Four Mobs: Yet More Bizarre Thinking Behind Administration’s Transnational Crime Program

Robert Chesney took a look at the Executive Order associated with the Administration’s roll-out of its Transnational Crime Organization program yesterday, which basically blocks the property of a group considered to be a TCO (note, in some places the Admin uses the acronym TOC; I agree with Chesney that TCO makes more sense and so will use that instead now).

As I guessed yesterday, the EO basically institutes a “material support for TCO” concept, directly parallel to the terrorist one.

Section 1.  (a)  All property and interests in property that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person, including any overseas branch, of the following persons are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in:

(i)   the persons listed in the Annex to this order and

(ii)  any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of State:

(A)  to be a foreign person that constitutes a significant transnational criminal organization;

(B)  to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; or

(C)  to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.

(b)  I hereby determine that the making of donations of the types of articles specified in section 203(b)(2) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(2)) by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order would seriously impair my ability to deal with the national emergency declared in this order, and I hereby prohibit such donations as provided by subsection (a) of this section.

(c)  The prohibitions in subsection (a) of this section include, but are not limited to:

(i)   the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; and

(ii)  the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.

(d)  The prohibitions in subsection (a) of this section apply except to the extent provided by statutes, or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order, and notwithstanding any contract entered into or any license or permit granted prior to the effective date of this order.

The EO also clarifies something that was not clear from yesterday’s dog and pony show rolling this out: the Administration has listed four organizations that will, at this point, be considered TCOs:

1. THE BROTHERS’ CIRCLE (f.k.a. FAMILY OF ELEVEN; f.k.a. THE TWENTY)
2. CAMORRA
3. YAKUZA (a.k.a. BORYOKUDAN; a.k.a. GOKUDO)
4. LOS ZETAS

Now, like Chesney, I have a few questions about this list. Like Chesney, I want to know why only Los Zetas is listed. Are we really playing favorites among Mexico’s drug cartels? Chesney thinks it might be a reaction to Los Zetas’ murder of an ICE agent earlier this year. But the choice also has curious implications for the Operation Fast and Furious program, in which ATF agents dealt guns used by Los Zetas members. Is this just a way to give ATF a way to validate the concept behind that failed program?

But there may be another reason. I suggested yesterday that Wells Fargo, which last year entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement for the money laundering it did for Mexican cartels in 2005, ought to be on the list of TCOs, too. The one cartel I know of that is definitely tied to that money laundering, however, is Sinaloa. So by leaving Sinaloa off the list, you leave of the necessity of freezing the funds of TBTF banks.

I’m even more mystified by the inclusion of the Yakuza–Japan’s mob–on the list. Japan has long tolerated the Yakuza even while making claims they’d crack down. Did we consult with them before we put the Yakuza on the list?

More curiously, the Yakuza played a key role in the response to this spring’s Japanese earthquakes (this is akin to the role that some terrorist organizations had in Pakistan’s flood and earthquake response, as well as Hezbollah’s general role in Shiite Lebanese welfare). This post provides a good description of the Yakuza’s role and their reasons for providing such humanitarian aide. Some highlights:

In truth, the measure of a yakuza boss is not how honourable he is, it’s how much cash he brings in, a fact that might help explain the mobsters’ motives for providing aid. A senior member of one organised crime group in eastern Japan acknowledges this. He says: “It’s usually about money. Earthquakes and disasters are one of the few times that yakuza can do what they’re supposed to do: help other people. We can do it because we’re not bound by red tape. It’s as simple as putting up the money, ordering the soldiers to buy supplies, put them on trucks, and carry them to areas where they’re needed. Certainly some members are looking at this as a chance to gain goodwill and local support when the reconstruction begins. In my case, I just want to give back to the community where I was born. That’s the spirit of the yakuza. That’s the ideal. Other people have other motives.”

