Last summer the National Security Council issued a report on transnational crime naming Russian organized crime as a strategic threat to Americans and US interests. The report did not surprise me because I have been working on the issue for over 20 years. In the late 80s and early 90s I researched, tracked and contributed to reports on the how Soviet, and later Russian and other CIS intelligence agencies would use Russian organized crime groups as a vehicle to conduct intelligence operations and active measures abroad and specifically how they would do so in the US. Some of my research was used by my long time mentor and friend Larry Sulc at the Nathan Hale Institute, serving as the source for some of his writings on the subject over the years. Some of the work was passed around on the Hill and ended up down Pennsylvania Avenue at the FBI, which resulted in the head of the Soviet desk calling me in for a talk.
The fact that professional intelligence agencies might know, use and manipulate the dirty, shadowy world of organized crime is not in itself shocking and surprising, in fact an intelligence agency that doesn’t or can not operate within such an environment is probably not doing a very good job. However, there is a real danger for intelligence and law enforcement agencies when the crooks they have to deal with use their contacts within law enforcement and intelligence ‘to go legit,’ especially if the criminals have no intention of shedding or renouncing their less than legitimate business activities and practices. This later scenario appears to be what was in play at a recent oil and energy forum in Houston, Texas.
CERA week is one of the premiere energy and oil conferences in the world and was held in Houston from March 5-9 of this year . The title of the forum was evocative, if not a tad grandiose: “The Quest: Energy, Security and the Future of Economic Growth,.” featured speakers included leaders from American industry and government among whom were a former CIA Director and a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Consequently, I assumed when I looked over the program that speakers and companies presenting would be roughly of the same caliber, especially those companies chosen as energy innovation pioneers for the industry by the conference organizer, IHS CERA. Yet when I saw the Russian company chosen as a pioneer in energy innovation Novas Energy Services of Moscow I was underwhelmed to say the least and more than a little surprised at the organizers of the conference for not doing a better job of vetting a Russian company which they are introducing to the American market and promoting as major innovator in the industry.
Not only was Novas Energy over hyping the novelty and uniqueness of its technology; thereby undermining and discrediting more substantial and credible American IP claims to the same technology, but a simple background check of the company in open Russian sources and in an easily accessible Russian business database reveals that two of the main owners, Vladimir Skigin and Alexander Motorin are tied to Russian organized crime in St. Petersburg. Moreover, Skigin comes from a prominent organized crime family in St. Petersburg and is a business partner of the Ritzio Entertainment Group which controls about 700 casinos spread across the former USSR, Romania, Bolivia, Peru and Mexico.
Both Skigin and Motorin have US business visas and Motorin appears to be involved in real estate development in Florida. Hence, perhaps IHS CERA should not be singled out as being negligent in screening visiting businessmen with questionable ethics and business practices to the US? Who is screening possible Russian organized crime looking to conduct their business in the US? We know this guy isn’t.