TCS: Tech Central Station - Terrorism and the Mob: "When Kerry was a prosecutor in the late 1970s and early 1980s, 'organized crime' meant the Mob. Gambling and prostitution were among the many ways Mafia families and similar organizations made money. Prosecutions for those crimes could take down leading crime bosses. That tradition goes all the way back to the 1930s, when then-District Attorney Tom Dewey made a national name for himself by nailing Lucky Luciano on prostitution charges.
The point of those prosecutions was never to stamp out gambling or prostitution. Gambling is hardly a scourge; most states run lotteries. Prostitution is widely tolerated. To prosecutors like Dewey and Kerry, those crimes were pretexts -- tools for convicting and punishing people like Luciano. Just like prosecuting Al Capone for tax evasion. The focus was on nailing the criminal, not stopping the crime.
Why not prosecute people like Capone and Luciano for more serious crimes? Mobsters used violence to take over legitimate businesses and labor unions, then looted them. The result was economic strangulation and fear. Why not convict and punish Mafiosi for that? Sometimes, we did. But only sometimes, because proving racketeering and extortion is and always has been both hard and expensive. Local prosecutors like Kerry couldn't afford to do it -- if they had tried, they would have had no time or manpower to go after ordinary street crime. Gambling and prostitution cases were the next best thing
Enter terrorism. Prosecutors would like to nail would-be mass murderers for planning to blow up buildings or spread nerve gas or otherwise slaughter innocent men and women. But that is even harder than prosecuting Mafia bosses for racketeering. Proving that Mohamed Atta is guilty of mass murder is easy -- but he's already dead. Proving it ahead of time, before September 11, proving it beyond a reasonable doubt, proving it without disclosing sources the government will need in other investigations -- those things are nearly impossible.
That is why, when the Justice Department prosecutes would-be terrorists, it usually prosecutes them for something other than terrorism: immigration fraud, lying to government agents, money laundering, and the like. At least in this respect, Al Qaida is like the Mob. Pretext prosecutions are a practical necessity."
This is why the Patriot Act is such a crucial part of the domestic war on terror. But killing terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere is still the best way of preventing them from attacking American interests here and abroad.