FBI teams up with old Cold War foe

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The Independent Online
THE political heir to J Edgar Hoover, Moscow's most zealous adversary throughout the Cold War, arrived in the Russian capital yesterday. He was in town to embrace a new- look KGB, to recruit allies against a new, mutual enemy and to 'make sure we are better organised than the organised crime we are fighting'.

The visit by Louis Freeh, director of the FBI, is the first by the head of an agency which has channelled much of its energy since the 1940s into hunting Moscow's real and imagined agents on American soil. The FBI's main concern today is organised crime, particularly the prospect that Russia's so- called mafia might one day obtain nuclear materials.

To help combat such a threat, Mr Freeh will today - America's Independence Day - open a permanent FBI office in the US embassy and meet Sergei Stepashin, head of Russia's Federal Counter- Intelligence Service, and the Interior Minister, Viktor Erin.

Fear of Russia's mobsters, however, has not completely erased mistrust of its rulers: the FBI played a leading role in the investigation and arrest in February in Arlington, Virginia, of Aldrich Hazen Aimes, a CIA officer working as a Russian spy.

Nor has Moscow entirely abandoned its own suspicion of Washington. Remarks last week by Mr Freeh and the CIA director, James Woolsey, that Russia's nuclear weapons or nuclear materials might fall into the wrong hands prompted an angry denial from the head of the successor agency to the KGB and suggestions that the US had unfriendly ulterior aims.

Mr Stepashin, chief of the Federal Counter-Intelligence Service, was quoted as saying Russia's nuclear stockpile was entirely secure. Mr Stepashin said he would ask the FBI director to provide evidence 'confirming the threat of nuclear terrorism'.

Whatever their differences, though, Moscow and Washington agree on the danger posed by Russia's criminal gangs, which have not only turned Moscow into a city reminiscent of Al Capone's Chicago but have also made themself felt on the other side of the Atlantic, where they are forging links with - and sometimes competing against - US, Italian, Colombian and Asian drug-traffickers.

'Transnational criminal organisations are threatening all of our economies as well as our democracies,' said Mr Freeh on arriving in Moscow yesterday from Kiev. In Ukraine he signed a communique of co-operation and warned that the former Soviet republic risked becoming a major point of transit for drugs on the 'Balkan route'.

He was met in Moscow by the Deputy Interior Minister, Mikhail Yegorov, chief of organised-crime control and a participant in hearings last week in Washington on the danger of nuclear leakage.

On the increasing might of a plethora of criminal groups there is full agreement.

Russia's President, Boris Yeltsin, has ordered repeated crackdowns on mobsters responsible for daily contract killings and car bombings. His most recent campaign began last week with a controversial decree giving police sweeping powers: it allows security forces to initiate searches without a warrant, to hold suspects incommunicado for up to 30 days and to delve into bank records. It also provides for the use of troops to help regular police.

Parliament judged the decree unconstitutional but Mr Stepashin said: 'I'm for the violation of human rights if the human is a bandit or criminal.'

Mr Freeh will be pressed to endorse Mr Yeltsin's tough anti-crime measures. He was quoted by Tass yesterday as describing the decree as a 'forced measure caused by an extraordinary situation' and recalling that 'the US history had episodes when the troops were used and laws suspended in order to stop disturbances'. Despite their sweeping nature, the special powers granted Russian police have produced few results, other than a deepening of the already widespread disillusionment that helped Vladimir Zhirinovsky secure nearly a quarter of the vote in December's elections.

The most powerful criminal bosses are tipped off about possible police raids and are believed to enjoy protection stretching into the highest reaches of government.

(Photograph omitted)