mardi 2 janvier 2024

Robert Mazur, The Infiltrator, Little Brown, 2009

French Version

Robert Mazur was a US customs agent in the 1980s. He infiltrated the drug cartels and the banks that helped them launder their profits: the information he gathered started the process that led to the liquidation of the BCCI in 1991.

Under the name of Bob Musella, he provided the cartels with the honeypot of an efficient money-laundering service. As a result, he was able to win the trust of criminals who flocked to his "wedding" in 1988, a mock wedding that led to numerous arrests.

The job of an undercover agent is a perilous one. To make the Mafia believe that he is one of them, he has to create a false identity, false wealth and false criminal activities. At any moment he risks being unmasked and killed.

The book describes his adventure and offers two lessons that I think are worth commenting on.

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The first is psychological.

Bob Musella had conversations with the mobsters in which they confided their worries to him. He was invited to their home and got to know their family. This relationship, which became very personal, also sometimes became friendly.

So he had to live two different lives: that of an undercover agent who records every conversation with his targets, sneaking up on them to accumulate clues and evidence to feed his reports; and that of a human being in a relationship with other human beings who trust him.

His work led to the arrest of criminals, the seizure of their property and the break-up of their families. When it came to those he had come to appreciate in spite of everything, he suffered, he cried and for a while he didn't know where he stood, paying for the duplicity of his double life.

Only those with limited experience can believe that it is possible for a spy to accomplish his mission by keeping a cold emotional distance from each of the people, his targets, whom he comes into close contact with and betrays.

*     *

The second lesson is sociological.

Robert Mazur wanted to go as far up the criminal hierarchy as possible, to unmask its organisation and, ultimately, to give customs the means to destroy it. This action was certainly fundamentally faithful to the mission of customs, but not to the rules and behaviours that had become part of their organisation.

In customs, you had to seize a lot of kilos of drugs to climb the career ladder. Those who had this simple ambition, but considered it sufficient, envied, despised and hated with all their heart the man who had sneaked into the cartels at the risk of his life, and in whom they saw only a schemer. They also feared that his investigations would reveal complicity within the ranks of customs or, worse still, among political leaders.

For his superiors, Mazur was going much too far.

Moreover, when his reports announced a forthcoming drug shipment, how could they resist the temptation to gain fame and promotion by making a major seizure, even if it meant putting the undercover's life in danger because he was the only one who could have given this information? It is also not impossible that some of his superiors may have obscurely wished to be rid of him in this way.

Experience can confront anyone with a situation of this kind. The organisation of an institution or a company is often based on an impoverished definition of its mission: the formalism of the hierarchy and procedures is believed to be sufficient to guarantee the quality of decisions and the effectiveness of action.

On the other hand, those who adhere to the mission and want to serve it authentically will dare, if necessary, to free themselves from this superficial formalism. Like Mazur, they will attract some sympathy, but will run the risk of being seen by their bosses as someone who "makes a fuss", thus attracting the hatred that will manifest itself in invective, obstacles in the way, budgetary pettiness or worse.

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