- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2000

Chinese gangs from Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Macao increasingly are using Canada as a base for operations in the United States and now constitute "a growing threat" to this nation.

The warning comes from the International Crime Threat Assessment, a recently released 128-page analysis of criminal activity around the world.

It was produced by the CIA, the National Security Council, the FBI and specialists from 10 other U.S. agencies.

The assessment provides a general description of the major criminal organizations operating globally, describes the kinds of crimes each group specializes in and discusses the danger that groups from various nations pose to the United States.

The report notes that Russian gangs and to a lesser extent Japanese criminal organizations increasingly are preying on U.S. citizens. But the federal agencies that produced the report tend to consider the ethnic Chinese crime associations a more formidable peril.

The agencies' report explains that the tough, sophisticated Chinese gangsters are exploiting Ottawa's comparatively loose immigration policies to enter Canada and become legal residents. As Canadian residents, they can easily enter and leave the United States, where they run major enterprises.

The Chinese gangs are principally engaged in heroin trafficking, credit-card fraud, software piracy and assorted high-tech crimes. But they diligently pursue more traditional activities too and operate alien smuggling, vehicle theft, money laundering and gun-running rings.

"The international criminal threat posed by ethnic Chinese criminal networks has become more complex as crime groups originating in mainland China have joined the traditional triad societies of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan in expanding … beyond China's borders," the report states.

That change is seen as significant if only because the secret triads, or associations, are ancient, organized and powerful. They have established relationships with ethnic Chinese crime groups throughout the Pacific Rim and the Western Hemisphere and are adept at using what the report calls "traditional Chinese practices of networking" to facilitate criminal activity.

The triads date from the 17th century and constitute the largest of China's criminal alliances.

Intelligence estimates put total membership in the triads at more than 100,000, a figure that includes "quasi-legitimate businessmen involved in an array of criminal enterprises," as the report puts it.

Hong Kong has produced two of the most powerful triads. One is called 14K. The other is the especially well-organized Sun Yee On triad.

Both groups have branches in Canada. The 14K is based in Toronto, maintains a chapter in New York, and operates in other U.S. cities. Sun Yee On members have settled in Toronto, Edmonton, Alberta, and Vancouver, British Columbia, and also operate in the United States.

But China's biggest, most expansive and successful triad is the Big Circle Gang. It has cells around the world, including Canada. Since first appearing in the United States in the early 1990s, it has set up cells in New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"The Big Circle Gang is responsible for importing much of the Southeast Asian heroin entering Canada much of which is then smuggled into the United States and is the source for many of the counterfeit credit cards used in North America," the report states.

The more loosely organized Russian crooks in the United States primarily busy themselves with extortion, drug trafficking, auto theft, cigarette smuggling, and trafficking in stolen art and icons.

They are major providers of services like money laundering and work at securing drugs for the Russian market.

The assessment states:

"Russian criminal organizations in the United States are adept at moving funds through a global complex of front companies, offshore financial service centers, and crime-controlled banks to facilitate extraction of criminal proceeds originating in Russia, as well as to launder funds generated from U.S.-based criminal operations."

Money laundering is a favorite activity of Japanese outlaws, too. But in the United States, they tend to do it by investing in the stock market and U.S. financial institutions. They also invest heavily in Canadian and U.S. real estate, and are known to own golf courses and hotels, among other holdings.

They make considerable money through drug and arms trafficking, extortion and investment fraud and have purchased large swatches of West Coast and Hawaiian real estate.

None of the activity of these and other groups is likely to stop soon, the assessment notes.

It predicts that, "Globalization and technological innovation will continue to change the nature of organized crime … [and] law enforcement agencies probably will … be forced to cope with a very large number of highly skilled criminal entrepreneurs whose activities can have far-reaching impact."

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