U.S. Reaches Out on Crime

Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden travels to Asia this week to discuss international crime.
Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden travels to Asia this week to discuss international crime. (By Linda Spillers -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 12, 2009

The Obama administration, intensifying its efforts to defuse an explosion of international organized crime, has dispatched a senior Justice Department official to the Far East this week for meetings with foreign counterparts on the issue.

Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden will meet Monday with justice ministers from dozens of countries at the Interpol General Assembly in Singapore, where they will discuss ways to neutralize criminal enterprises that target cyberspace, financial institutions and energy markets.

Ogden will continue on to Thailand and meet with authorities there to discuss the importance of the extradition of arms merchant Viktor Bout, dubbed by analysts as the "merchant of death." Federal prosecutors in New York secured an indictment of Bout last year on charges that he attempted to sell weapons to a Colombian organization deemed a terrorist group by U.S. authorities. Bout denies the allegations and his legal status has become, behind the scenes, a fierce tug of war between the United States and Russia.

The Bout case is among the highest-profile symbols of an alleged crime threat flourishing on multiple fronts across the globe. Last week, federal prosecutors and the FBI announced charges in a "phishing" Internet scam out of Egypt that preys on Americans. Other U.S. law enforcement efforts this year have focused on human smuggling involving Uzbekistan nationals in Kansas and Missouri, Balkan drug rings operating in New Jersey and New York, and cigarette smuggling out of Miami's ports to Europe.

"We face enormously powerful, well-resourced criminal organizations that are not entirely located or even principally located in the United States, that are able to take advantage of weaker government structures than our own . . . but the harm is felt here," Ogden said in an interview, emphasizing the importance of tight partnerships with foreign counterparts.

In September, the Justice Department inspector general issued a report urging U.S. officials to reinvigorate their affiliation with Interpol, which distributes bulletins requesting that law enforcement agencies all over the world be on the lookout for fugitives and lawbreakers. The inspector general criticized the Justice Department's data-gathering practices and concluded that information sharing even among U.S. agencies can be far from adequate. An executive committee intended to advise the American offshoot of Interpol, composed of Justice Department and Homeland Security leaders, had not met for more than five years, the report said.

Justice Department officials recently named Timothy A. Williams, a longtime U.S. Marshals Service employee, as director of the U.S. National Central Bureau, the American offshoot of Interpol.

Ogden's international trip follows an announcement in May by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on the creation of the International Organized Crime Intelligence and Operations Center, tasked with evaluating international crime threats and coordinating investigations. That group of nine law-enforcement agencies includes the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and the departments of Labor and State.

Proponents of the approach say that international cooperation, including the Interpol "red-alert system," can pay dividends and save lives. Two weeks ago, police in Phoenix, working with the FBI and authorities in Norway and Spain, successfully located and arrested a fugitive at the airport in the Spanish city of Malaga. The subject is wanted in Arizona on charges of child molestation and possession of child pornography.

In June, after an urgent request from Interpol in Helsinki about a Finnish kidnapping victim, American authorities were able to trace the kidnapper's electronic communications through Internet service providers in the United States. The victim was located and safely returned to her family.

The strategy is far from the old-school view of organized crime, which targeted the Mafia. It continues efforts by officials in the criminal division of the Bush Justice Department, who made international criminal rackets a priority last year and who stressed the importance of the issue in meetings with the Obama transition team.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company