American Corner | 2013-01-31 16:07
Louise Shelley is a professor in the School of InternationalService and founder and director of the TransnationalCrime and Corruption Center at American University inWashington, D.C. A leading expert on transnational crimeand terrorism, she is the author of Policing Soviet Societyand Crime and Modernization, as well as numerousarticles and book chapters on all aspects of transnationalcrime.
At the end of the 20th century, a new phenomenonappeared—the simultaneous globalization ofcrime, terror, and corruption, an “unholy trinity”that manifests itself all over the world. It can be foundin the poorest countries of Latin America and Africa,but also in the heart of prosperous Europe. Facilitatedby corruption, crime and terror groups operate togetherfrom the tri-border area in Latin America to the regionalconflicts of West Africa and the former Soviet Unionto the prisons of Western Europe. Crime and terrorismalso intersect in Australia, Asia, and North America, asevidenced by criminal cases that document the extensiveblending of their activities.This unholy trinity is more complex, however,than terrorists simply turning to crime to support theiractivities or merely the increased flow of illicit goodsinternationally. Rather, it is a distinct phenomenon inwhich globalized crime networks work with terrorists andboth are able to carry out their activities successfully, aidedby endemic corruption.
The artificial distinction made between crime andterrorism is based on an antiquated concept of both.The adage that criminals engage in crime for profit andterrorists operate exclusively for political motives beliesthe contemporary reality of these two groups. Criminalsno longer belong to hierarchical organizations that donot threaten the state itself—as was true of the SicilianMafia or the Japanese Yakuza. Terrorists, often supportedby crime, frequently move between identities as criminalsand terrorists. The network structures of both allow themto hook up, conscious or unconscious of each other’sidentities: The two groups may work directly together, orthey may connect through their facilitators. For example,in Los Angeles, the same language school that providedsome of the 9/11 hijackers their visa documents alsoprovided them for the prostitutes of a major traffickingin-persons ring. In turn, the trafficking ring engaged instolen identities that could facilitate terrorist activities. 
Contrary to the view that all this has come aboutwith globalization, both organized crime and terrorismhave historically operated across borders. Already in the1930s, members of the Italian Mafia in the United Stateswere traveling to Kobe, Japan, and Shanghai, China, fordrugs, and members of various U.S. crime gangs tookrefuge in China to avoid the reach of American lawenforcement. Members of the Irish Republican Armyfound sanctuary in Irish communities abroad, which alsoprovided financial support for the organization in Ireland.What is new, however, is the speed and frequencyof their interactions, and the intensity of cooperationbetween these two forms of transnational crime.Both criminals and terrorists have developedtransnational networks, dispersing their activities, theirplanning, and their logistics across several continents, andthereby confounding the state-based legal systems that areused to combat transnational crime in all its permutations.Transnational criminals are major beneficiaries ofglobalization. Terrorists and criminals move people,money, and commodities through a world where theincreasing flows of people, money, and commoditiesprovide excellent cover for their activities. Both terroristsand transnational crime groups have globalized to reachtheir markets, to perpetuate their acts, and to evadedetection.
International organized crime has globalized itsactivities for the same reasons as legitimate multinationalcorporations. Just as multinational corporationsestablish branches around the world to take advantageof attractive labor or raw material markets, so do illicitbusinesses. Furthermore, international businesses, bothlegitimate and illicit, also establish facilities worldwidefor production, marketing, and distribution needs. Illicitenterprises are able to expand geographically to takeadvantage of these new economic circumstances thanksto the communications and international transportationrevolution. 
Terrorists have also globalized, takingadvantage of the ability to recruit internationally, to beclose to diaspora communities that can support themlogistically and financially, and to have access to moreaffluent communities.The end of the Cold War had an enormous impacton the rise of transnational crime. With the end of superpowerconfrontation, the potential for large-scale conflicthas diminished, but since the late 1980s there has beena phenomenal rise in the number of regional struggles.Unfortunately, often the arms and manpower fuelingthese conflicts are tied to transnational criminal activitythrough illicit trade in drugs, diamonds, and people.In turn, these conflicts have produced unprecedentednumbers of refugees and have damaged the legitimateeconomies of their regions, which then become fertilerecruiting grounds for terrorists or havens for the planningand training of terrorists.The growth in illicit transnational activities has beenaided enormously by the great technological advancesof the post-World War II era. 
The rise in commercialairline traffic, improvements in telecommunications(including telephone, fax, and rapid communicationsthrough the Internet), and the growth of internationaltrade have facilitated the ready movement of goods andpeople. Criminals and terrorists exploit the anonymityof chat rooms on the Internet and other forms ofcomputer-based communications to plan and executetheir activities. The terrorists of 9/11 used public-accesscomputers to send messages and buy their airline tickets.Similarly, Colombian drug traffickers use encryptedtelecommunications to plan and execute their trade.Globalization is coupled with an ideology offree markets and free trade and a decline in stateintervention. According to globalization advocates,reducing international regulations and barriers to tradeand investment will increase trade and development.But these very conditions that promote a globalizedenvironment are crucial to the expansion of crime. 
