Spiegel interviewed former FBI agent Jack Cloonan, now a negotiator with Somali pirates. Here’s an excerpt from the fascinating piece:
SPIEGEL: From your experience with the Somali pirates, are they intelligent people? Or are they simply thugs?
Cloonan: They’re not stupid. They know that they’ve got a life — they can leverage that. They know that it’s a successful business model. They know that they can operate in this wide swath of area almost with impunity and they can pick and choose. And they’re developing better strategies. They’re going further out from the coast because they know the ships have been advised by the International Maritime Bureau to stay a minimum of 200 nautical miles offshore. If ships come in within say 50 or 100 miles, they’re easily stopped.
And they are effective — for example, when they call family members to induce stress. I think shooting off a gun during a telephone call and saying you just killed someone is pretty effective. I think moving ships and threatening to beach them is effective. The fact that they anchor the ships within sight of each other is very intelligent. Some are better than others.
SPIEGEL: Would you say it’s Pirates Inc.?
Cloonan: It’s Pirates Inc. Look at it as organized crime. They just happen to be in the business of hijacking boats. There is a command and control structure. It’s not clearly the German military or the US military in terms of chain of command, it’s less doctrinaire and so on, but there is a command and control structure because there are beneficiaries at the end of the food chain. People have to get money. People have to be rewarded for what they’ve done.
Cloonan says later in the interview that there are reports of pirates investing in real estate. I am henceforth trashing my image of the pirates as anarchical wildmen.