Monday, October 15, 2007

The Shadow Realm (Part 2)

We continue from Part 1 with a review of Makarenko's 2004 paper entitled The Crime–Terror Continuum: Tracing the Interplay between Transnational Organised Crime and Terrorism:

Alliances [5]

The first level of relationship that exists between organised crime and terrorism is the alliance. Alliances exist at both ends of the continuum: criminal groups forming alliances with terrorist organisations, and terrorist groups seeking alliances with criminal organisations. The nature of alliances between groups varies, and can include one-off, short-term and long-term relationships. Furthermore, alliances include ties established for a variety of reasons such as seeking expert knowledge (i.e. money-laundering, counterfeiting, or bomb-making) or operational support (i.e. access to smuggling routes). In many respects alliance formations are akin to relationships that develop within legitimate business settings. As Louise Shelley succinctly notes with specific reference to organised crime, 'cooperation with terrorists may have significant benefits for organised criminals by destabilising the political structure, undermining law enforcement and limiting the possibilities for international cooperation.' [6]

At the end of my previous post on this topic, I wrote that

while the thinking here is certainly brilliant, the "crime-terror nexus" model is too one-dimensional. When these other factors are considered, and when their influence is examined, it becomes apparent that this is a multi-dimensional problem, and not all to do with crime and terror, or with profit and politics.


Terrorist groups can also ally themselves with political parties. Northern Ireland has offered an excellent example of this. Terrorist groups can also ally themselves with charities -- this is one method in which Islamic terrorist groups receive their funding.

Then, we have terrorist groups funding their activities through crime, as Makarenko discusses, but taking a page from organized crime's playbook, and laundering the money through "legitimate" banks and other businesses. The BCCI scandal comes to mind here.

Consequently, instead of being positioned along a line, all of which is illegal (terrorism is often illegal activity for political benefit, and organized crime is often illegal activity for profit), we see this essentially paralleled in the legal world, paralleled with a nexus of legal activity that is either for political benefit, for profit, or for some mix of the two. We can imagine here, instead of a line, a plane: the X-axis could define the legality of the activity, and the Y-axis could define the purpose.

To be sure, Makarenko understands all this exceptionally well; my only issue is with the linear model.

Continuing with Makarenko:

The most commonly cited alliances exist in the realm of the international drug trade. For example, Colombian authorities have reported that the Medellin cocaine cartel hired the ELN to plant car bombs in 1993 because they did not have the capabilities to conduct terrorist acts themselves [7]. Furthermore, FARC has entered into alliances with criminal groups outside of Colombia, including Mexican drugtrafficking groups. Although FARC has denied this relationship, US government officials have reported that FARC sends cocaine to Mexico in return for arms shipments [8]. A similar relationship was established with Russian criminal groups who sent arms to Colombia in exchange for cocaine shipments [9].

In addition to relatively straightforward alliances based on the provision of specific services, more sophisticated relationships have emerged between criminal and terrorist groups. This is best exemplified in international smuggling operations that move various commodities from illicit narcotics, weapons and human cargo, between countries and continents. For example the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan entered into a strategic relationship with the Afghan drug mafia and Central Asian criminal groups to ensure that shipments of heroin could be safely transported between Afghanistan and the Russian Federation and the Caucasus [10]. There are also numerous allegations suggesting that militants linked to Al Qaeda established connections with Bosnian criminal organisations to establish a route for trafficking Afghan heroin into Europe via the Balkans [11]. The Pakistan-based Indian criminal organisation, D-Company (led by Dawood Ibrahim) has established relations to numerous terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, the LTTE, and Lashkar e-Tayyaba. Furthermore, it is also believed that criminal networks in southern Thailand have smuggled small arms into Sri Lanka and the Indonesian conflict zones of Aceh, Sulawesi and Maluku [12]—with the specific intent of arming terrorist groups.

These last two paragraphs are illustrative of Makarenko's theory, but far more important for my purposes practically. Makarenko here is describing the movements of heroin through Central Asia, along the Silk Route, and through Turkey and the Balkans, as I discussed in The Man in the Middle and elsewhere. Speaking of the Balkans, we continue with Makarenko:

