‘Rus­sian or­ga­nized crime’ poses a threat to demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions

Probe draws at­ten­tion to Rus­sian skull­dug­gery

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The US gov­ern­ment has long warned that Rus­sian or­ga­nized crime posed a threat to demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing “crim­i­nally linked oli­garchs” who might col­lude with the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment to un­der­mine busi­ness com­pe­ti­tion. Those con­cerns, ever-present if not nec­es­sar­ily al­ways top pri­or­i­ties, are front and cen­ter once more.

An on­go­ing special coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion is draw­ing at­ten­tion to Rus­sian ef­forts to med­dle in demo­cratic pro­cesses, the type of skull­dug­gery that in the past has re­lied on hired hack­ers and out­side crim­i­nals. It’s not clear how much the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by former FBI Di­rec­tor Robert Mueller will cen­ter on the crim­i­nal un­der­belly of Moscow, but he’s al­ready picked some lawyers with ex­pe­ri­ence fight­ing or­ga­nized crime. And as the team looks for any fi­nan­cial en­tan­gle­ments of Trump as­so­ci­ates and re­la­tion­ships with Rus­sian of­fi­cials, its fo­cus could land again on the in­ter­twin­ing of Rus­sia’s crim­i­nal op­er­a­tives and its in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.

Rus­sian or­ga­nized crime has man­i­fested it­self over the decades in more con­ven­tional forms of money laun­der­ing, credit card fraud and black mar­ket sales. Jus­tice De­part­ment pros­e­cu­tors have re­peat­edly racked up con­vic­tions for those of­fenses. In re­cent years, though, the bond be­tween Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and crim­i­nal net­works has been es­pe­cially alarm­ing to Amer­i­can law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, blend­ing mo­tives of es­pi­onage with more old-fash­ioned greed.

In March, for in­stance, two hired hack­ers were charged along with two of­fi­cers of Rus­sia’s Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice in a cy­ber­at­tack on Ya­hoo Inc. in 2013. It’s too early to know how Rus­sian crim­i­nal net­works might fit into the elec­tion med­dling in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but cen­tral to the probe are dev­as­tat­ing breaches of Demo­cratic email ac­counts, in­clud­ing those of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign chair­man.

US au­thor­i­ties have blamed those hacks on Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence ser­vices work­ing to dis­credit Clin­ton and help Trump - but have said the over­all ef­fort in­volved third-party in­ter­me­di­aries and paid in­ter­net trolls. Former law en­force­ment of­fi­cials say Rus­sian or­ga­nized crime has been a con­cern for at least a cou­ple of decades, though not nec­es­sar­ily the most press­ing de­mand given fi­nite re­sources and bud­get con­straints. The threat is dif­fuse and com­plex, and Rus­sia’s his­toric lack of co­op­er­a­tion has com­pli­cated ef­forts to ap­pre­hend sus­pects.

And the re­spon­si­bil­ity for com­bat­ing the prob­lem of­ten falls across dif­fer­ent di­vi­sions of the FBI and the Jus­tice De­part­ment, de­pend­ing on whether it’s a crim­i­nal or na­tional se­cu­rity offense - a some­times-blurry bound­ary. “It’s not an easy thing to kind of grasp or un­der­stand, but it’s very dan­ger­ous to our coun­try be­cause they have so many dif­fer­ent as­pects, un­like a tra­di­tional car­tel,” said Robert An­der­son, a re­tired FBI ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant di­rec­tor who worked coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence cases and over­saw the crim­i­nal and cy­ber branch.

“You have to know where to look, which makes it more com­pli­cated,” he added. “And you have to un­der­stand what you’re look­ing for.” Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors con­tinue to bring tra­di­tional or­ga­nized crime cases, such as one last month in New York charg­ing 33 mem­bers and as­so­ci­ates of a Rus­sian crime syn­di­cate in a rack­e­teer­ing and ex­tor­tion scheme that of­fi­cials say in­volved cargo ship­ment thefts and ef­forts to de­fraud casi­nos. But there’s a height­ened aware­ness about more so­phis­ti­cated cy­ber threats that com­min­gle the in­ter­ests of the gov­ern­ment and of crim­i­nals.

“An or­ga­nized crim­i­nal group ma­tures in what they do,” said re­tired FBI as­sis­tant di­rec­tor Ron Hosko. “What they once did here through ex­tor­tion, some of these groups are now do­ing through cy­ber­at­tack vec­tors.” Within the Jus­tice De­part­ment, it’s been ap­par­ent since the col­lapse of the Soviet Union that crime from that ter­ri­tory could af­fect na­tional se­cu­rity in Europe and the US Act­ing FBI di­rec­tor An­drew McCabe was years ago a su­per­vi­sory special agent of a task force cre­ated to deal with Eurasian or­ga­nized crime.

A 2001 re­port from the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s Na­tional In­sti­tute of Jus­tice, a re­search arm, called Amer­ica “the land of op­por­tu­nity for un­load­ing crim­i­nal goods and laun­der­ing dirty money.” It said crime groups in the re­gion were es­tab­lish­ing ties to drug traf­fick­ing net­works, and that “crim­i­nally linked oli­garchs” might work with the gov­ern­ment to un­der­mine com­pe­ti­tion in gas, oil and other strate­gic mar­kets. Three months later came the Sept. 11 at­tacks, and the FBI, then un­der Mueller’s lead­er­ship, and other agen­cies left no doubt that ter­ror­ism was the most im­por­tant pri­or­ity. “I re­call talk­ing to the rack­e­teer­ing guys af­ter that and them say­ing, ‘Forget any fo­cus now on or­ga­nized crime,’” said James Finck­e­nauer, an au­thor of the re­port.

Be­sides cy­ber threats, Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cials in re­cent years have wor­ried about the ef­fect of unchecked in­ter­na­tional corruption, cre­at­ing a klep­toc­racy ini­tia­tive to re­cover money plun­dered by gov­ern­ment lead­ers for their own pur­poses. In 2014, then-At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder pledged the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s com­mit­ment to re­coup­ing large sums be­lieved to have been stolen dur­ing the regime of Vik­tor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian pres­i­dent chased from power that year.

That ef­fort led to an FBI fo­cus on Paul Manafort, the Trump cam­paign chair­man who did po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing work on be­half of Yanukovych’s pro-Rus­sia po­lit­i­cal party and who re­mains un­der scru­tiny now. But those same for­eign links have also made cases hard to prove in court. In many in­stances, for­eign crim­i­nal hack­ers or those spon­sored by for­eign gov­ern­ments - in­clud­ing China, Iran and Rus­sia - have re­mained out of reach of Amer­i­can au­thor­i­ties. In some cases, judges have chas­tised US au­thor­i­ties for pros­e­cu­to­rial over­reach in go­ing af­ter in­ter­na­tional tar­gets. A San Fran­cisco fed­eral judge, for in­stance, in 2015 dis­missed an in­dict­ment in­volv­ing two Ukrainian busi­ness­men who’d been ac­cused of brib­ing an of­fi­cial at a United Na­tions agency re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing stan­dards for ma­chine-read­able in­ter­na­tional pass­ports. The judge said he couldn’t un­der­stand how the gov­ern­ment could ap­ply a for­eign bribery law to con­duct that had no di­rect con­nec­tion to the US. — AP

WASH­ING­TON: Former FBI Di­rec­tor Robert Mueller, the special coun­sel prob­ing Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, de­parts Capi­tol Hill fol­low­ing a closed door meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton. — AP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.