The Justice Department is launching a bold 21st Century attack to combat what Attorney General Michael Mukasey calls the "growing threat" that international organized crime is posing to "U.S. security and stability." CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian looks inside one of the most dangerous threats: The Russian Mob.
They were known as Z and Louie, Thick and Thin. Partially disguised, they talked for first time to CBS News about their nearly 10 years as undercover agents for the FBI.
"What were kind of roles you guys played here?" Keteyian asked.
"Well, we portrayed ourselves as not only high rollers but wise guys from Atlantic City," Z said.
They had big-time U.S. Customs connections, and a bankroll to match.
"The $2,000 dinners. The fancy cars. And, yes, I did fit in them," Z laughed.
More than 100 nights a year, Z and Louie wined and dined their way around Atlantic City, slowly working their way in, helping to expose the magnitude of the Russian Mafia:
"They have no qualms about murdering people," Z said.
"If they have to kill you, they kill you?" Keteyian asked.
"Absolutely," Z said.
CBS News has learned that hundreds of FBI agents in New York are now devoted to fighting what one top official called an "explosive" growth in organized crime fueled by the growing influence of Asian, Albanian and Russian mobs.
In the last three years, in New York alone, the FBI has indicted more than 300 "non-traditional" crime figures.
"The public has the perception that organized crime has largely gone away," said Mark Mershon, the FBI assistant director in charge of New York. "That of course is not at all true."
Over the last 15 years, the Russian mob, based in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, has grown into an intimidating force - a lucrative international enterprise stretching from Moscow to Israel to Thailand to the United States, blending old-fashioned brutality with high-tech skills.
The Russians' massive smuggling operations run out of a port in Newark, N.J. One ingenious scam to avoid paying taxes had tanker loads of wood-grain alcohol being shipped back to the Mother Land - vodka with a twist.
"They would dye it blue. They would label it windshield washer fluid, ship it to Russia, un-dye it, and then sell it as vodka," Z said.
In time, Louie and Z left the shores of the Atlantic for Zurich, Switzerland - and a far more menacing situation: A meeting with a high-ranking Russian General offering his government's arsenal for sale.
"We're talking long-range missiles, tanks, submarines, everything," Z said.
The danger was driven home last week with the New York indictment of notorious Russian arms dealer Victor Boot, captured in Thailand in March. He was charged with selling weapons to a terrorist group to be used to kill Americans.
That's hardly a scene from "The Sopranos."
Italian organized crime, neighborhood drugs, prostitution, sports betting. Traditional stuff. This is … this is way up the ladder.
"Exactly," Z said.
Keteyian asked: "And if they'll sell that to a couple of mob guys from Jersey, what are they selling to al-Qaeda? Terrorists?"
"It's all available for the right price. Greed drives everything," Z said.
Those are wise words from a couple of unlikely wise guy who played their part in the war against the Mob.