America is Under Siege by Cigarette Smugglers

Editor’s Note: Information on the ties between cigarette smuggling and state-sponsored gangsterism/terrorism, see here, here and here.

From: Foreign Policy

The Kremlin’s Newest Hybrid Warfare Asset: Gangsters


The use of criminals on the part of the Russian government even seemingly leads to the provocative cross-border raid into Estonia by Federal Security Service (FSB) commandos in 2014, during which they snatched Estonian security officer Eston Kohver. He was convicted on trumped-up espionage charges before being swapped for a Russian spy in an Estonian prison, but the main aim appears to have been to disrupt his investigation into a cigarette-smuggling ring. The criminals were moving untaxed or counterfeit cigarettes over the frontier with the FSB’s protection. In return, the Russians got a cut of their proceeds as chernaya kassa — “black account” — secret funds that could be used to pay off friends or support convenient political movements without revealing Moscow’s fingerprints.

A dangerous gambit

So what’s not to love? Why shouldn’t everyone, Washington included, get into the gangster-spook game? Apart from the ethical issue, there is the political cost. Criminals make unreliable agents, prone to unprofessionalism in action, and an eager willingness to tell all in return for a lighter sentence when caught. Pyongyang hardly has any credibility or legitimacy to lose, but countries routinely engaging in these activities risk being considered pariahs.

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