Crime, like every other enterprise, is going global.

The United Nations recently made the rather startling observation that illegal drug sales, estimated at $321.6 billion per year, exceed the gross domestic product of 88 percent of the world's nations.

Talk about your new global economy. And there's more ripped from recent headlines:

  • Feds sweep through seven metropolitan areas and collar more than 100 alleged members of MS-13, a Latino gang operating in both the United States and Central America.

  • Armenians and South Africans, among others, have been accused of planning to smuggle Russian weapons into the United States.

  • The Atlantic Monthly magazine reports that Nigerians, sometimes operating in Bangkok, Thailand, buy heroin in Pakistan or Iran and smuggle it through Southeast Asia or West Africa to the United States and Europe.

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies has contended that Haiti receives weapons smuggled out of Central America and that some of them end up in the hands of gangs in Jamaica.

At first glance, these would appear to be totally unrelated developments. But there is a common denominator here, one that ought to worry us.

To give credit where it's due, John Kerry warned about the problem to anyone who cared to read or listen eight years ago in his book, "The New War: The Web of Crime That Threatens America's Security."

In that book, which got precious little attention, Kerry described the post-Cold War threats to America. They included terrorism and "powerful new international criminal enterprises that threaten the stability of whole nations and challenge our standards of civilization."

The senator laid out pretty much what's happening today — everything from the slave trade, to computer hijacking, to money laundering, to drug dealing to extortion. He confirmed what some of us had been noticing since the early 1970s: That the standard perception of organized crime as an Italian Mob with Irish, Jewish, and other white ethnic allies, was undergoing a sea change.

Just as globalization transforms our political and economic lives, it also alters the underworld. Nations always have had their own gangsters, but increasingly, these outfits, when they choose to, have been cooperating with each other.

This is not done out of any gangland philosophy of ethnic and racial diversity. This is a pragmatic effort to make money. It explains, for example, why in the middle of what has essentially been an ongoing war since at least 1947, Israeli and Palestinian gangsters have worked together in a lucrative car theft operation.

None of this means an end to gang wars. Just as cooperation increases, so too does competition, which leads often to bloody confrontations. Gang wars, in turn, get the attention of the public, which sets up a cry for more arrests and prosecutions.

This is why the American Mob, which grew out of both street gangs and Prohibition outfits, began in 1929 a process to discipline its wayward members. Smart mobsters like Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello and Lepke Buchalter, having survived the wild days of Prohibition, knew that out-of-control mobsters were bad for business. Contracts were handed out regularly to whack such characters.

Criminals being what they are, there was never a perfect peace in Mobland, but there was a sense of order, at least until drugs became such a lucrative commodity. It was like Prohibition all over again. All kinds of people, from black neighborhood gangs to middle-class white guys, began getting involved in the drug trade. By the 1980s, both Mob guys and cops were saying that the drug trade had subverted whatever Mob discipline existed.

The very nature of that business speaks to globalization. Not everything that Americans seem to want in great quantity can be grown domestically. So places like Colombia, Mexico and Afghanistan become part of the picture, which grows more sophisticated and complicated when you introduce white slavery, weapons sales, money laundering and, yes, terrorism.

So, when U.S. law enforcement officials head out to Paraguay because that nation may be a transit point for Colombian and Bolivian drug gangs, we must also acknowledge that Paraguay has become a magnet as well for Arabs with ties to such terrorist groups as Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

Americans, perhaps stubbornly na•ve even after Sept. 11, may regard international crime as a phenomenon far from their back yards. But it should have become clear by now that when some low-level guy is busted, say, in Lawrence or Salem, for dealing drugs, he is likely to be just the traveling salesman for an international enterprise.

[Source: By Alan Lupo, The Salem News, USa, 25Jul05]

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