Neil H. MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, addresses the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security luncheon.
In February 2011, 14 heavily armed Somali pirates seized a U.S. sailboat — called the Quest — off the coast of Africa, took the crew hostage and killed four American citizens. Today, 11 of those pirates have been convicted of hijacking in U.S. federal court. Three pirates alleged to have shot and killed the Americans have been charged and could face the death penalty. They will go on trial in June.
How did pirates from the Indian Ocean end up 8,000 miles away in a federal courthouse in Norfolk, Va.?
Neil H. MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, addressed this high-seas piracy trial — as well as cases that range from human trafficking to Internet piracy to economic espionage — as an example of a 21st-century prosecution of criminals that do not recognize borders.
“In this new world of global crime and terrorism, geography matters much less than technology,” MacBride said during an American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security luncheon. “The last two decades have taught us that we must confront those threats proactively where we find them; and as criminals and their organizations increase in their efficiency in working across national and international borders, we need to do the same.”
According to MacBride, the rapid advancement of globalization has had a positive effect on international commerce and finance and geopolitical stability, but it also poses more opportunities for sophisticated criminals and networks to commit offenses.
“Some transnational criminals seek to do us physical harm, others seek to hamper our economic strength and others seek to find markets within the U.S. for their illicit activity,” MacBride said.
MacBride explained that 21st-century criminal prosecution cases fall broadly into three categories: crimes committed outside our borders, crimes originated abroad that target the U.S. and crimes that occur in the U.S. but are engineered by foreign actors outside our borders.
“The first category is purely extraterritorial,” MacBride said. “While they may not directly reach us here at home, the harm is in a broader sense targeted at our people, our institutions, our businesses and our way of life.”
The second category of threats involves foreign actors who violate the U.S. physical or electronic space and seek to harm us here at home.
“An American citizen who was recruited by the People’s Republic of China to infiltrate the U.S. intelligence community … and a Costa Rican life insurance executive convicted for carrying out a $500 million global financial fraud, which targeted thousands of victims around the globe and within the U.S., show us that crimes on the far side of the world can easily victimize us here at home,” MacBride said.
The last category includes crimes occurring within the U.S. but inspired from abroad. Cases under this category include transnational street gangs, which have turned to juvenile sex-trafficking as a profitable alternative to traditional gang activity. “This final category of crimes here in the U.S. … makes it easy to realize how easy it is for domestic crimes to start in, or flow from, hide behind, or simply touch another country,” MacBride said.
“The only way to be able to fight 21st-century crime, where criminals move at the speed of light and don’t recognize borders, is to develop a new playbook,” MacBride said. “That is what the Justice Department is doing generally and that is what we are trying to do in my district.”
MacBride spoke at an American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security luncheon program on “21st Century Criminal Prosecutions — The Borderless Challenge.”