Organized Crime / Global

Nicaso, Antonio and Lamothe, Lee. Global Mafia: The New World Order of Organized Crime. Toronto: Macmillan Canada, 1995. 203 pages.

These two Canadian reporters take a look at organized crime in Canada. In recent years Canada has noticed an upsurge in activity, perhaps because of its unguarded border, loose customs restrictions, nonexistent or weak anti-racketeering and money-laundering laws, and soft sentencing. "Canada has been described, after Sofia, Bulgaria, as the most active center of Eastern European mafia activity outside of Russia.... Canada operates as a free-for-all zone, a kind of underworld laboratory where groups of various nationalities plan conspiracies and work, if not together, then, with a few exceptions, in harmony." (page 23)

About half of this book provides a "big picture" overview of Sicilian, Calabrian, American, and Russian mob activity, Chinese and Vietnamese gangs, Triads and Yakuza, bikers, and Colombian cartels. The introduction begins by discussing the myth that the American mob, at its 1957 Apalachin meeting, decided to stay away from drugs. This theory was presumed by law enforcement for years and ended up in the movie "The Godfather," but it was based on a 180-degree misreading of the evidence. The other half of this book is less valuable, as it narrates some big Canadian busts in police-reporter style. It's slightly entertaining, but doesn't illuminate the topic at hand; by now we already agree that mobsters are bad guys and the RCMP are good guys.


Sterling, Claire. Octopus: The Long Reach of the International Sicilian Mafia. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone Edition), 1991. 384 pages.

Sterling, Claire. Thieves' World: The Threat of the New Global Network of Organized Crime. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994. 304 pages.

Claire Sterling, an American reporter based in Italy, became prominent with the publication of The Terror Network (1981), a article in Reader's Digest on the plot to kill the Pope (1982), and an expanded version of the same theme, The Time of the Assassins (1983). Her general thesis -- that the Soviets are responsible for terrorism -- was endorsed by Alexander Haig and William Casey, but her critics charge that she relies heavily on CIA disinformation and her books are an example of "blow back."

"Octopus" doesn't suffer from any of these problems; it is the best book available in English on the Sicilian Mafia. Sterling has ready access to all the Italian literature on the subject, and has clearly done her homework. The history of Mafia families in Sicily and their wars with the authorities are covered in detail. More importantly, Sterling offers a glimpse of the Sicilian's international heroin and cocaine smuggling, from the Medellin Cartel and Japanese Yakuza to the "pizza connection" that was uncovered in a New York courtroom in 1986. This global reach -- through refineries, smuggling routes, money laundering, and deals with other organizations -- places law enforcement at a definite disadvantage. Put the squeeze on in one place, and the drugs ooze out somewhere else.

"Thieves' World" is as timely today as "The Terror Network" was in 1981. It's disturbing that it took a mere thirteen years for Sterling to recast the face of evil from the KGB to organized crime, but despite the alarmist tone, this book appears to be solid. It's about four major international problems -- the Russians, the Chinese Triads, the Japanese Yakuza, and Colombia's cocaine cartels. Sterling contends that they cooperate with each other and are getting sophisticated with laundering and reinvestments, while many banks and financial markets are looking the other way. Most governments, meanwhile, are powerless: central authority has collapsed in the eastern bloc, and in the west, the European Community can't agree on how to pool their resources, or even on standardizing laws concerning surveillance, search and seizure, confiscation, and laundering. Considering the difficulty of investigating this topic, Sterling does a credible job of reporting.


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