An underground counterfeiting operation appears to continue with $100 'supernote' bills popping up worldwide, while questions remain about possible North Korean ties to the phony bills.
The 'supernote' appears to be made from the same cotton and linen mix that distinguishes U.S. currency from other currency. It even has watermarks visible from the other side of the bill, colored microfibers woven into the substrate of the banknote and an embedded strip, barely visible, that reads USA 100 and glows red under ultraviolet light.
The secret operation, stumping officials worldwide, could be the "most sophisticated counterfeiting operation in the world," former congressman James Kolbe told McClatchy Newspapers.
"We are not certain as to how this is being done or how it's happening," Kolbe said.
The supernotes could be made by someone who has access to government printing equipment, said Thomas Ferguson, former director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Lawmakers accused North Korean leaders of involvement in the counterfeiting ring but the origin is questionable. Other experts suspect Iran and criminal gangs in Russia or China.
President Bush claimed two years ago "we are aggressively saying to the North Koreans ... don't counterfeit our money."
But the Bush administration no longer publicly accuses North Korea of being behind the supernotes.
In the late 1990s, North Korean diplomats were caught passing supernotes. In August 2005, the Secret Service found Chinese crime gangs smuggling some of the bills into New Jersey and Los Angeles.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said he didn't see evidence that North Korea was behind the supernotes but pointed out their distribution of them.
Meanwhile, banks continue seizing the supernotes, with about $50 million worth found so far.