The Chicago Syndicate: Using Intel to Stop the Mob (Part 1)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Using Intel to Stop the Mob (Part 1)

Friends of ours: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano

Seventy-five years ago this December, one Special Agent B.E. Sackett penned a short article for Bureau employees on what he called "organized crime conditions in Chicago."

Shop the Mystery Section of ShopPBS.By 1932, organized crime in the U.S.—though a shadow of what it is today—had started to get its legs. Al Capone, who with the help of the Bureau had just landed in federal prison, had built an empire of crime in the Windy City that would continue to morph and grow. An extensive underground of hoodlums, racketeers, and gangsters had emerged in response to Prohibition and was thriving. Hundreds of rackets that used threats of violence to force businesses to ante up a percentage of their profits for "protection" existed throughout Chicago and other cities. In New York, "Lucky" Luciano had risen to power in the Mafia and was beginning to shape it into the structured, secret society of criminals that we know today.

A "valuable weapon" against these criminal rings, Agent Sackett thoughtfully stated in his article, was "accurate information"—details on the key players, their interlocking connections, their tactics and capabilities. He talked about how Chicago agents had begun building this base of knowledge, through informants and other contacts and through an extensive index of pictures and background on more than "three hundred of the notorious criminals and members of their gangs."

He didn't call it "intelligence," a concept that was still in its infancy, but that's essentially what it was. The approach was strategic, thinking about a criminal network in larger terms, gathering information and insights to take out entire criminal organizations and their support and not just select individuals, and thus preventing a litany of future crimes.

This picture of the underworld would grow in the coming years and yield significant results for the young Bureau and its partners. We would begin puncturing these networks—exposing their activities for all of law enforcement, undercutting their support structures, and tracking their most dangerous actors and elements much in the same way that we now do with terrorist cells plotting attacks on U.S. soil.

A few examples:

  • In August 1933, we prepared a detailed analysis of organized criminals and the various ways law enforcement had succeeded in stopping them. We outlined more than a hundred "rackets" in Chicago that extorted money from electric sign companies, "candy jobbers," dental labs, and others. This analysis helped paint a picture of the threat for all of law enforcement.
  • When John Dillinger was on the run for a violent string of bank robberies, we put pressure on the many connections he and his gang had to all levels of the underworld—precisely because we had mapped out these connections. With the extensive cooperation of many police forces, this allowed us to track his movements and ultimately generated the leads that led to his death in a shootout outside a Chicago theater in July 1934.
  • We learned everything we could about the enablers of organized crime: money launderers and fences, both organized and freelance, who helped criminals hide their loot from the law; shady doctors who performed backroom plastic surgeries to help disguise mobsters and shyster lawyers who helped shield them from justice; and the corruption-backed "spas" and criminal safe havens in places like Hot Springs, Arkansas, and St. Paul, Minnesota, that mobsters used to rest, recruit comrades, and plan their next moves in relative safety.
  • Working with our law enforcement partners, we started building the criminal justice support system that has enabled a coordinated, layered attack against both criminal and terrorist networks, which includes national criminal records and crime stats…cutting edge forensic science services…and extensive training for law enforcement professionals.

In Chicago and elsewhere, the fight against organized crime had just begun. And so has our story. In the next few months, we'll run a series of articles tracing how we've used intelligence to take on mobsters and even decimate entire crime families in different times and different places over the past seven decades. Stay tuned!

Thanks to the F.B.I.

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