No Ordinary Counterfeit

No Ordinary Counterfeit – New York Times

We had an earlier post on this in March

In Oct. 2, 2004, the container ship Ever Unique, sailing under a Panamanian flag from Yantai, China, berthed in the Port of Newark. Beneath cardboard boxes containing plastic toys, they found counterfeit $100 bills worth more than $300,000, secreted in false-bottomed compartments.

The counterfeits were nearly flawless. They featured the same high-tech color-shifting ink as genuine American bills and were printed on paper with the same precise composition of fibers. The engraved images were, if anything, finer than those produced by the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Only when subjected to sophisticated forensic analysis could the bills be confirmed as imitations.

As the mystery note underwent the usual scrutiny, it became apparent that this was no ordinary counterfeit. For starters, it was printed on paper made with the appropriate mix of three-quarters cotton and one-quarter linen of real U.S. currency. Making secure paper with this mix requires a special paper-making machine rarely seen outside the United States.

In addition, the note was manufactured using an intaglio press, the most advanced form of currency-printing technology available. These intaglio presses are far more expensive than ordinary offset, typographic or lithograhic presses, which yield inferior counterfeits. An intaglio press coats the printing plates with ink, and then wipes the surface clean, leaving behind ink in the recesses of the engraving. The press then brings paper and plate together under pressure, so that the ink is forced out of the recessed lines and deposited on the paper in relief. While counterfeits made using the intaglio process had been seen on rare occasions before, this note surpassed all of them in the quality of the engraving.

In 1996, frustrated by the high-quality imitations of its currency in worldwide circulation, the United States government redesigned the money for the first time since 1928. Out went the old-fashioned symmetrical designs, replaced by the big-head notes. Almost everything about the new design was aimed at frustrating potential counterfeiters, including a security thread embedded in the paper, a watermark featuring a shadow portrait of the figure on the bill and new “microprinting,” tiny lettering that is hard to imitate. The most significant addition was the use of optically variable ink, better known as O.V.I. Look at the bills in circulation today: all 10’s, 20’s, 50’s and 100’s now feature this counterfeiting deterrent in the denomination number on the lower-right-hand corner. Turn the bill one way, and it looks bronze-green; turn it the other way, and it looks black. O.V.I. is very expensive, costing many times more than conventional bank-note ink.

A Swiss company named SICPA is the major manufacturer of O.V.I., and the United States purchased the exclusive rights to green-to-black color-shifting ink in 1996. Other countries followed, purchasing color-shifting inks of different colors for their own currency. One of the first countries to do so, interestingly enough, was North Korea, whose currency, the won, counterfeiters ignore. North Korea purchased O.V.I. from SICPA that shifts from green to magenta. For the purposes of counterfeiting American currency, it would be a smart choice: magenta is the closest color on the spectrum to black.Next year, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is issuing an updated version of the $100 bills. The notes will be expensive to manufacture, requiring the purchase of a new set of presses at a cost that Asher estimated in the “hundreds of millions” of dollars. The Treasury Department characterizes the next generation of notes as part of a routine redesign that it will undertake on a regular schedule every decade. But Asher has no illusions as to the timing. “It might be a routine update,” he said, “but it’s a routine update that’s being instigated by one country: North Korea.”

And now the Chinese have frozen the North Korean’s Macau bank account 

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