Whatever their mixed motives, right now the yakuza are apparently helping the weak and the suffering, bringing warm blankets to those who are cold, feeding the hungry and getting water to the thirsty. The Sumiyoshi-kai and the Inagawa-kai in total have sent over 200 tons of supplies to devastated areas according to police sources and raised several million dollars from their own members to facilitate the aid. The Matsuba-kai, the Kyokuto-kai (both in Tokyo), and even smaller groups like the Aizukotestu-kai (in Kyoto) are all chipping in.

[snip]

One member of the Sumiyoshi-kai group I spoke to, a full-time gangster in the Saitama prefecture specialising in extortion, explains the efforts simply:

“In times like this, the usual societal divisions are meaningless. There aren’t yakuza and civilians or foreigners and Japanese. We’re all Japanese now. We all live here. Down the road, there is money to be made, for sure.

“Right now, it’s about saving lives and helping each other out. Ninety-five per cent of all yakuza are human garbage. Maybe 5 per cent uphold the rules. Right now we’re all doing our best. It’s one of the few times we can be better than we normally are.”

Even a senior police officer from Ibaraki agrees, speaking under conditions of anonymity. “I have to hand it to the yakuza. They have been on the ground from day one providing aid where others don’t or cannot do it. Laws can be like a two-edged sword and sometimes they hamper relief efforts. Sometimes, outlaws are faster than the law. This is one of those times.”

Now, it doesn’t appear that the Yakuza used foreign aid to pay for this humanitarian support. That is, it doesn’t seem like western money effectively went to the Yakuza, meaning it could be contrived as material support for a TCO.

Nevertheless, there are sure to be a whole host of ways in which American businesses might end up funding the Yakuza.  We’ll quickly find those businesses to be in the position that Chiquita got in, though without the cover story that they paid terrorists to protect their employees.

And then, ultimately, there’s the process by which mobs get picked as TCOs. The current list almost seems like a test of concept–an attempt to throw several different kinds of mobs on the list, to see how the new legal toy works in practice.

But remember it’s the Secretary of Treasury deciding, with no transparency, who is and who is not on the list. You know–the same guy insisting that banks never be held to account for their crime, even while he enables them to become more powerful.

Again, don’t get me wrong. Transnational gangs are a big problem. But this is a gigantic slippery slope that none of us really get to see even as we’re already sliding down it.

And it still doesn’t protect us from the banksters looting our own economy.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

19 replies
  1. rosalind says:

    Richard Serrano at LAT has been churning out updates on the “Operation Fast & Furious” debacle, most interesting read is “Justice Department trying to shield officials in guns scandal, ATF chief says”

    “Kenneth E. Melson, the ATF’s acting director, also told congressional investigators this month that the affidavits prepared to obtain wiretaps used in the ill-fated operation were inconsistent with Justice Department officials’ public statements about the program.”

    his 7/21/11 article “ATF sought to downplay guns scandal” links to redacted e-mails showing ATF supervisors telling underlings not to cooperate with Congress.

    “In addition, in a series of emails to William J. Hoover, the ATF’s acting deputy director, bureau officials discussed what steps to take to throw Grassley and congressional investigators off the trail.”

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-na-guns-scandal-20110719,0,2052417.story

    http://www.latimes.com/news/la-na-0722-fast-furious-emails,0,7312598.story

    • bmaz says:

      The GunWalker scandal is one of those places I have to depart from the gee we support the Obama Administration now that they are installed troops (Yes, I know this is a shocker). It is a legitimate clusterfuck and giant fuckup. It is not necessarily simple in its construct and parts, but it IS a giant cock-up nevertheless. Heads should roll for this shit.

  2. MadDog says:

    I’m not sure what to make of the point regarding Treasury controlling this new TCO list since Treasury already owns the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN)
    where “terrorist” and “terrorist organizations” are designated as so by the US Government.

    That said, I’m guessing that an alphabetic soup of US government agencies both provide input and signoff on these lists.

  3. MadDog says:

    I’m glad you highlighted the “Material Support” aspect EW.

