U.S. troops in Iraq have uncovered a reported $772 million in American money, and investigators are trying to learn how so much cash got into a country under strict sanctions for nearly 13 years.
CBS News' Mark Knoller reports that the U.S. Secret Service, which handles counterfeiting investigations, has now examined "a small sampling" of the virtual mountain of pristine $100 bills and says it appears to be genuine.
Secret Service spokesman John Gill says more tests will be conducted but there's "no reason to believe the money is counterfeit."
But along the way, U.S. troops apparently tried to stash hundreds of thousands of these reportedly genuine dollars for themselves, DeCamp said.
"We've recovered just about all the money we thought was taken, we're still looking into it," DeCamp said.
U.S. troops stumbled over several aluminum cases filled with $100 bills in an empty house Monday. When looking into the containers, it became obvious that someone had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars, and officers began looking for that money.
So far, they have recovered approximately $900,000, a soldier familiar with the investigation said. But it was suspected more was taken.
The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, responsible for investigating serious crimes involving U.S. troops, has opened a case and five soldiers have been questioned, DeCamp said. Among the suspects are a senior noncommissioned officer and an officer, the soldier said, asking not to be identified.
Central Command would not confirm any figures other than the major find of more than $650 million in Baghdad.
The Bush administration wants any genuine, U.S. currency found in Iraq to be used to help the people of the country, Treasury Department officials said.
If the bills are genuine, experts say there are plenty of ways they could have made their way into Iraq, including oil and cash smuggling schemes, illegal trade deals, sham businesses and a web of middlemen located outside the country to conceal the true destination of the funds.
But tracing the movement of cash is difficult. A recent report by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve found that of the $620 billion of U.S. currency in circulation in late 2002, around 55 percent was circulating outside the United States.
"It is so essential that some documentation of financial records is discovered. Then investigators can go backward and trace the movements of the funds," said Jimmy Gurule, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who until February was the Treasury Department's undersecretary for enforcement in charge of pursuing terrorists' financiers.
Serial numbers on U.S. currency are sometimes useful, but their help is limited, experts said. Information exists to track bills' movements from the Federal Reserve to their first destination, but not beyond that, a Treasury official explained.
Some of the currency found recently may have come from legitimate sources, experts said.
The United States and the United Nations imposed a range of embargoes on Iraq following its August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, but in 1995, the United Nations approved an "oil-for-food" program that allowed the sale of a limited amount of Iraqi oil. The proceeds were meant to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies.
Gurule said a close look at this program might provide clues to the stash of U.S. currency.
"I would want to look at the records that pertain to this particular program, what the U.N. authorized and when, and see if I could match that up with Iraqi records and see if there are some glaring discrepancies," Gurule said.
The cash finds might assist a larger effort to track the resources of Saddam Hussein's deposed regime. They also point to the need to establish a new, post-Saddam currency for occupied Iraq.
U.S. officials believe there is more Iraqi money that hasn't been found. A General Accounting Office report last year said that Iraq generated $6.6 billion in illegal revenue from oil smuggling and other schemes from 1997 to 2001.
Meanwhile, part of the U.S. reconstruction push is introducing a new Iraqi currency that — officials hope — will hold its value and undoubtedly be expunged of the mustachioed former dictator.
As a stopgap, the United States flew in $20 million of its own currency last week to pay firefighters, police, electrical workers and other civil servants.
In the long run, however, Washington wants the new Iraqi government to pick its own currency, much as Afghanistan adopted a new one after the fall of the Taliban, U.S. Treasury spokesman Taylor Griffin said.