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Crime organizations from all of the world have operatives inside the United States, but the most dangerous are the Russians, an FBI official told Congress.

"If they continue in the United States unchecked, I think there's a possibility they could become the major threat to us because of the expansion they're doing across the border in all types of organized crime activity and in drug-trafficking activity," said Jim Moody, a deputy assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigative division.Moody told the House International Relations Committee on Wednesday that Russian organized crime figures in the United States are largely "very educated and multilingual" and "very violent," and they have "no fear of our penal system."

"When there is no fear, you're never going to get crime under control," said Rep. Toby Roth, R-Wis.

U.S. and Russian law enforcement officials have worked together to combat the groups, which are known as "the Russian mafia." Moody said that even in countries where the lure of ill-gotten gains might be considered overwhelming, honest people have been found to fight crime.

He estimated there are about 4,000 active, hard-core members of the Russian mafia in the United States. Pressed by the panel to estimate the total number of active members of international crime organizations in the United States, Moody came up with the figure of 29,000, stressing that it was an estimate.

Moody said they came primarily from Russia and Eastern Europe, Mexico, Colombia, Italy, Asia and Nigeria.

Internationally, said Phil Williams of the University of Pittsburgh, there is "no global, monolithic conspiracy. If there was, it would be much easier to deal with."

However, leaders of various international crime groups have met at least three times on cruises in international waters, said Arnaud de Borchgrave, who directs a program on global organized crime at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The last one, he said, was attended by 14 "crime lords from all over the world. They are trying to carve up the world" into spheres of influence.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., cited a study by two Russians that said organized crime in Russia encompasses some 1,500 state enterprises, 4,000 share-holding societies, 500 joint ventures and 550 banks.

"The KGB and organized crime are inextricably intertwined," said de Borchgrave. But they're not interested in taking over the world, he said. Instead, he said, "They're out to make money."