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How Important was Technology In Dismantling The Mafia?

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This one is for all you mafia enthusiasts and crime documentary fanatics!

We’ve all heard of the word organized crime but very few have dug down deep to know what this actually means.

Organized crime members are not to be misconstrued with street gangs but resemble more of a corporate body where each department has been delegated to the suitable candidate or team. 

These criminals through their intelligence were able to beat the system using the same rules and ethics that govern their institutions.

In this piece, we’ll try to understand the role played by technology in breaking the ugly cycle of the cat and mouse chase and eventually helping the police get to the mafia. 

Different mafias that operate around the world and it’s next to impossible to cover every single one, we’ll be using the popular Italian Mafia that worked in New York. 

Why do you ask?

Well because they’re the founder of organized crime at least in the U.S. Their rules and code of conduct differentiated them from small-time thugs 

They had an army of lawyers and doctors that served them discreetly and had their hands in construction, retail, manufacturing and other industries of the economy. 

Apart from the business of drugs, which was looked down upon, the mafia was involved with gambling, loan sharking, trafficking joints, you name it. 

Michel Franzese, a capo at one time for the Gambino family was said to make 6-7$ million per week with Petrol Pump scams.

The FBI, DEA, Local Police, District Attorney and other forms of law enforcement agencies joined hands to combat the vicious but strong network of the mafia.

The Infamous La Cosa Nostra 

The word “Cosa Nostra” in literal context means “our thing”.  

Composed of the five powerful families that had control over New York’s Italian-American Mafia: Colombo, Gambino, Bonanno, Genovese and Lucchese since 1931.

One of the popularly known facts is their code of silence based on the principle of “Omertà” – silence and extreme loyalty. 

Though we may never know the exact number of people that work within these families, the FBI estimates there are about 3,000 members and affiliates of Italian-American organized crime groups in the US.

The Crackdown of the Mafia

It wasn’t an easy task but thanks to the advent of technology and gadgets like hidden cameras, bugs, the use of undercover agents and the testimony of turncoats, the authorities were able to convict 800+ mafia members. 

It was simple!

Both the American And Italian governments had had enough and had resorted to the use of government machinery and sophisticated surveillance tools that ultimately led to the defeat and detention of the mafia.

As reported in the New York Times, In the ”pizza connection” case, the Government through the use of surveillance technology has obtained 5.5 years spanning wiretaps, which exposed a worldwide network of drug traffickers and money lenders operating through dozens of pizza parlours and cafes in the New York region.

Similarly, DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agents used to record every bill used in drug purchases through computers in an effort to get closer to their leads. 

Now it only makes sense that our friends from the mafia would also turn to high-tech gadgets to counter the efforts of law enforcement. 

It was common for Mafia Bosses to get their houses, cars swept by an electronics expert. 

Telephone pagers to circumvent wiretapping, were some of the tools used in this ongoing battle between the mafia and the government. 

This went to a point where the F.B.I. place an electronic listening device in the heavily guarded mansion of Mafia Boss, Paul Castellano, for four months. 

Smarter Mafia with Smart Technology

It’s only common that the boom of the age of the internet had to make its way towards the mafia side of the fence. 

Modern communication technologies are being leveraged by organized crime members involved in drug smuggling, human trafficking through using the internet, social media, and mobile applications 

So much so that technology has made criminal actions like extortion, kidnapping, illegal adoption of children and forced marriages easy and efficient. 

The use of technology enables them to exploit and recruit victims using tactics of cyberbullying and blackmailing. 

Technology guarantees anonymity for such criminals, I mean encrypted communication is used by everyone nowadays, plus it helps the people behind the crime to hide their identity, geographical footprints and allows them the ability to control victims from a distance. 

It is so easy I mean when you think about it, the concept of fake friendships on social media platforms could lead to an individual getting caught in hands of human traffickers since a significant amount of information is already available and is constantly posted and updated. 

It’s no secret that through virtual forms of movement restriction and real-time monitoring (e.g. GPS and built-in video cameras in smartphones, and location-sharing applications) this all can easily be executed without one getting caught.  

The concept of live-streaming violent acts being committed against other individuals and broadcasted live on multiple platforms of the internet to satisfy individuals who get a kink from watching humans being tortured has become a rather popular commercial activity followed by different mafia around the world. 

Other more technologically savvy criminals use more unconventional and tech-driven methods to conceal their earnings e,g, digital wallets and virtual currencies. 

Technology To The Rescue & Enforce Law

The two types of technological innovations in the realm of law enforcement are categorized as: 

  • Information-based technologies (soft technology: computer software, information systems) 
  • Material-based technologies (hard technology: hardware or materials). 

Both these types have immensely impacted the “dramatic changes in the organization of police” (Reichard, 2001:1), especially towards the last century

Here’s a breakdown of the Innovations used in criminal justice technology:

HARD TECHNOLOGY

  • Improved police protection devices(helmets, vests, cars, buildings)
  • Improved/new weapons
  • Less than lethal force (mobile/ riot control)
  • Computers in squad cars Hands-free patrol car control (Project 54)
  • Offender and citizen ID via biometrics/ fingerprints
  • Mobile data centres
  • Video in patrol cars

SOFT TECHNOLOGY

  • Crime mapping (hot spots)
  • Crime analysis (e.g. COMPSTAT)
  • Criminal history data systems enhancement – Info sharing w/in CJS and private-sector
  • New technologies to monitor communications( phone, mail, internet) to/from targeted individuals
  • Amber alerts 
  • Creation of watch lists of potential violent offenders
  • Gunshot location devices

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Now what’s important to understand is that this is an ongoing process. 

The security agencies continue to invest greatly towards developing a wide range of hard technological innovations such as gunshot location technology, passive/unpowered augmentative exoskeleton and powered augmentative exoskeleton, less-than-lethal force technologies, CCTV systems, and new patrol car technology

Towards the soft technology side for all those who haven’t been following Edward Snowden let’s just say there’s plenty of improvement towards building efficient smart monitoring software that is directed towards serious heinous crimes like human trafficking through acquiring online leave digital footprints 

Similarly obtaining digital evidence through monitoring financial transactions and online advertisements is also another aspect where law enforcement is engaged proactively. 

Approximately 1 million CCTV cameras were deployed across the United States by year-end 2006 (Nestlel, 2006), but more current estimates are not available. 

It’s high time that governments increase investment in terms of human resource development in law enforcement agencies through providing training in newly emerged domains such as data privacy and other investigative tools.

The F.B.I. in its efforts of labour racketeering investigations has shifted towards artificial intelligence computer systems to provide accurate information, including legal strategies, on their respective cases. The system falls under the agency’s confidential computerized Organized Crime Information System.

It is clear that while law enforcement agencies bend towards the use of digital technologies and forensics to tackle the mafia and other criminals, the ongoing developments in the realm of communications technologies and other technologies will fall into the hands of criminal elements in our society and will keep the race going between criminals and law enforcement.


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