It's Them vs. Us

July 16, 1994|By DANIEL BERGER

The U.S. diplomatic mission of lasting significance in recent weeks was probably not President Clinton's to the group of Seven in Naples but FBI Director Louis Freeh's to Eastern Europe.

He set up the first FBI office in Moscow. He was begged by the presidents of the Czech Republic and Poland to establish similar offices in their capitals.

Mr. Freeh undertook to have the FBI train 30 Hungarian officers. He procured FBI access to a secure fax line that links the Russian Interior Ministry and the German Federal Criminal Police.

Statesmen and scholars are still trying to come up with a framework for understanding what has replaced the Cold War. There are nationalisms, anti-modernisms, unrepentant Marxist deviations, murderous extremisms proclaimed as religion and more.

But one of the most obvious is the rise of crime for crime's sake. It is a recrudescence of the primeval war between law and crime, civil society and anarchy, from which civilization arose.

For years, communists taught that capitalism was crime. So now when former communists say that capitalism should prevail, they are taken on faith by many to mean that crime should prevail.

If capitalism fails in Russia, it will be because crime succeeded. Mr. Freeh stayed at a hotel near Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, that he said was partly owned by the mob. Asked why he stayed there, he said there was no mob-free alternative.

Links among ethnic Russian criminal gangs in Russia, Western Europe and the United States have law authorities on three continents uneasy. Colombian drug cartels have murdered in the United States. Vietnamese and Chinese gangs here are impenetrable except by ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese crime-fighters.

The crooked BCCI bank begun in Pakistan and fostered in Arabia operated electronically around the world beyond any single sovereign regulator's reach.

Young male refugees returning to El Salvador are bringing the gangland identities and mores they acquired in the United States.

The European Union has allowed organized crime to cross European borders without immigration or customs inspection. Just as Italy is squeezing its endemic mob-linked political and business corruption, the Mafia is oozing from Sicily to the rest of Europe.

So while some political movements are growing narrowly ethnic, exclusionary and insular, crime is growing cosmopolitan, sophisticated and flexible.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier is trying to overcome borders between the city's police districts, because criminals know how to play both sides of the boundary to outwit provincial police on either side.

Mr. Freeh and his counterparts in other nations are trying to do that internationally, in an age of cheap air fares, easy border formalities and computer hacking. Crime leaps borders. Any attempt to contain crime had better do the same.

Businesses that once would not operate in Moscow because they would be spied upon and circumscribed by the regime now fear to try because its police are powerless against protection rackets, muggings, extortion and the like.

Governments can be penetrated by crime. The U.S. invaded Panama to bring a military dictator, who had been on the CIA payroll, to justice in a Florida court on drug charges. Whatever good this may have done, it did not halt drug traffic through Panama.

Nigeria, perhaps because of its high level of education compared to other African countries, has seen crime flourish while other sectors of the economy shrink.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke referred to Director Freeh's trip to Eastern Europe as ''the evolving American foreign policy. Law enforcement is at the forefront of our national interest in this part of the world.''

But crime is not limited to benighted countries of the former Communist and Third Worlds. Organized crime in Japan -- the country most Americans envy as the best run -- has perverted politics and permeated society on a scale equal to Italy or Colombia.

The new Japanese government is a coalition of parties opposed to each other on every issue except reform, which they oppose.

The new foreign policy pits almost all the governments of the world against all the crooks. The governments are not winning.

F: Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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