Crimegroups and terrorists have exploited the enormous declinein regulations, the lessened border controls, and the resultant greater freedom, toexpand their activities acrossborders and to new regions ofthe world. These contacts havebecome more frequent, and thespeed at which they occur hasaccelerated. Whereas the growthof legal trade is regulated byadherence to border controlpolicies, customs offi cials,and bureaucratic systems,transnational crime groups freely exploit the loopholesof state-based legal systems to extend their reach. Theytravel to regions where they cannot be extradited, basetheir operations in countries with ineffective or corruptlaw enforcement, and launder their money in countrieswith bank secrecy or few effective controls. By segmentingtheir operations,both criminalsand terrorists reapthe benefi ts ofglobalization, whilesimultaneouslyreducing theiroperational risks.Global tradeincreased enormouslyin the second halfof the 20th century. Included in theenormous fl ow of legitimate commoditieswas an increase in illicit merchandise.
Finding the illicit fl ows within the licit isquite a challenge. A very small percentageof container ships have their cargochecked, thus facilitating the movementof drugs, arms, and contraband.Therefore, drugs can be moved on tunaboats, escaping easy detection, and ahoney business can be used to movemoney and generate profi ts for al-Qaida.Recent decades have seen a rise in many forms ofglobalized crime. The drug trade was the fi rst illicit sectorto maximize profi ts in a globalized world. Criminalsreceived huge profi ts from dealing in drugs, and manyterrorist groups used drug traffi cking as an importantsource of funding. But as the market for drugs becamemore competitive and the international law enforcementresponse to it increased, profi ts were reduced throughcompetition and enhanced risk; many criminals andterrorists consequentlyexploited other forms ofcrime facilitated by the globaleconomy. Both criminals andterrorists have subsequentlybenefi ted fi nancially from theincrease in arms traffi ckingand trade in people. 
There hasalso been an enormous risein illegal trade in endangeredspecies, hazardous waste, stolenart and antiquities, counterfeiting, and globalized crimeconnected to credit cards. Organized crime and terroristsexploit all of these activities, sometimes even in tandem.A major serviceindustry has alsodeveloped to serve allforms of transnationalcriminals. Thisincludes providersof false documents,money launderers,and even highlevelprofessionalswho provide legal,fi nancial, andaccounting servicesto both groups.Illustrative of this trend is the fact thatRiggs Bank in Washington, D.C., whoselegitimate clients had included Americanpresidents and many in the worlddiplomatic community, was prosecutedfor laundering money for the dictator ofEquatorial Guinea and for facilitating thetransfer of funds to terrorists, resulting ina $25 million fi ne. This case shows thatthe activities of criminals and terrorists donot always stay in the shadow economy but often intersect with the legitimate economic system.
There must be a majorparadigm shift in the waywe approach international security. By adhering to theartificial and obsolete distinctions that criminals aremotivated only by profit and terrorists only by politicalor religious impulses, policymakers, law enforcement,and military strategists are failing to deal effectively withthe new phenomenon of transnational crime networksgenerally.States and multilateral organizations must moveaway from the Cold War-era security paradigm thatviews conflicts between nation-states as the major threatto international security and assumes, therefore, thatstates are capable of controlling international security.For example, a strategy for controlling the proliferationof weapons of mass destruction by merely locking upthe materials needed to make them may be brilliantlyengineered but fatally flawed, because without addressingthe additional threats posed by the pervasiveness ofcorruption, and the operations of criminal and terroristnetworks, states may be creating a false sense of security.Addressing the intersection of crime, terrorism,and corruption in the global environment also requiresaddressing the social, political, and economic environmentthat generates and sustains them. 
All three evils are linkedto profound problems with the economic imbalancesamong countries, authoritarian governments, and thelack of opportunities in many regions of the world. Aviable solution must recognize and deal with the senseof disenfranchisement that motivates much terrorism,especially among Islamic populations. The availabilityof jobs and means of obtaining a livelihood is crucialfor many in the developing world, so that, for example,Afghan and Latin American farmers are not dependent ondrug cultivation to support their families.Crime is often viewed as a peripheral issue toterrorism. Since September 11, 2001, numerous resourceshave been shifted in the UnitedStates and elsewhere fromaddressing transnational crimeto fighting terrorism. 
Thiscould be a serious mistake forthe military, for intelligencecommunities, and for others.The need to combat crime is not a peripheral issue, butabsolutely central to the fight against terrorism. Theterrorists who bombed Madrid trains on March 11, 2004,might have been thwarted if prison authorities had beensensitive to the plotting going on within their facilities.One example of a successful strategy is foundwithin the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD),which merges local police efforts with those of federallaw enforcement. By combining expert analysis withtraditional police work and closely following thecriminal activity within its communities, the LAPDhas been enormously successful in disrupting potentialterrorist activity and the organizations that fund andfacilitate terrorism. Working cooperatively and reducingbureaucratic barriers, the police in Los Angeles have beenable to combat terrorism without any special legal toolsand without violations of legal rights.If the threat of non-state actors such as transnationalcriminals and terrorists continues to rise in comingdecades, the future will demand greater internationalcooperation, more harmonized legislation, and increasedsharing of intelligence. 
In implementing a policy againsttransnational crime and terrorism, we must, nonetheless,respect human rights and avoid measures that will leadto further radicalization and foment terrorism. Howwe manage this paradigm shift of seeing and treatingcriminals, terrorists, and corruption as interconnected willdetermine how successful we are in saving the benefits ofglobalization from their dangerous misuse in the area ofinternational security. 
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