Gotti’s death and the FBI’s misplaced priorities
BY SETH GITELL
TUESDAY, JUNE 11, 2002, BERLIN — Perhaps it’s homesickness or frustration that the fourth season of The Sopranos has yet to start, but the story that catches my eye as I sit on the banks of the narrow Spree River, which wends its way through the center of Berlin, is the death of Mafia boss John Gotti. The feds finally convicted Gotti of racketeering and murder in 1993, after numerous failed attempts. In doing so, the Federal Bureau of Investigation crushed Italian-American organized crime. Now, from the vantage point of time (and distance), a question arises: was it worth it?
Let me be clear. Gotti was a murderer who deserved to die in jail. But in the years since the FBI put him away, its achievement in doing so seems less and less stellar. In the case of Gotti alone, the FBI won a conviction by using a high-profile snitch, Sammy "the Bull" Gravano. While hidden in the witness-protection program, Gravano was subsequently arrested for running an ecstasy-dealing ring in Phoenix, Arizona. More pointedly, as the FBI waged its war against La Cosa Nostra locally, it allowed Irish organized crime to operate with impunity. Surely former FBI agent John Connolly, recently convicted of racketeering with the mob and obstruction of justice, would never have been allowed to flourish had the FBI viewed its war against the Mafia with any perspective.
Even more significant, however, is the fact that in the year after the feds got Gotti, an Islamic-terrorist plot succeeded in bombing the World Trade Center. When that happened, the FBI should immediately have shifted gears to concentrate on protecting the public from foreign (Al Qaeda) and domestic (Timothy McVeigh) terrorism. But that shift never happened. Despite mounting evidence of terrorist threats, the FBI never made a major effort to hire Arabic-speaking agents or translators. It failed to take terrorism seriously in any way — as demonstrated by the wave of stories that has come out in recent weeks. Yes, Gotti was a dangerous thug, there’s no doubt about that. But while the FBI was content to focus solely on La Cosa Nostra (already an old story), it missed the big one. News of the arrest of Abdullah al-Muhajir, formerly known as Jose Padilla, who allegedly planned to detonate a "dirty" bomb in the DC area, is encouraging. That’s the sort of work the FBI should be doing. But it never should have taken the deaths of 3000 Americans to shift the agency’s priorities. Gotti’s puny death is a stark reminder of that.
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Issue Date: June 11, 2002
"Today's Jolt" archives: 2002 2001
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