FBI sets up Moscow base to fight 'nuclear gangsters'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE FBI announced yesterday that it was setting up its first permanent office in Moscow to co-ordinate the fight against organised crime in Russia, which was posing a threat to American security.

The remarkable switch in the role of the FBI - which once specialised in tracking Soviet spies - was prompted by fears that Russia's criminal gangs may be able to steal nuclear weapons which could be sold to terrorists for use against the US and other countries.

'We have all been lucky that there have apparently been no nuclear thefts so far,' Louis Freeh, the FBI director, told the Senate Government Operations Committee. But 'any nation on earth could be in jeopardy. This is why we must take action before a major nuclear incident occurs'.

Organised crime in the former Soviet Union, added the committee chairman, Sam Nunn of Georgia, was not only a law- enforcement nightmare 'but a potential national security nightmare as well'.

Mr Freeh said Russian gangs were working closely with the Mafia and other Italian, Asian and Colombian criminal groups. According to evidence to the committee from Mikhail Yegorov, head of the anti-gang division of the Russian Interior Ministry, there were now 5,700 criminal groups in Russia, with 100,000 members and operations in 29 countries.

Mr Yegorov said safeguards at Russian nuclear sites 'practically eliminate' the possibility of theft of weapons-grade plutonium and uranium. But he admitted crime posed a real threat to the country's economic and social life. Mr Freeh said the FBI was conducting 35 investigations involving Russian and Eurasian gangs.