kottke.org posts about Codes of the Underworld

Criminal ISO other criminals

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2010

From a book called Codes of the Underworld, the first chapter on "Criminal Credentials"...or the problems criminals face in finding collaborators and weeding out undercover law inforcement.

"On the street," wrote FBI special agent Joseph Pistone, who infiltrated the Colombo and later the Bonanno mafia families of New York under the name of Donnie Brasco, "everybody is suspicious of everybody else until you prove yourself." If someone says, "I am ready to deal with you, pal," or sports some item of clothing that conventionally indicates he is a criminal, such as a pair of dark glasses, these signals are hardly sufficient to prove that he is a criminal. As a professional thief put it, "language is not in itself a sufficient means of determining whether a person is trustworthy, for some people in the underworld are stool pigeons and some outsiders learn some of the language." Proving oneself requires tougher tests than cheap talk.

The whole thing is worth a read.