Going on the Account: The Hunters, and Their Prey in General

Interesting profile today in the NY TIMES on Special Agent Kevin P. Coughlin, the FBI’s main agent on point for all pirate investigations.

Finally, a piece about law enforcement and pirates that doesn’t dissolve under references to the RIAA



What’s most interesting about the piece is how it makes the point to readers who are not necessarily following the story over there that many pirate operations bear similarities to organized crime operations.  In particular, they note how the backers of the voyage stay on shore and recruit crews to go forth and ply the sea lanes with little risk to themselves, while citing a 30% chance of catastrophic failure for the crews going out each time.

It’s an interesting point to make, but it’s not entirely accurate to state that all pirates were self-contained with the captain going down with the crew if the venture failed.  (Assuming of course that the captain didn’t run fast enough for the boats when the venture started to fail, but let’s not get overly complicated here; it’s going to get bad enough from this point on anyway.)

What makes the remark tend wide off the mark is ignoring privateering as a whole, and the concept of the letter of marque in particular.  In many ways, the similarities between Richard Coote, the man who sent William Kidd out on his voyage, and Tony Soprano the fictitious crime boss are not that superficial.  Both had investments that they wanted to expand and were willing to engage others to commit violent action on their behalf to see their operations expand.

And let’s not forget how such revenue from these actions got invested once the venture was completed:  New York owes a lot of its development to the Sweet Trade, the way Vegas owes its existence to Bugsy Siegel.


In fact, the connections you can find between all criminal enterprises show up are apparent in dissection of the organization after they fold.  Each has a planner with a vision, loyal operatives who share enough of the vision to want to see it succeed with the right guidance, a goal that feeds the vision enough to overcome fear of the risks, and the drive to keep it going despite the inherent dangers.  And you can find this in any pirate crew, organized crime family, boiler room operation, you name it; if there’s a crime that needs at least three to pull it off, you find the same DNA in all of them.

Yes, even ninjas, supposedly, follow these rules as well.  Which gives everyone taking sides in this war reason to pause and consider…

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