The 'new' FBI vs. the old Mafia

The FBI may be on the verge of disproving the widely held myth that, no matter how hard law enforcement agencies try, little can be done to significantly reduce organized crime's influence over certain segments of US business, the labor movement, and the political process. Over the years crime syndicates, which have preyed on the American public since 1890, have come to be viewed a little like taxes or inflation -- as inevitable and largely immune to repeated efforts to curb the costs they impose on society.

In what news accounts call the biggest FBI crackdown on organized crime in history, indictments are expected to be handed up shortly against the leaders of several of the nation's 25 mob "families." These indictments are the results of extensive undercover investigations by the FBI. Coming on the heels of pending corruption charges leveled against several members of Congress and local and state officials in connection with the so-called Abscam operation, they offer positive evidence of a newly invigorated FBI. Moreover, they come at a time when congressional hearings are about to focus on labor racketeering and misuse of union pensions.

First under Clarence Kelley and now under director William Webster, the FBI has made diligent efforts to shake off the abuses and encumbrances of the J. Edgar Hoover era and to reorder its priorities. Under the Hoover directorship, white collar and organized crime took a back seat. The bureau was hampered by restrictions on use of undercover operations and an undue emphasis on cracking bank robberies and other simpler crimes that could have been left to local police but that nevertheless enhanced the bureau's visibility.

The bureau is still in transition, struggling to rebuild the public trust it lost with the revelations of civil rights violations, illegal mail openings, and other abuses of the 1960s. Morale within the FBI reportedly has begun to improve, and that is good news. Morale no doubt will continue to get better as its agents demonstrate their effectiveness in tackling more sophisticated kinds of crime. A statutory charter setting out specific guidelines for the bureau to operate within will do much to further enhance public confidence. And so will continued progress toward rooting out organized crime's $50-billion-a-year pornography, gambling, and racketeering operations. Already the public is getting some idea of what can be accomplished by the "new" FBI.

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