Imagine The Untouchables joining up with Delta Force. That's what seems to be happening out on the cutting edge of U.S. counterinsurgency strategy: The Pentagon is asking organized crime investigators for help in battling the stubborn insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Turns out that the networks of insurgents, terrorists, and criminals faced by U.S. soldiers bear more resemblance to organized crime and narcotraffickers than to the military's traditional adversaries. Both the Army and Marines have taken a keen interest in how crime experts deal with networked criminal organizations. Among the initiative's backers: the Army Science Board and the Pentagon's Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict office, through its Irregular Warfare Support Program. One recent recruiting notice advertises for "Embedded Law Enforcement Professionals" to join the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, seeking seasoned cops with experience in "organized crime, gangs, and complex drug investigations." In a related program, veteran law enforcement agents are teaching investigative techniques to Marines at bases in California and Illinois.
It's doubtful at this point that even the best criminal investigators can help stem the carnage in Iraq, which is teetering on the brink of all-out civil war. But battling terrorism worldwide with the techniques honed in taking down the Mafia, the Cali Cartel, and other transnational crime syndicates is an idea whose time should have come long ago. It's no mistake that after 9/11, the FBI moved many of its best criminal investigators over to counterterrorism. These are the folks who know how to gain informants, wiretap (with warrants), get inside crime syndicates, and build cases that hold up in court. The FBI calls it the Enterprise Theory of Investigationan intelligence-driven push to take out entire criminal organizations. The Drug Enforcement Administration's best agents have likewise excelled in taking down groups that sound awfully similar to terrorist gangs: violent, complex, highly mobile crime syndicates that change countries as quickly as they do cellphones and computers.
There are lessons here not only for the military but also for U.S. intelligence. And here's one of the most basic, say the copsa lesson the White House apparently still doesn't get: You don't torture those you're interrogating. In 25 years of crime reporting, I've heard this from the toughest street cops to the most sophisticated feds: You don't waterboard your suspects, and you sure don't beat them to the edge of "organ failure" (as a 2002 Justice Department memo condoned). That's why FBI agents refused to take part in brutal interrogations at Guantánamo Bay and other facilities run by the military and the CIA. It's not effective, it's not how you develop informants, and, besides, it ain't admissible in a court of law. Last I checked, we were still a nation of laws.
At a time when terrorist groups are increasingly turning to organized crime to finance their activities, learning a few tricks from mob-busting cops makes sense more than ever. (For more on the crime/terror nexus, see my December story in U.S. News "Paying for Terror.") Much is made about how the FBI is struggling to become an intelligence organization. That's always seemed overblown to me. (Anyone who went through the '60s doesn't doubt the FBI can do intel; J. Edgar Hoover saw to that.) I suggest turning that logic around: While the FBI is figuring out how to do intel better, I'd like to see the CIA's case officers take a few lessons in how to investigate enterprise crime and racketeering.
Thanks again for all the story suggestions out there, folks. Obviously, there's no end of bad guys in the world, so your help in pointing out the best and worst of the bunch is most appreciated. Remember to send comments to email@example.com. Oh, one more thing: Here's the first in our promised series of bad guys each week:
BAD GUY OF THE WEEK: Most Americans have probably never heard of this guy, but chances are his family's dope has landed in your neighborhood. Even with the $5 million reward on his head, Francisco Javier Arellano Felix didn't get much press when he was nabbed last month by U.S. authorities. Arellano Felix is the reputed leader of one of the hemisphere's premier criminal organizations, the Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix Organization. For a quarter century, say prosecutors, this narcomafia has run a vast department store for dope, making a fortune smuggling into America hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana and huge amounts of meth and heroin. Ultraviolent, blamed for scores of murders, medieval-like torture, and widespread corruption, the AFO was branded by U.S. Attorney Carol Lam "one of the deadliest drug organizations in history." Arellano Felix was snatched by the U.S. Coast Guard, plucked from a fishing boat in international waters off Baja California. He faces charges of racketeering, drug trafficking, conspiracy, and money launderingand has pleaded not guilty. It's been a bad week for Javier's family. One of his six brothers, Rafael, is also now a guest of the U.S. penal system, sent across the Rio Grande earlier this month after a two-year extradition effort and a 10-year prison stint in Mexico. For more on the AFO, check out the Justice Department's 34-page indictment of the group, as well as PBS Frontline's fine reporting from a few years back.