Pirates: A Better Class of Criminal

The fact that this took so long, that's not good," said one of the pirates, Isse Mohammed, in a telephone interview. "But we got the cash in hand, and that's good. That's what we're interested in."

Mr. Isse added that his gang would continue "hunting ships" because "that's our business."

--New York Times, Feb 5th 2009

I love that attitude: "I am hijacking ships for money, and that is my business."

What happened to good old-fashioned , face-to-face crime? Internet hackers, Bernie Madoff, governments -- these guys all get things done from a distance, behind keyboards, steeped in deception, against opponents that have not got a chance. These young Somalis rock up in dinghies -- ragtag soldiers with ragtag weapons, horn blaring -- and take over tankers the size of Manhattan. I am fairly certain we will not rid ourselves of crime, so I will at least hope for, in the words of the late Heath Ledger, a "better class of criminal."

The success of these pirates over the past 18 months indicates it is not easy to stop them, but at least you can see them coming. Figuratively speaking, they walk right in the front door. They talk to the press, they introduce themselves, they answer questions about captives, they make their demands clear. When they get the money, they give back the boat. Most reports indicate they have treated hostages well and, when all is said and done, let them go.

Pretty straightforward. What's more, you know exactly what was lost, and more or less who took it. You know where and how they operate. How to stop them? A puzzle, for sure, but at least you have all the pieces.

In contrast, there is no clarity with today's more modern criminals. We spend so much time trying to figure out the "who," "what," "where," "when," "why," and "how" that we not only waste money and resources investigating, but we miss the dozens of other robberies being committed simultaneously.

I do not wish to argue for the morality or "right" of the pirates' mission -- violent crime rarely has an excuse and lives have been endangered. It is the upfront nature of their conduct, especially given the global context in which it occurs, that fascinates and even impresses me. Out of respect for those in danger in the current situation, and for the rule of law, I would not dare root for their success.

I do say this, however:

Three cheers for looking people in the face. Being honest about the dishonesty of one's profession is, at least, a start.