Mukasey targets global crime kingpins using counter-terror measures

By SHAUN WATERMAN, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor  |  April 29, 2008 at 12:03 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey's new strategy for combating international organized crime will see prosecutors working more closely with U.S. intelligence agencies to identify, track and disrupt the operations of major global crime figures.

The strategy, Mukasey's first major law enforcement initiative since taking office last year, will also expand the use against its leaders of executive branch tactics already employed against known and suspected terrorists, like watch-listing and asset-freezing.

U.S. intelligence agencies provided "vital input" into the threat analysis that underpinned the strategy, said a U.S. intelligence official authorized to speak to the media.

"Intelligence reporting and analysis, for example, highlighted the importance to organized crime of flexible support networks -- moving the discussion beyond the more static 'syndicate' model," which officials had traditionally used to understand the workings of organized crime.

Intelligence about a possible "confluence between organized crime and threats such as terrorism," said the official in an e-mailed statement, "shaped the view, reflected in the strategy, that the fight against organized crime should be viewed not only as an international law enforcement issue, but as an international security issue."

An interagency U.S. committee will "select and target the international organized crime figures and organizations that pose the greatest threat to the United States" and coordinate investigations and prosecutions of them, says the Justice Department strategy.

It was agreed earlier this month by the attorney general's Organized Crime Council, which brings together senior officials from the Justice Department, FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies, including the IRS and Secret Service. Justice officials would not comment on the composition of the interagency committee prioritizing targets, or on the timeline for standing it up, beyond saying it would include the membership of the Organized Crime Council.

Announcing the strategy, Mukasey said he had revived the council, which had not met for 15 years, because a new generation of global crime organizations, wealthy, politically connected and technologically sophisticated, "pose real national security threats" to the United States.

"Some of the most significant" of the groups, Mukasey said, were "infiltrating our own strategic industries, and those of our allies … providing logistical support to terrorist organizations and foreign intelligence agencies, and are capable of creating havoc in our economic infrastructure."

He singled out the global energy and "strategic materials" markets as two sectors that global criminals "have penetrated and control significant positions in."

Once the list of priority targets is complete, the strategy says that special teams of "prosecutors, investigators, and analysts" will be set up to "focus law enforcement, intelligence and other resources on disrupting and dismantling significant (international organized crime) operations and (apprehending) high-value IOC figures worldwide."

Mukasey unveiled the strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last week, stressing that the strategy relied on cooperation from other U.S. agencies and international partners.

"This is about more than the Department of Justice," he said. "It involves our law enforcement and non-law enforcement colleagues at the departments of Homeland Security, State, Treasury, and Labor, as well as the intelligence community."

He said the administration would make use of executive branch authorities already employed against terrorism, like watch-listing and asset-seizing and -freezing, and cited their use against so-called drug kingpins as a model.

"We will be increasing the information we provide to the State Department to support their programs to deny visas to criminals, and to the Treasury Department to support their sanctions programs that target money laundering," Mukasey said.

Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher said that the list of targets against whom these authorities would be used, drawn up by the interagency committee, would not be like the public lists of designated terrorists produced by the State or Treasury departments.

"Obviously when it serves our investigative purposes, it may be that some of those groups or names are made public," she said, adding that measures like using Treasury Department powers to seize or freeze assets required the publication of names.

She said that, in addition to the executive authorities, prosecutors had "many, many tools at our disposal to go after these types of criminals, whether it's the racketeering statute, whether it's the general cyber-crime statutes, the counterfeit-goods (intellectual property) statutes. We have … mutual legal assistance treaties to work with our foreign counterparts."

"We're not at this point proposing new legislation," she concluded.

The strategy calls for the U.S. government to "utilize all available … programs, capabilities, and resources" to protect U.S. banks, trading companies and industries "and to prevent international organized criminals from entering and operating in the United States."

It calls on the government to "assertively employ its arsenal of powerful economic, consular and other non-law enforcement means to target IOC figures and organizations, freeze or seize their assets, and disrupt their ability to exploit U.S. banks, businesses, and strategic assets."

Mukasey said the strategy aimed to bring the instruments of national power to bear on the problem.

"We have to marshal information from all available sources -- law enforcement, the intelligence community, foreign partners, and the private sector -- so we can identify and draw connections among the groups," he said.

FBI Deputy Director John Pistole added that the bureau had no plans to expand the use of foreign intelligence powers to cover international organized crime. "We believe that the investigative tools and authorities that we have are more than adequate for addressing international organized crime. The fact that we can use other authorities on the national security side for counter-terrorism and counterintelligence, espionage, whatever it may be is simply an indication that there are tools in precise situations, but we have not -- at least in the FBI -- been in a situation where we needed to invoke those tools for international organized crime."

One foreign intelligence tool already available to federal prosecutors is intelligence from a special center at the CIA that monitors organized crime and terrorism.

The agency's Crime and Narcotics Center, launched with a counter-drug mission in 1989, was expanded to include the operations of international organized criminals beyond the drug trade in 1994.

Justice officials will also convene a special intelligence squad, "an interagency analytical team that will systematically collect, synthesize, and disseminate to headquarters and the field law enforcement and intelligence information on selected IOC targets … and enable investigators and prosecutors to make connections across jurisdictions to uncover and take action against priority international criminal organizations," according to the strategy.

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