Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Crime Beat Column: The Triple Threat of Crime, Espionage And Terrorism

I addressed the Men's Club at the Ohev Shalom of Bucks County, Pennsyvania today.

I spoke to a group of about 40 men and women about the triple threat that faces America today - crime, espionage and terrorism.

The questions I received after my talk were lively and intelligent. I'd like to thank Mark Podob for inviting me to speak to the group.

As a Philadelphia resident, I told the Bucks County residents, I’m often asked if it is safe to visit the city. Well, despite the stories of flash mobs, drug gangs, robberies and murders, the city is relatively safe.

We received 37 million visitors in 2010, and they were not robbed or killed, and many of them returned in 2011. In Center City, the main cultural and shopping district, crime is very low and there is a strong police presence.

So if you’ve never visited the city, or not visited us lately, I invite you to check us out.

Most of you, I’m sure, are concerned about violent street crime, in Philadelphia as well as here. You fear being brutally robbed and assaulted and perhaps you fear having your home burglarized or invaded.

Law enforcement officers and security professionals say that most street crimes are preventable. The key is for you to be security conscious. Always being aware of your surroundings and take basic crime prevention measures.

I’ve had more than one cop tell me that they’ve come upon burglary scenes where the home or business owner had a burglary alarm system, but failed to turn it on. Turn on your system if you have one, and always lock your doors and windows. And to me, the best protection is a dog. Even a little, yapping, rat-looking dog. Crooks hate barking dogs.

If you’re going to the bank or going shopping, try to go with a friend or family member, as there is truly safety in numbers.

Mostly, adapt a confident air when out in the public. A crook is like a shark – they look for a weak, confused or unobservant victim. And trust your instincts.

You should also be concerned about white collar scam artists. These crooks are smooth talkers and they often say just what you want to hear. The old adage “if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t” still holds true today.

If you’re offered a deal, a discount, a prize – carefully check out where this “wonderful” deal is coming from. Usually, crooks want money up front, so that’s a clue that white collar victim’s miss.

“Yes, you’ve won a valuable prize, but first you’ll have to send us $200 dollars in administration fees.” Don’t you believe it.

You can check out potential crooks with the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, and your local police.

Besides street crime, another serious threat is organized crime. And organized crime today is not just Cosa Nostra. I’m half-Italian and from South Philly and I've coverd organized crime for newspapers and magazines for a good number of years, so I know a little something about the local mob.

But today organized crime involves a good number of ethnic groups and international organizations. Even though you may not have any direct contact with organized crime members, they do indeed affect your life.

Organized crime manufactures and distributes narcotics, which fuels street crime and murder. Organized crime also corrupts government officials.

Organized crime preys on union and business alike, sending up the cost of nearly every product or service you purchase in your daily life. This “corruption tax” on daily commerce is passed on to you - the consumer.

Espionage is another crime that may not directly touch you and you may think of it as something that only happens in a movie or novel.

But espionage affects out national security and our every day lives. Today a good number of foreign countries commit espionage against the U.S. Some countries are good at it and some are not.

Communist China is one country that I’m concerned about. They are stealing our secrets from government and businesses alike. They are not only stealing the secrets on how to make a cruise missile, they are also stealing our ideas on how to make a better mousetrap, as the saying goes.

There have been a good number of Chinese spies prosecuted in the past couple of years, but if we catch one, I wonder how many spies we missed.

China is already an economic giant and they are fast becoming a military giant as well. I fear China will be a major threat to my grandchildren in the future thanks to espionage.

The last serious threat I’d like to briefly cover this morning is terrorism. Thankfully, the U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, who was America's Public Enemy Number, but al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups remain a threat.

Thanks to our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, America has disrupted al-Qaeda’s ability to recruit, train, equip and plan major attacks like the horrific 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

We’ve cleaned their clock on the battlefields and we’ve rolled up most of their networks.

But today al-Qaida is recruiting via the Internet. In Internet chat rooms, disgruntled and misguided people are being encouraged to go out and create murderous mishap.

As these are, for the most part, lone wolves, so it is hard for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to zoom in on them. And yet, we’ve managed to prevent more than 40 plots since 9/11.

And thankfully, some would-be-terrorists have been unlucky, poorly trained and even stupid – so we’ve not had another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

In closing, I’d like to suggest that average Americans can help the fight against crime, espionage and terrorism by simply being aware of your surroundings, and by reporting suspicious behavior to the police.

Bear in mind that it was an observant store clerk who prevented an attack on the soldiers at Fort Dix.

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