Home News Speeches The Evolving Organized Crime Threat
  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Citizens Crime Commission of New York
  • New York City, New York
  • January 27, 2011

Good morning; it is good to be here today. 

I first met with you in late 2002. We were all still coming to grips with the reality of terrorism here at home. We were undergoing a shift in mindset, re-thinking our place in the world and the dangers we faced.

Since that time, we have seen a number of dramatic shifts–not just in our perspectives on terrorism, but in the way we learn, communicate, and conduct business. Shifts in the political, social, and economic climate. Shifts in our way of life.

Today, we communicate by texting, tweeting, and Skyping. We take pictures without film, we read books without pages, and every six-year-old has a smart phone. We share the sundry details of our lives on Facebook. Well, most of us do. For some reason, no one wants to be “friended” by the Director of the FBI.

YouTube made its debut just five years ago. Today, 35 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Most of them feature someone by the name of Justin Bieber. At my age, I have to wonder, who the heck is this kid, and why can’t he get a haircut?

These shifts are the result of globalization and technology. And we have all felt the ripple effects.   

We in the FBI have seen a marked shift in criminal and terrorist threats. 

We not only face threats from Al Qaeda and its affiliates, we confront homegrown terrorism. These individuals are harder to identify. They can easily connect with other extremists on the Internet, and they may be highly capable operationally. For this reason, terrorism will remain our top priority. 

But we cannot discount shifting criminal threats, including those posed by lone offenders, such as the attack in Tucson. How do we find and stop an individual who would take up arms against his own community? We must do everything we can to prevent any such attack.

We also face evolving threats from violent gangs, computer hackers, child predators, and white collar criminals. This morning, I want to focus on one such evolving threat–that of organized crime. 

Some believe that organized crime is a thing of the past. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Traditional criminal syndicates still con, extort, and intimidate American citizens. 

As you know, just last week we arrested nearly 130 members of La Cosa Nostra in New York, New Jersey, and New England. We will continue to work with our state and local partners to end La Cosa Nostra’s lifelong practice of crime and undue influence. 

But the playing field has changed. We have seen a shift from regional families with a clear structure, to flat, fluid networks with global reach. These international enterprises are more anonymous and more sophisticated. Rather than running discrete operations, on their own turf, they are running multi-national, multi-billion dollar schemes from start to finish.

We are investigating groups in Asia, Eastern Europe, West Africa, and the Middle East. And we are seeing cross-pollination between groups that historically have not worked together. Criminals who may never meet, but who share one thing in common: greed.  

They may be former members of nation-state governments, security services, or the military. These individuals know who and what to target, and how best to do it. They are capitalists and entrepreneurs. But they are also master criminals who move easily between the licit and illicit worlds. And in some cases, these organizations are as forward-leaning as Fortune 500 companies.

This is not “The Sopranos,” with six guys sitting in a diner, shaking down a local business owner for $50 dollars a week. These criminal enterprises are making billions of dollars from human trafficking, health care fraud, computer intrusions, and copyright infringement. They are cornering the market on natural gas, oil, and precious metals, and selling to the highest bidder. 

These crimes are not easily categorized. Nor can the damage, the dollar loss, or the ripple effects be easily calculated. It is much like a Venn diagram, where one crime intersects with another, in different jurisdictions, and with different groups.

How does this impact you? You may not recognize the source, but you will feel the effects. You might pay more for a gallon of gas. You might pay more for a luxury car from overseas. You will pay more for health care, mortgages, clothes, and food.   

Yet we are concerned with more than just the financial impact. These groups may infiltrate our businesses. They may provide logistical support to hostile foreign powers. They may try to manipulate those at the highest levels of government. Indeed, these so-called “iron triangles” of organized criminals, corrupt government officials, and business leaders pose a significant national security threat.

Let us turn for a moment to the link between transnational organized crime and terrorism. If a terrorist cannot obtain a passport, for example, he will find someone who can. Terrorists may turn to street crime—and, by extension, organized crime—to raise money, as did the 2004 Madrid bombers.

Organized criminals have become “service providers.” Could a Mexican group move a terrorist across the border? Could an Eastern European enterprise sell a Weapon of Mass Destruction to a terrorist cell? Likely, yes. Criminal enterprises are motivated by money, not ideology. But they have no scruples about helping those who are, for the right price.