The most illustrative nexus between a criminal and terrorist group—one in which a mutual relationship has proven integral to the operations of both entities—is the relationship between the Albanian mafia and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the Kosovo conflict. After the fall of the Albanian government in 1997, the Albanian mafia secured its authority over heroin-trafficking routes through the Balkans. At approximately the same time, the KLA was established to seek an independent state from Serbia. As noted in a report published in the Washington Times, a very specific relationship developed between the political wing of the KLA— the Kosovo National Front (KLF)—and Albanian criminal groups to smuggle heroin. These ties thus "provided a well-oiled arrangement: the profits from the Pristina cartel, estimated to be in the 'high tens of millions', were funnelled to the KLA, where they were used primarily to buy weapons, often in 'drugs-for-arms' arrangements" [13]. This relationship, however, is significantly more complex than the straightforward alliance discussed here, and in fact, both the Albanian mafia and KLA could be considered hybrid groups based on the nature of their activities throughout the 1990s. As illustrated in the examples cited above, in most instances the ties that have developed between organised crime and terrorism have been isolated in specific geographic regions. This indicates that it is in the interest of criminal and terrorist groups—invariably within unstable regions—to form alliances to ensure that an environment conducive to both their needs is sustained. Instability is in the interest of terrorists because it diminishes the legitimacy of governments in the eyes of the mass populations—the very people terrorists seek to gain support from; and it is in the interest of criminal groups seeking to maximise criminal operations. This is especially true for groups engaged in wide-scale smuggling of licit or illicit commodities. For this reason, crime–terrorist alliances have been especially common in Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Eurasia.

These are very interesting comments about what terrorists and organized crime need to flourish -- and, it is an apt description of what US policy going back to the Clinton Administration has produced in the Balkans, and what has developed in Afghanistan since 2001.

Operational Motivations

Despite the existence of alliances between organised crime and terrorist groups, groups have increasingly sought to forgo creating alliances if they can. As the 1990s progressed, it became apparent that criminal and terrorist groups were seeking to 'mutate their own structure and organisation to take on a non-traditional, financial, or political role, rather than cooperate with groups who are already effective in those activities' [14]. The primary reason for acquiring in-house capabilities is to ensure organisational security, and to secure organisational operations. In doing so criminal and terrorist groups have sought to avoid the inherent problems present in all alliances, including: differences over priorities and strategies, distrust, the danger of defections, and the threat that alliances could create competitors [15]. Thus most criminal and terrorist groups operational in the 1990s and into the twenty-first century have developed the capacity to engage in both criminal and terrorist activities.

As mentioned above, it is not outside the realm of possibility for criminal or terrorist groups to also have "legitimate" operations -- a charity to provide funding, a bank to launder money, or other business interests, such as an airline which can be used for smuggling. Beyond that, there is occasionally a desire to expand operations into perfectly legal fields of operation, with no sinister ulterior motive. It is not unheard-of that mafiosos, once they have moved up in the world, begin to transition to legal business dealings, sometimes even leaving the underworld altogether. Certainly, with enough money, crime bosses buy themselves a degree of respectability and access to political and business leaders.

Something that could prompt a move in this direction might be the desire by a criminal organization to have control over a front company that is used to launder money.

In fact, we could look beyond the criminal and terrorist worlds to consider one organization which has a political wing, to work towards favorable legislation and regulation, and a business wing, aimed at profits. This business wing could then be divided into those businesses which are legal and legitimate pretty much everywhere, and those which are illegal and illegitimate in many places where they operate. Such an organization could further have a security wing, which provides security for its operations. This security wing may actually be involved in more than security -- it may do battle with competitors.

An international cartel, controlling business operations regardless of legality, complete with its own army, and seeking political influence to further its goals... are we not now describing a true mafia?

Criminal groups using terrorism as an operational tool, and terrorist groups taking part in criminal activities as an operational tool, constitute the second component of the crime–terror continuum. Although the use of terror tactics can be traced back into the history of organised crime [16], terrorist engagement in organised crime to secure profits for future operations did not emerge as a serious problem until the early 1990s. In both cases, however, the post-Cold War era exacerbated conditions and drove many criminal and terrorist groups to shift their operational focus. As a result, criminal groups have increasingly engaged in political activity in an effort to manipulate operational conditions present in the rising numbers of weak states; whereas terrorist groups have increasingly focused on criminal activities to replace lost financial support from state sponsors.

Organised criminal groups have regularly used terror tactics in order to fulfill specific operational aims. Although these groups have, at times, apparently engaged the political, it is important to clarify that their intention was not to change the status quo, but merely to secure their operational environment. As Dishman notes, criminal organisations use "selective and calibrated violence to destroy competitors or threaten counternarcotic authorities. As such, a violent attack directed by a TCO [transnational criminal organisation] is intended for a specific 'anti-constituency' rather than a national or international audience, and it is not laced with political rhetoric" [17]. Despite utilising terror tactics, such as bombings and assassinations, the primary motivation of these groups often remains illicit profit-maximisation. For example, terror tactics were utilised by the Italian Mafia in the 1990s in response to a relatively successful government drive to counter the influence of the Italian Mafia in the country [18]. As early as 1990, the Italian government's Anti-Mafia Commission reported that because the Mafia controlled political, institutional and economic powers and had a monopoly over the use of violence, it was evident that the Mafia had moved from a strategy of cohabitation with the legal power to one of confrontation. Further illustrating this point, Alison Jamieson has argued that bombing against tourist attractions by the Italian Mafia in the early 1990s revealed a distinct deviation from the understanding that organised crime sought to remain unnoticed by the majority of the population. Instead:

