criminal underworld. The chief of staff of the Official IRA, Se�n Garland, was followed and seen travelling to Moscow and visiting the North Korean embassy along with some ex-KGB officers. Se�n Garland would then, with the help of some associate couriers, move this money to Dublin and Birmingham where the notes would be exchanged for pounds or authentic dollars.[7][8] His scheme, involving several international crime syndicates and transactions worth millions of dollars, was uncovered in 'Operation Mali' and began with a tip-off about a man named Alan Jones.[9] Garland was arrested in Belfast (Northern Ireland) but fled South to the Republic of Ireland after being released for medical leave; Ireland does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S. He has said he will surrender only if he will be tried by jury in Ireland.

Before investigators settled on North Korea as the source of the notes, various theories of their origin circulated. Iran was an early suspect[10], and in 2000 some laid the blame on Syria - 'The Bekaa Valley has become one of the main distribution sources, if not production points, of the 'supernote' - counterfeit U.S. currency so well done that it is impossible to detect.' [11]

Enforcement efforts

Since 2004 the United States has moved against North Korea in an attempt to end the distribution of supernotes. It has investigated the Bank of China, Banco Delta Asia, and Seng Heng Bank.[12][13] The U.S. eventually prohibited Americans from banking with Banco Delta Asia.[14][15]. It is threatening North Korea with sanctions, though it says those sanctions will be a separate issue from the nuclear one.

In two sting operations, dubbed 'Operation Smoking Dragon' and 'Operation Royal Charm', United States agents arrested at least 87 people on charges that included smuggling superdollars.

China and South Korea were initially reluctant to believe that North Korea was the source of the notes. On January 11, 2006, China announced that its own investigation had reached the same conclusion, and says it believes North Korea cannot escape culpability and will try to convince it to end the activity. South Korea is attempting to play a middle role, encouraging all parties to reach an acceptable conclusion without acrimony.[16] In a major meeting on January 22, 2006, the U.S. laid out its evidence and tried to persuade the Seoul government to take a harder line on the issue and impose similar financial sanctions, but was rebuffed.[17][18] South Korea prefers to place blame on North Korean organizations rather than the government, believing that this change in rhetoric can mollify North Korea and be conducive to a resumption of the Six-party talks. Some believe that the South's position is hurting its alliance with the U.S. and could relegate it to a minor role in the North Korea issue.[19]

Several North Korean diplomats have been arrested on suspicion of passing the counterfeit bills, but have used diplomatic immunity to evade charges.[20]

On February 2, 2006, banks in Japan voluntarily enforced sanctions on Banco Delta Asia identical to those imposed by the United States.[21] Later in August 2006, the Sankei Shimbun reported that North Korea had opened 23 bank accounts in 10 countries, with the likely intent of laundering more superbills.[22]

CIA involvement questioned

On January 7, 2007, the Sunday edition of the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) challenged the official American statement and the accusations on North Korea. Their research suggested that the real source of the superdollars is a secret printing facility close to Washington D.C. and owned by the CIA. According to the FAZ, the forged dollars are used to finance international secret CIA operations by evading Congress control. The accusations are allegedly backed by anonymous U.S. government sources. Presently, there has not been an official response by the U.S. government to these accusations. See article in German. [23]

Popular culture recognition

  • On CSI: Miami, the television drama about forensic scientists, a counterfeit Supernote printing press is linked to the North Korean government's attempt to dismantle the Miami economy.

See also

  • Operation Bernhard - a similar operation run by Nazi Germany during the Second World War with forged Pound Sterling notes.


1. North Korea's Counterfeit Con Con (July 06, 2006). Retrieved on 2006-12-13.
3.[Dead link, will replace if possible]
6. Kwon Jeong Hyun. 'NK Super-Notes Still Circulating Reconfirmed on the Spot', The Daily NK, 2006-08-30. Retrieved on 2006-12-13.
8. [Dead link, will replace if possible]
10.  [Dead link, will replace if possible]
11. [Dead link, will replace if possible]
12. [Dead link, will replace if possible]
13. [Dead link, will replace if possible]
14. Treasury Designates Banco Delta Asia as Primary Money Laundering Concern under USA PATRIOT Act, United States Treasury Department Press Release
15. [Dead link, will replace if possible]
16. [Dead link, will replace if possible]
17. [Dead link, will replace if possible]
22. 'N. Korea has opened accounts at 23 banks in 10 countries', Kyodo News, August 18, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-13.

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