Jeffrey LewisAll About the Benjamins

McClatchy Newspapers’ Kevin G. Hall puts the final nail in the myth attributing “supernotes” — almost perfect counterfeit $100 bills — to North Korea.

In an article titled “U.S. counterfeiting charges against N. Korea based on shaky evidence,” Hall identifies and demolishes the central role played by defector testimony:

However, a 10-month McClatchy investigation on three continents has found that the evidence to support Bush’s charges against North Korea is uncertain at best and that the claims of the North Korean defectors cited in news accounts are dubious and perhaps bogus. One key law enforcement agency, the Swiss federal criminal police, has publicly questioned whether North Korea is even capable of producing “supernotes,” counterfeit $100 bills that are nearly perfect except for some practically invisible additions.

Many of the administration’s public allegations about North Korean counterfeiting trace to North Korea “experts” in South Korea who arranged interviews with North Korean defectors for U.S. and foreign newspapers. The resulting news reports were quoted by members of Congress, researchers and Bush administration officials who were seeking to pressure North Korea.

The defectors’ accounts, for example, were cited prominently in a lengthy July 23, 2006, New York Times magazine story that charged North Korea with producing the sophisticated supernotes.

The McClatchy investigation, however, found reason to question those sources. One major source for several stories, a self-described chemist named Kim Dong-shik, has gone into hiding, and a former roommate, Moon Kook-han, said Kim is a liar out for cash who knew so little about American currency that he didn’t know whose image is printed on the $100 bill. (It’s Benjamin Franklin.)

The Secret Service, the Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury Department all declined repeated requests for interviews for this story.

The story has a whole bunch of good stuff, including stories by Tim Johnson and government documents such as the 2004 indictment of Sean Garland, leader of an IRA-splinter group, for counterfeiting.


  1. SQ

    It’s refreshing to see someone following up on the Swiss police report, which many of us read with interest when it first gathered notice.

    So, what’s Korean for “curveball”?

  2. stevev (History)

    Haven’t we learned not to blindly trust information from defectors with grudges?

  3. James McNeil

    I think you need some editorial assistance. Check you last sentence: “leader of an IRA-splinter group leader…”

    Great blog however. I’m a long time reader, first time commenter.

  4. hass (History)

    Who cares? if its not the Norks, its the Iranians. Or the Taliban. Or whoever else were hating today.