    I can understand how the Federal government is enthralled by how successful they’ve been thusfar using the “Material Support” mechanism as a legal mousetrap for anything and everything.

    I expect soon to see this latest “in thing” migrate to stuff like “Material Support for Jaywalking” or “Material Support for Calumny”.

  4. rugger9 says:

    Wikileaks could, on the ground that their sunlight tips off potential targets. It’s not a small reach. However, the banksters that launder the money and are guilty of the biggest heist ever are not going to be held accountable by one of their own. Heck, they don’t even have to say whose moving what money where, which would provide the law enforcement the trail they need to take out the criminals. You know, those who are riff-raff.

  5. emptywheel says:

    HotFlash

    Keep in mind Holder has already said it is officially treating the WL investigation as an Espionage investigation. That gives it PATRIOT tools anyway.

    And I suspect they made an argument something like that to not only get Visa and MC to ditch it, but more importantly, to hack it, for which there is not legal authorization I know of.

  6. emptywheel says:

    Huh. Didn’t see this. The govt is declaring victory over AQ again.

    No wonder they rolled out the TCO.

    We need a new enemy.

    • bmaz says:

      How much I gots to tell ya, Arrellano-Felix, Juarez, Sinaloa Cowboys and La Familia/La Eme are the new al-Qaida. This handwriting has long been on the graffiti wall.

  7. prostratedragon says:

    And just in time for all those cute little small-scale tools like drones. But really, Naples and not Sicily (or Calabria for that matter)? Was there some news out of Italy that I missed? If the list is experimental, what is the experiment, see how fast the other boys can get their shit together?

  8. pdaly says:

    “But remember it’s the Secretary of Treasury deciding, with no transparency, who is and who is not on the list. ”

    This reminds me of something somewhat OT: I read today that Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (Harvard college students) toured Cuba this summer.

    The description accompanying their YouTube video
    had what I thought was a typo. It states that,

    “Members will bring music to underprivileged populations in Havana through exchange with young musicians in the community. The program follows a formal invitation from the Cuban Institute of Music and an approved performance license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.”

    I would have thought the State Department would determine who does/or does not visit Cuba…

    link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnF7aclrnhM

  9. prostratedragon says:

    It probably is Treasury. Seems that much enforcement of the embargo is handled through that department, maybe because of the expropriation of U.S. assets rationale for the whole set of restrictions, those assets being regarded as stolen (Helms-Burton Act, etc.) and U.S. tourists who use them while in Cuba being therefore receivers of stolen property, or some such.

    According to the U.S. Department of State: “Cuban Assets Control Regulations are enforced by the U.S. Treasury Department and affect all U.S. citizens and permanent residents wherever they are located, all people and organizations physically located in the United States, and all branches and subsidiaries of U.S. organizations throughout the world. Regulation does not limit travel of US Citizens to Cuba per se, but it makes it illegal for US Citizens to have transactions (spend money or receive gifts) in Cuba, under most circumstances. The regulations require that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction be licensed in order to engage in any travel-related transactions pursuant to travel to, from, and within Cuba. Transactions related solely to tourist travel are not licensable.”[19] Meanwhile, Canadian and European tourists continue to flock to the island.

    So the college bands apparently needed a license to prove that they were going to Cuba as performers and not as “mere” tourists. Shelves will groan when at last we get our Gibbon.

  10. Pepe says:

    #1, Brothers’ Circle is weird as well. Russian law enforcement doesn’t really use that phrase. Are they referring to all Russian organized crime (vory/mafiya)? Or Chechen gangs in particular?

  11. lysias says:

    The Camorra but not the Mafia?

    Is that because of the Mafia’s history of being in bed with the CIA and U.S. intelligence?

  12. Nell says:

    @prostratedragon:

    Treasury also was the vehicle for the $10,000 fines against Kathy Kelly and other campaigners against the Iraq sanctions. The particular part of the dept is the Office of Foreign Asset Control, OFAC. <– ?from aging memory, welcome correction?

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