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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Crime groups operating as "mobsters without borders" have gained significant footholds in global markets and provide logistic support to terrorists, the United States said on Wednesday.
Launching a campaign against such international criminals, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said they were more adaptable and sophisticated than La Cosa Nostra and other syndicates the U.S. government set out to defeat half a century ago.
"These international criminals pose real national security threats to this country," Mukasey said in a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. He cited recent cases, many with links to the former Soviet bloc.
"They touch all sectors of our economy, dealing in everything from cigarettes to oil; clothing to pharmaceuticals," Mukasey said.
A department assessment of the organized crime threat found such groups "control significant positions in the global energy and strategic materials markets," Mukasey said.
"They are expanding their holdings in these sectors, which corrupts the normal functioning of these markets and may have a destabilizing effect on U.S. geopolitical interests."
He cited Semion Mogilevich, indicted by the United States in 2003 and arrested in Russia this January, who was suspected of exerting influence over "large parts" of the natural gas industry in the former Soviet Union.
The groups launder billions of dollars through U.S. financial institutions, and invest profits in publicly traded companies. They also "exploit the Internet," by running scams on eBay, flooding in-boxes with e-mail spam and laundering money through "virtual worlds" such as Second Life, Mukasey said.
Suspected arms traffickers such as Viktor Bout, a Russian national arrested in Thailand in March, provide support to terrorists, officials said. But they said there are no signs of close ties between organized crime and the "core al Qaeda" organization.
Deputy FBI Director John Pistole said the groups' abilities to operate across national boundaries made them "mobsters without borders."
To lead the fight, Mukasey said he had revived an Organized Crime Council of senior law enforcement officials across government, 15 years after it had gone dormant after winning major battles against U.S. organized crime.
The first task is to identify and target the global crime groups and their the leaders, Mukasey said. The department will give more information to the State Department to help it deny visas to known criminals, and to the Treasury Department so it could impose sanctions against money laundering.
It will also increase cooperation with foreign countries -- training and assisting crime fighters.
But officials said they did not anticipate using anti-terrorist surveillance measures such as the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or seeking new authorities from Congress.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)
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