The adaptability of organized crime has been one of the survival traits that has kept it alive and kicking despite increased law enforcement, we look at how they continue to adapt.

Respect for the mafia amongst the general public tends to focus upon their code of honor, their sense of style, their panache, and the fact they get away with it. The public is strange like that. Law enforcement however has different reasons to respect their criminal adversaries, albeit it begrudgingly – their adaptability. Crime often requires a certain flexibility of mindset but organized crime, as the name implies, requires organization and that requires change to fit circumstance.

Throughout its history the mafia particularly managed to adapt. The introduction of prohibition led them away from their more traditional enterprises in a pursuit of the high profits that the bootlegging and illegal drinking club business provided, both in terms of supply and demand, and in terms of inter-group protection revenues. Prohibition also led to a widening of the acceptance of the mafia by the general public, whose appetite for alcohol wasn’t diminished by its illegality.

The Changing Face Of Organized Crime

• Modern mafia uses smart strategies to stay ahead

• Drug cartels and smuggling new focus

• Counterfeit goods and the internet also booming

When prohibition ended in 1933 there were two varieties of mafia family or group, those that changed and those that went under or were absorbed. Prohibition had widened the influence of the mafia through their need to involve (pay off in most cases if we’re frank) local officials in order to continue to operate. The expansion of this influence was rightly seen as a way of retaining the political control that had provided a landscape in which they could flourish as an organization free of interruption.

The annexation of some US unions, most notably the Teamsters and longshoremen, by the mafia gave rise to benefits beyond the political influence they provided. There was the criminal potential from the docks or during transport, there was the veneer of legitimacy they could provide, and most of all, there was the money that could be tapped held in the unions pension funds. It would be these that would be used to set up some of the “legitimate” casinos, with their poker and blackjack tournaments, the mafia ran in Vegas.

Adapt Or Perish

The casino strategy lasted till the high profile brought so much law enforcement attention, and indeed legislation that the mafia began to collapse in on itself, contracting under pressure. However whilst in the US, the mafia’s influence waned, in other nations its influence was growing and changing. In some the high tech frontier of the internet brought opportunities, in others entire industries built up around counterfeiting not money but goods and products. The world’s organized criminals have branched out.

The most notable is, of course, the rise of the drugs trade where trafficking and supply by large scale cartels and gangs in South America and Central Asia has developed into a multi-billion dollar industry that spans the world. Their fortunes rise and fall with the political situation in their host countries, sometimes the powers that be try to crack down, sometimes they try and take over and sometimes they’re only too happy to take their cut.

The scale of their operations rivals many international corporations, their revenues exceed them and their massive workforces are a reflection of the biggest change in mafia thinking since the thirties. The servicing of demand led market segments be they the provision of the marijuana westerners enjoy smoking, the fake handbags and perfumes they like buying or the provision of cheap foreign labor have become integral parts of some economies.

With ever closer “collaboration” between criminal elements and the governments of these nations there has developed a blurring of boundaries between the two, and the boundaries of cartographers have begun to mean ever more little as the transnational nature of these crimes runs rings around a law enforcement regime still very much based on a domestic model. There is also the vexed question of the wild west of the world, the internet.

From Stick Up To Log On

The internet has provided innumerable opportunities for the technically savvy gangster, the lack of borders, sensible oversight and with law enforcement lagging behind in terms of technology and knowledge, makes it rich pickings. The disconnect between point of criminal activity and those actually committing the crime has led some to describe this as remote-control crime, but the profits from it still roll in regardless as the variety of activity increases.

Simple money making scams via email (Hello, I’m a Nigerian prince with several million I’d like to give you if you help me out with a short term loan…) became popular almost as soon as the net arrived and with ubiquity the organized crime involvement increased including legitimate pornography or online blackjack sites and the darker side of the internet using facilities like the former “silk road” to gain customers for their drug supply business. However it’s not just as a retail center the internet has been useful to organized crime.

Increased cryptographic ability has allowed the internet to become a hugely useful communication tool for criminal enterprise and the intelligence gathering by those entities to find weaknesses or blackmail opportunities within target organizations rivals even that carried out by the now too famous NSA. The hackers of yesteryear might have been spotty teenagers, these days they’re well paid professionals in the employ of the cyber mafia.

Perhaps amusingly there are some habits that die hard. The old dated image of hefty looking men in shiny suits muttering barely veiled threats about what a lot of accidental fires one could have in a business like yours is now kept alive by the DOS (denial of service) attacks that are perpetrated on those who don’t pay a small ‘security’ fee. Apparently no matter how far the modern organized criminals are willing to adapt and change their ways to suit circumstances, somethings are eternal.

Read more about gambling and the mafia.