Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Shadow Realm (Part 5)

We continue from Part 4 with our review of The Crime–Terror Continuum: Tracing the Interplay between Transnational Organised Crime and Terrorism by Tamara Makarenko:

Groups that are illustrative of a terrorist entity evolving into a group primarily engaged in criminal activities include Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan [37], and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). For example, since 2000, Abu Sayyaf has been primarily engaged in criminal activities such as kidnapping operations, and most recently, operating marijuana plantations in the Philippines. It has been estimated that in 2000 alone, kidnapping deals garnered Abu Sayyaf $20 million [38]. In light of Abu Sayyaf ’s operations, which are focused on criminal activities, there is little indication that the group remains driven by its original political aim, which was to establish an independent Islamic republic in territory currently comprising Mindanao, surrounding islands, and the Sulu Archipelago.

Coming soon will be a series addressing Uzbekistan and the Ferghana Valley.

By the mid-1990s, following the death of Jacobo Arenas—the ideological leader of FARC—FARC, as subsequently happened with Abu Sayyaf—deepened its involvement in criminal activities.More specifically, several FARC units shifted their involvement in the regional drugs trade from that of protector of crops and laboratories, to ‘middlemen’ between farmers and illicit drug cartels. This shift directly resulted in the group acquiring more profits from the drugs trade, and subsequently more power within Colombia. Thus, by 2000, it was believed that FARC controlled 40 percent of Colombian territory, and received revenues of $500 million annually from illicit narcotics [39]. Supplementing its bankroll from drugs, FARC also engages in other criminal activities, including kidnapping and extortion. Referring to both FARC and the ELN, Paul Wilkinson concludes that because of the level of their involvement in organised crime,

. . .it is clear that this has made them, both in reality and popular perception, little more than a branch of organised crime, decadent guerrillas rather than genuine revolutionaries, irredeemably corrupted by their intimate involvement with narcotraffickers and their cynical pursuits of huge profits from kidnapping and from their ‘protection’ of coca and opium production, processing and shipping facilities [40].

Thus, in the Colombian context groups such as FARC, once 'impassioned and ideological', have 'lost their old revolutionary "purity" and turned their terrorism in a new direction—development as criminal cartels' [41].

Although the entire crime–terror continuum poses a threat to international security, arguably the single greatest threat emanating from the convergence of transnational organised crime and terrorism is that which is exhibited at the fulcrum point.


When its influence crosses the line into "legitimate" politics and business, is it still a crime-terror continuum?

Because when it crosses that line, you have a failed state that does not appear to be a failed state. The government of such a state is collaborating with criminals and terrorists, yet it commands an army, has a vote in the UN....

The Turkish Deep State comes to mind here.

So does the US government, when corrupt officials, elected and appointed, from both parties, together with career civil servants and law enforcement personnel, are on the payroll of foreign organized crime interests... and that is exactly what the Sibel Edmonds case is about.

'Black Hole' Thesis

This section of the crime–terror continuum specifically refers to the situations in which weak or failed states foster the convergence between transnational organised crime and terrorism, and ultimately create a safe haven for the continued operations of convergent groups. The 'black hole' syndrome encompasses two situations: first, where the primary motivations of groups engaged in a civil war evolves from a focus on political aims to a focus on criminal aims; second, it refers to the emergence of a 'black hole' state—a state successfully taken over by a hybrid group as outlined in the previous section. What these two scenarios have in common, and the reason why they perfectly illustrate the most extreme point along the continuum, is that they reveal the ultimate danger of the convergence between these two threats: the creation or promotion of a condition of civil (or regional) war to secure economic and political power. States that fall within this category, as a result of current or past experiences, include Afghanistan, Angola, Myanmar, North Korea, Sierra Leone, and Tajikistan. Furthermore, areas in Pakistan (the Northwest Frontier Province), Indonesia and Thailand—where government control is extremely weak—are also in danger of succumbing to the 'black hole' syndrome.

Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan are perfect examples of this.

But how are the expressions "weak" and "failed" defined?

A state may be strong economically, politically, and militarily, but weak morally, vulnerable to temptation, its officials gladly selling their influence to the highest bidder.

To begin with, evidence suggests that the dynamics of civil wars, just like the dynamics of traditional organised crime and terrorism, have changed. They have evolved from wars fought for ideological or religious motivations to wars hijacked by criminal interests and secured by terror tactics. As David Keen comments, 'Increasingly, civil wars that appear to have begun with political aims have mutated into conflicts in which short-term economic benefits are paramount. While ideology and identity remain important in understanding conflict, they may not tell the whole story' [42]. The end of the Cold War, coupled with the decline of superpower support (proxy wars) indirectly caused a decline in the strength of revolutionary political ideologies in groups such as the Khmer Rouge and UNITA. All of these groups thus 'gravitated from a strong ideological agenda to one dominated by economic aims' [43]. Comparable to terrorist groups who lost sight of their political ideology as a result of having to depend on criminal activity for their survival, these groups also appear to have betrayed their ideological ideals in the interest of holding on to power at whatever cost [44]. Two examples that illustrate this aspect of the 'black hole' syndrome are Afghanistan and North Korea.

When the Cold War ended and peace broke out, rival groups switched from fighting over ideology to fighting over the economic means to support their battles.

What we are talking about here is akin to rival gangs controlling "turf" in a certain part of town in order to control the "action" there.

Afghanistan could be considered a 'black hole state' since the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops, for several reasons. First, although factions fighting in the Afghan civil war (notably the Northern Alliance) officially articulated ideological goals, their involvement in criminal activities, and frequent changes in group allegiances and alliances, indicate that group survival was their paramount concern. In the absence of any central authority capable of establishing widespread stability and order, warlords were able to divide the country into local fiefdoms to secure territorial control in order to sustain activities such as the production and trafficking of opiates and the smuggling of weapons and a variety of licit commodities (specifically pharmaceuticals) across the border with Pakistan. Second, as a result of incessant instability sustained by rival warlord factions, Afghanistan became an important safe haven, congregation, and training point for a number of terrorist groups, and transnational criminal organisations. The cauldron of terrorist and criminal interests converging and cooperating in Afghanistan therefore illustrates the dangers inherent in the 'black hole' syndrome. Not only was Afghanistan destroyed by incessant domestic instability, its very essence as a 'black hole state' meant that it directly threatened the security of the wider region. Furthermore, Afghanistan proved to be a direct security threat to the United States, Southeast Asia, and the rest of the world, primarily because it fostered the rise and global reach of Al Qaeda.

Somalia could perhaps fit into this category as well, as could the Sudan potentially. This is very clearly the road Kosovo has been on since the Clinton Administration.

These "black hole states" that Makarenko describes are not just cropping up like weeds -- they are being cultivated by the very nations they threaten.


Terrorism and criminality are inherently linked these days. The danger they pose threatens everyone. Terrorism and criminality can only be dealt with together.

Yet, the Bush Administration is diverting resources to a War on Terror, while leaving the criminal enterprises largely intact.


The result is that various factions exchange rhetoric about terrorism, and battle each other, but the criminal activity that generates the money is left intact.

Could it be that one of the players battling over turf and action is a corrupt state, its officials merely one group of narcotraffickers, declaring a rival group to be terrorists, and hence the War on Terror?

If American government officials were serious about destroying Al Qaeda, they would eliminate the narcotics that help fund Al Qaeda, and that destroy our society and other societies around the world -- and, they would not be gagging Sibel Edmonds, who is trying to tell us of the influence for foreign organized crime in the US government.

It follows that high levels of the US government must be in league with foreign heroin traffickers.

From The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet:
"It is an old maxim of mine
that when you have excluded the impossible,
whatever remains, however improbable,
must be the truth."