The Russian Mafiya and Al Qaeda

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The October 2001 issue of the Russian magazine "Top Secret," relying on sources in Russia's security services, claimed there was a connection between Osama bin Laden and the Russian mafia. According to the magazine's "Black September" article the chief of the largest and most dangerous Russian crime syndicate, Semyon Mogilevich, has met bin Laden's associates in Marbella Spain.

Mogilevich, known as "the brainy don," is said to be the world's most intelligent criminal. He is also very dangerous. When journalist Robert Friedman wrote about Mogilevich's career in a book titled Red Mafiya, Mogilevich allegedly put out a $100,000 contract on Friedman's life. According to Friedman, "hundreds of pages of classified FBI, British and Israeli intelligence documents ... describe him as a malevolent figure who has become a grave threat to the stability of Israel, Eastern Europe, and North America." According to his closest associates, Mogilevich employs Ph.D's on his staff, has penetrated countless banks, owns military and defense industries in more than one country, controls the flow of contraband through Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport and maintains close relations with "former" communist structures and personnel. Friedman states: "He is protected by a web of relationships with high-ranking officials of international security services, high flying financiers, and politicians."

Mogilevich, who was born in 1946 in the city of Kiev, is said to be a citizen of Russia, Ukraine, Israel and Hungary. He was educated in the Soviet Union and his teachers thought he would almost certainly become a leading scholar. Very little is known about his transition from Soviet academic superstar to crime boss, but when he left the "socialist motherland" for Israel in 1990 Mogilevich was a millionaire, and built his fortune through a variety of criminal projects. Today he directs his financial empire from a fortified compound in Budapest, Hungary - where he runs that country's arms industry, exporting weapons to Arab and Islamist clients. As for his criminal status in America, Mogilevich was indicted on April 24, 2003, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on 45 counts of money laundering, racketeering, securities fraud, wire fraud and mail fraud involving the stock of YBM Magnex International, Inc. Mogilevich and his partners allegedly defrauded investors of $150 million.

According to Friedman, "Mogilevich's lieutenants are trained in intelligence operations and countersurveillance, and provide warnings of impending police actions...." They are experts at compromising Western security services, especially by making secret agreements to provide information on rival crime groups. Mogilevich's organization blends East Bloc intelligence professionalism with arms smuggling, money laundering, extortion, prostitution, drug trafficking and murder. Meanwhile, Mogilevich's "former" East bloc intelligence professionals are teaching al Qaeda how to set up safe houses and smuggle weapons. (The pay is excellent and the work familiar.)

According to sources near the action, East European mobsters (including Mogilevich's Red Mafiya) are helping al Qaeda to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological materials. These are smuggled from the "former" Soviet Union through Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland. They are then sold for cash or heroin.

Is al Qaeda planning a major offensive in Western Europe?

One rumor has it that London is bin Laden's next target, and May Day will be "zero hour." Before April is out you will doubtless hear other variants on this general theme: "al Qaeda is planning to strike such-and-such, and various mafia groups are involved." And, no doubt, they are involved. But stop for a moment and think things over. Is it really conceivable that Russian criminals, without encouragement from Moscow, would dare to smuggle arms to terrorists in Western Europe? And why haven't security troops stormed Mogilevich's fortified compound in Budapest - the capital of a NATO country? It seems that Hungary is a NATO country in name but not in reality. To be sure, there is something amiss in this picture. The post Cold War version of reality offered by the six o'clock news doesn't explain what we're seeing. The idea that a police state (Russia) run by a police statesman (Putin) cannot cope with gangsters who steal nuclear, biological and chemical materials is not credible. Vladimir Putin is perfectly comfortable using gangster methods against his political opponents, including "oligarchs" and journalists. Why can't he use these methods against criminals who steal WMDs from Russia's vast arsenal of mass destruction?

Is it possible that "thefts" of Russian WMD materials are somehow useful to Vladimir Putin? After all, the stolen weapons are smuggled by Russian gangsters and "former" intelligence operatives for use against Western countries. If you think about it, Russia's WMDs were built with Western countries in mind.

There is another set of questions we also need to ask ourselves. Why should a criminal syndicate - Russian or otherwise - be motivated to help Islamists? Are American gangsters stealing WMDs and buying arms plants, setting up compounds in neighboring countries and arming terrorists? The case of the Red Mafiya is not a case of mere organized crime. Here we have an army of Russian criminals with doctorates, with intelligence and military training, who are facilitating terrorism aimed at the West. Has there ever been a criminal formation like this before? Yet the West suspects nothing. The West takes everything at face value.

Perhaps, at this point, we ought to say something about the elephant in the room. The biggest criminal organization in history, with the largest number of murders to its credit, was no mafia at all. It was a totalitarian formation known as "communism" which killed over100 million people in the twentieth century and looted untold wealth. Communism was a formation that supposedly broke apart and no longer threatens the world. But what if this formation reformed itself in an unexpected way? What if this formation found a new path, a new set of tricks and a new avenue of attack?

Think about it.

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