Asian Criminal Enterprises
Asian criminal enterprises have been operating in the U.S. since the early 1900s. The first of these groups evolved from Chinese tongs—social organizations formed by early Chinese-American immigrants. A century later, the criminalized tongs are thriving and have been joined by similar organizations with ties to East and Southeast Asia.
Members of the most dominant Asian criminal enterprises affecting the U.S. have ties—either directly or culturally—to China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Other enterprises are emerging as threats, however, including groups from the South Pacific island nations.
These enterprises rely on extensive networks of national and international criminal associates that are fluid and extremely mobile. They adapt easily to the changes around them, have multilingual abilities, can be highly sophisticated in their criminal operations, and have extensive financial capabilities. Some enterprises have commercialized their criminal activities and can be considered business firms of various sizes, from small family-run operations to large corporations.
Asian criminal enterprises have prospered thanks largely to the globalization of the world economies and to communications technology and international travel. Generous immigration policies have provided many members of Asian criminal enterprises the ability to enter and live on every populated continent in the world today undetected.
There are two categories of Asian criminal enterprises. Traditional criminal enterprises include the Chinese triads (or underground societies) based in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau as well as the Japanese Yakuza or Boryokudan. Non-traditional criminal enterprises include groups such as Chinese criminally influenced tongs, triad affiliates, and other ethnic Asian street gangs found in several countries with sizeable Asian communities.
Asian criminal enterprises conduct traditional racketeering activities normally associated with organized crime: extortion, murder, kidnaping, illegal gambling, prostitution, and loansharking. They also smuggle aliens, traffic heroin and methamphetamine; commit financial frauds; steal autos and computer chips; counterfeit computer and clothing products; and launder money.
There are several trends among Asian criminal enterprises. First, it is more common to see criminal groups cooperate across ethnic and racial heritage lines. Also, some gangs and criminal enterprises have begun to structure their groups in a hierarchical fashion to be more competitive, and the criminal activities they engage in have become globalized. Finally, more of these criminal enterprises are engaging in white-collar crimes and are co-mingling their illegal activities with legitimate business ventures.
In the U.S., Asian criminal enterprises have been identified in more than 50 metropolitan areas. They are more prevalent in Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.
How We Combat Asian Criminal Enterprises
The FBI participates in different working groups and initiatives to combat Asian organized crime on an international level:
- The FBI/National Police Agency of Japan Working Group meets annually to discuss ongoing investigations and policy matters for sharing intelligence, interagency investigative support, and FBI extraterritorial operations in Japan.
- Project Bridge is a working group under Interpol to help member countries coordinate investigations and information sharing between police agencies to fight Asian-alien smuggling syndicates.
- The Interagency Working Group on Alien Smuggling coordinates policy discussions and examines investigative issues relating to alien smuggling and the trafficking of women and children. It is sponsored by the National Security Council’s Special Coordination Group on International Crime.
- The International Asian Organized Crime Conference meets annually, bringing together law enforcement agencies from around the world to discuss new trends and exchange ideas on combating Asian organized crime.
- The Canadian/United States Cross-Border Crime Forum addresses cross-border crime issues and effective coordination between the U.S. and Canadian law enforcement.
- The International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok, Thailand, is run with assistance from the FBI and Australian federal law enforcement agencies. The academy provides training to law enforcement agents from several Southeast Asian countries.