Intelligence and partnerships are key to our success in countering these threats.   

In the past nine years, we in the FBI have shifted from a law enforcement agency to a national security service that is threat-driven and intelligence-led. 

With organized crime, we are using intelligence to expand upon what we already know, from phone, travel, and financial records to extensive biographies of key players. And we are sharing this information with our partners around the world.

But we are also building a long-term strategy for dismantling these enterprises. Last year, we set up two units, called Threat Focus Cells, to target Eurasian organized crime. The first focuses on the Semion Mogilevich Organization; the second on the Brother’s Circle enterprise. 

For those of you not familiar with either group, their memberships are large, their reach is global, and their scope of operations is broad, from weapons and drug trafficking to high-stakes fraud and global prostitution. If left unchecked, the resulting impact to our economy and our security will be significant. Indeed, Semion Mogilevich is on the FBI Top Ten Most Wanted List, and he will remain so until he is captured. 

These Threat Focus Cells include FBI personnel from the Criminal, Cyber, Counterintelligence, and International Operations divisions. They also include our partners in the law enforcement and intelligence communities, both at home and abroad. 

We are also taking a hard look at other groups around the world, such as West African and Southeast Asian organized crime. We are sharing that intelligence with our partners, who, in turn, will add their own information. The goal is to combine our resources and our expertise to gain a full understanding of each group, and to better understand what we must do, together, to put them out of business. 

But even the best intelligence is often not enough. We must present a united front. 

Joseph Petrosino, a detective in the New York Police Department, was one of the first to fight organized crime, in the early 1900s. He was a legend in law enforcement circles, and he was certainly one of New York’s finest. 

This five-foot-three-inch Italian immigrant was a one-man intelligence collection platform and undercover operations unit. Petrosino reportedly went undercover as a blind beggar, a sanitation worker, and a health inspector. Along the way, he put a rather large dent in the operations of the Black Hand, with the support of Teddy Roosevelt. But in 1909, when Petrosino traveled to Sicily, he was gunned down in the street.   

Petrosino had a limited network of support here at home, and no network of which to speak overseas. He was the leader of a small, inexperienced team fighting large, deep-rooted organizations. And by all accounts, he was a marked man, on borrowed time.   

Fortunately, times have changed.  

Last October, with our state and local partners, we arrested 52 individuals—many of whom were alleged members of an Armenian-American syndicate—for health care fraud amounting to more than $163 million dollars. Among those arrested was an individual believed to be what is known as a “Thief-in-Law”—the elite in today’s world of organized crime. This is the first time in nearly 15 years that a known “Thief-in-Law” has been arrested on a federal charge.

We have also built a solid network of support with our international partners. We have more than 60 Legal Attaché offices overseas, where agents and analysts work closely with their foreign counterparts, sharing intelligence and investigating cases together.

In Budapest, FBI agents have worked side-by-side with the Hungarian National Police for more than 10 years, targeting Eurasian organized crime. Together, we have identified and arrested criminals from Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and Russia, among others. 

Through these partnerships—these friendships—we are on a first-name basis with thousands of officers around the world, all of whom share the same goal—keeping their citizens safe from every threat, every day.

Nearly three weeks have passed since the tragic attack in Tucson. We still feel the impact of that attack—and the idea that one individual could inflict such damage.

Yet we also confront terrorists who seek to inflict the greatest damage possible. Gang members who cultivate crime and violence. Computer hackers who target our financial networks. And organized criminals who will stop at nothing to make money. 

Congresswoman Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, is an astronaut. His twin brother, Scott, is the current commander of the International Space Station.    

Two days after the attack, from space, Commander Kelly led NASA in a moment of silence. Speaking by radio, he said, “We have a unique vantage point [up] here. …I see a very beautiful planet that seems inviting and peaceful.  Unfortunately, it is not. …[But] we are better than this. We must do better.”

As we all know, a world that is often inviting and peaceful can become violent, even deadly, in the blink of an eye. We may not see the shift, but we certainly feel the impact. 

But we are better than the criminals and terrorists we face. Together, we can and we must do better. Together, we must do more, for the American people deserve no less.

Thank you for having me here this morning and for your support over the years. It has been my honor to work with you.

 
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