Washington, DC – Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) today chaired a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that detailed the link between the sale of counterfeit goods in the U.S. to criminal and terrorist activities, particularly by Hezbollah. This is the fourth hearing that Senator Collins has chaired on terrorism financing.

At today’s hearing, a former FBI intelligence expert testified that an estimated $20 million to $30 million of profits from illegal activities in the U.S. is funneled to terrorist groups in the Middle East, including Hezbollah. This expert has said that prior to the 9/11 attacks, Hezbollah killed more Americans than any other terrorist groups. The Committee displayed a table-full of items that were seized in recent raids on counterfeiting operations, including knock-off designer handbags such as Luis Vuitton, Gucci, and Prada, copies of brand-name clothing such as Izod, Nike, and Hello Kitty, faux Tiffany jewelry, pirated DVDs, and fake Disney children’s toys.

“People think that when they buy a fake designer bag or advance copy DVD on the street that they’re just getting a good deal and having some harmless fun. But the reality is that buying these goods not only supports criminals, but also possibly terrorists. People need to realize that they could be helping to fund a terrorist group like Hezbollah, which has attacked and is known to be planning attacks on Americans,” said Senator Collins. “The production, sale, and purchase of counterfeit goods is not a victimless crime.”

Senator Collins pointed out that it does not take a large sum of money to commit a devastating terrorist attack. For example, the organizing, planning, and training for the 9/11 attacks is estimated to have cost only $500,000 – a sum easily generated by criminal activities such as counterfeiting. One witness today testified that a single container full of counterfeit goods is worth $500,000 in profits. According to Interpol, The international police organization intellectual property crime is becoming the preferred method of funding for a number of terrorist organizations. The international police organization estimates that worldwide trade of counterfeit goods generates $450 billion annually.

“In addition to the high profits, terrorists have also turned to this method of financing because the U.S. and our allies around the world have made significant progress in shutting off the flow of terrorist money through established financial mechanisms and institutions. But we know that when we shut off one avenue of terrorists’ financing, they will find another,” said Senator Collins. “It is my hope that this attention will lead consumers to reject these low-cost, street-corner bargains, because in fact they can carry such an awful price. I also expect that this attention to the problem will lead to increased efforts by the government and law enforcement agencies to close off this rich avenue of terrorist financing.”

As Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Collins has held three hearings to investigate terrorism financing.