The traditional Mafia groups have learned to use the magnifying glass of symbolic violence to reach a wider audience: in 1993 the Sicilian Mafia carried out a series of car bomb attacks in the Italian mainland near historic sites such as the Uffizi Galleries in Florence and the church of St. John Lateran in Rome; plans were laid to blow up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The aim was not to eliminate an enemy, but to intimidate public opinion and Parliament into abrogating recently passed antimafia legislation

Hah! Speaking of the Mafia....

Terror tactics were thus used by the Mafia to 'subvert anti-Mafia actions and legislative moves, these bombings were meant to openly challenge the political elite and send a message to the 'powers-that-be'" [20]. Comparable with any traditional terrorist group, the Mafia engaged in terrorism as a tactical tool to force the government into negotiation and compromise.

More recently, criminal groups in Brazil have also realised the potential effectiveness of using terror tactics to force political demands on the government, especially when their illicit operations are threatened by the state. Following the inauguration of a new Brazilian administration in April 2002, and the rising power of indigenous drug traffickers, authorities were immediately tasked with cracking down on criminal groups—especially those operating from Rio de Janeiro. Imposing tougher restrictions
on group leaders in the prison system—including Comando Vermelho, Amigos dos Amigos, and Terceiro Comando—the government provoked these groups into 'launching a campaign of political violence' [21]. During this time members of the aforementioned groups bombed buses, fired shots at government buildings, and targeted police officers. This wave of violence dissipated only after the state appeared to grant the criminal group leaders immunity in order to continue conducting their criminal operations with limited obstacles.

Here we see criminal activity from a criminal group with a political goal, not a profit goal.

Comparable to criminal groups engaging in terrorism; many terrorist groups have become well versed in the conduct of criminal operations. In response to the virtual elimination of state support after the end of the Cold War, criminality was the most pragmatic avenue to secure finances for future terrorist operations. Equally important to note is that terrorists who engage in criminal activities 'ostensibly retain paramount political objectives, and as such, ill-gotten monies serve only as a means to effectively reach their political ends' [22]. The most common criminal activity terrorist groups have been involved in is the illicit drug trade. Since the 1970s groups such as FARC, Basque Homeland and Freedom movement (ETA), the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and Sendero Luminoso have all been linked to the drugs trade [23]. Taking advantage of its geographic co-location with the Balkan Route, which is used to smuggle heroin from Asia to Europe, the PKK has garnered the majority of its profits from illicit drug operations. Its position within the drug trade also 'links members of the PKK to high-ranking members of the Turkish government, and major organised crime groups in Istanbul' [24]. Since the early 1990s additional groups, including Hizbullah, have also realised the financial gains of participating in the illicit drugs trade. It is alleged that Hizbullah protects heroin and cocaine laboratories in the Bekaa Valley [25].

Here we catch another glimpse of the Turkish Deep State. Notice the underworld links between two overt enemies, the Turkish government and the PKK -- on the surface, they fight, but beneath the surface, they are in business together. To be sure, many Turkish government personnel really believe they are battling separatist terrorists, and risk their lives to defend Turkey from the violence; similarly, many PKK members really believe they are protecting the Kurdish people from Turkish oppression, and risk their lives for their people.

But it is important to recall that the instability is beneficial to the criminal enterprises that are active in the area, as well as to the arms industry -- and both sides are involved in both. The Turkish Deep State has interests in the military industrial complex, which supplies weapons for the conflict, as well as in heroin, and the PKK is tied to weapons-trafficking every bit as much as to narcotics-trafficking.

In a previous post, Sibelology, Part 3 of 2 I make the following statement in the context of the the Sibel Edmonds case:

But what was that about Kurdish separatists? How might they fit in to this picture?

Oh, I can think of tons of ways... three hundred sixty-three tons of ways, to be exact.

In Part 3 of this series, I will address what I meant by that.


anticant said...

Your detailed researches are fleshing out what I have feared since the collapse of the Soviet Union - infiltration and ultimate takeover of the government machine of failed states by the international mafia.

Could this happen even in the USA? And could it be that this, rather than militant Islam, is the biggest ultimate threat to world peace and security?

Yankee Doodle said...

It is happening in America -- that's the whole point I'm making, you thinking blogger you!


And, yes, I think this is a far bigger threat than militant Islam. If it weren't for this, militant Islam would be like Hitler without the Wehrmacht -- you'd have some street crime, that's about it.

Stick around, you'll like upcoming posts. :)