As outlined in this article, the relationship between transnational organised crime and terrorism encompasses several distinct facets—each of which may be placed along a continuum that traces the evolution of groups depending on the predominant operational environment. During the Cold War, concerns about a crime–terror nexus were relatively insignificant, as nexus was almost entirely precluded to the relationship between insurgent groups in Latin America and regional drug cartels. However, the international environment that emerged at the end of the Cold War, and subsequently as a result of the fall of the Soviet Union, created conditions that supported the development of criminal and terrorist organisations into increasingly sophisticated and international entities. The result being the emergence of transnational organised crime, and international networked terrorist groups as exemplified by Al Qaeda. Each of these groups created a state of heightened insecurity within the world as governments accustomed to military threats posed by state-actors were forced to react to the economic and societal destruction increasingly perpetrated by non-state actors.
Al Qaeda is only the tip of an iceberg that serves as a perfect example of what I think is a class of threat that humanity now faces -- new, yet surprisingly old. Makarenko's thinking on this is certainly brilliant, but, for my purposes, the points made in this paper are too unidimensional.
Criminal elements have long sought to influence political, judicial and other official processes; and, there is a long history of government officials who have been corrupt. The interaction of these kinds of people with more legitimate business interests, and spiced with a political agenda, whether sincere or merely for obfuscation, has given rise to what I call a Shadow Realm -- a multidimensional world in which Makarenko's crime-terror continuum exists.
Growing reliance on cross-border criminal activities—facilitated by open borders, weak states, immigration flows, financial technology, and a highly intricate and accessible global transportation infrastructure—and an associated interest in establishing political control in order to consolidate and secure future operations, have all contributed to the rise of the crime–terror nexus. As a result, non-state actors, in the guise of transnational organised crime and terrorism, are directly challenging the security of the state—arguably for the first time in history. The realisation that economic and political power enhance one another, suggests that more and more groups will become hybrid organisations by nature . This is enhanced by the fact that criminal and terrorist groups appear to be learning from one another, and adapting to each other’s successes and failures. Furthermore, given the unremitting existence of territory that is not adequately under state control—such as the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, areas within Tajikistan, and the Triborder Region—environments that provoke and promote strengthened ties between organised crime and terrorism endure.
Indeed, the interest in establishing political control is not new. We can recall examples from American history where organized crime essentially controlled neighborhoods, and even entire cities.
What is new, however, is the extent of organized crime activity -- it is so great, that has become unrecognizable as such.
By means of example, let us consider a spherical shape. If someone hands you a ball, you can easily recognize it as such, and if someone asks you to describe it, you might even say it is spherical. You can look at it and fairly easily observe its character, because it is comprehensible.
However, how long did it take humankind to realize that the planet we live on is roughly spherical in shape? Because of its vast size, not easily observable and thus not easily comprehensible, humankind spent most of history believing the world they inhabit to be flat, and only in relatively recent history has humankind come to understand that this is not so.
Similarly, as we look at the extent to which organized crime has infiltrated and compromised national governments, including the United States government, the view that we have is difficult to comprehend -- we look at it, but we do not see it.
Likewise, while many Americans have long decried an apparent excessive influence of lobbyists in government, the extent of that influence defies the comprehension of even those who decry it.
Considering the various components of the crime–terror continuum, one consistent and relatively easily identifiable factor is criminality. Regardless of where a group sits along the continuum (apart for each extreme end), every point necessitates some degree of involvement with criminal activities. As a result, the continuum inherently implies that focusing on criminal activity, as opposed to political aims and motivations, in formulating policy responses to—especially to terrorism—has been under-utilised. Thus, for example, although it is important to understand the political motivations of terrorist groups, on a practical level counterterrorist policy and initiatives would likely meet with greater initial success in locating group weaknesses and vulnerabilities if they focused on criminal aspects. Furthermore, limiting access to lucrative profits from illicit activities simultaneously eliminates the operational capacity, and subsequent political influence, of both criminal and terrorist groups. Thus, it is essential that greater attention and resources are given to cutting off funds acquired through crime (in particular credit-card and insurance fraud, money laundering, smuggling), or on criminal services that terrorist groups depend on (such as document and identity fraud).
There is a great deal that I could write about this paragraph.
Let me address two key points.
First, if you focus on the enforcement of existing laws and follow the trail of criminality, you will cripple terrorist organizations. Moreover, you will net many facilitators of criminal activity, including corrupt government officials.
The concept of a War on Terror is very much a straw man. It is not terrorism that is the issue, but criminality. Strapping on a belt of bombs and blowing up a crowd of civilians is illegal, as is hijacking an aircraft and crashing it into a skyscraper. But, other illegal activities precede such terrorist attacks -- smuggling of weapons, laundering of money, violation of borders....
Terrorism is not an identifiable enemy; it is a method of waging a struggle. It is an abstract concept, and, as such, any war against an abstract concept is bound to either last forever or end in failure.
Having this last a long time is the real objective of those who profit from the instability, and this includes those who smuggle narcotics. With the focus on "terror" and not on "criminality", the narcotraffickers go free, instability and chaos are perpetuated, and thus the situation is frustrated: more instability results in more terrorism, which only fuels the War on Terror.
This brings me to my second point....
Understanding the crime–terror continuum expands the security tools that a state can employ in order to respond to the ever-evolving threats of transnational organised crime and terrorism. Acknowledging, and continuously tracing, the crime–terror continuum as it pertains to the evolving dynamics of transnational organised crime and terrorism will therefore have an explicit impact on the formation of counterterrorist and anti-crime policies. The crime–terror continuum thus seeks to highlight the importance of overlapping counter-terrorist and anti-crime policies as a way of formulating an effective state response to both evolving, and periodically converging, threats.
Understanding how this crime-terror continuum exists in a Shadow Realm that includes legitimate business interests allows a state to look at the real reason behind crime, corruption, and many of the other ills of society: money.
There is nothing wrong in principle with producing weapons and selling them to clients who use them for legitimate self-defense. However, when organizations operate on both sides of the law, perpetuating ongoing warfare, not only because of the opportunity to profit during the instability via smuggling of illegal substances such as narcotics, but also by supplying goods and services -- arms and "security" -- to clients, the organizations have crossed over from a realm of legitimate business operations to a realm of crimes against humanity, committed for profit.
Certain elements in the Islamic world have always had the desire to spread their ideology violently, offering humanity the infamous triple choice: conversion to Islam, submission to Islamic government under dhimmi status, or war of annihilation. In recent decades, the United States has become a focus for their hatred.
In 1993, these people attacked the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. The method they used was a large amount explosives, an omnidirectional blast. It was a relative fizzle, as it achieved little compared to what could have been achieved with that quantity of explosives.
Determined to try again, these radicals conceived the idea of hijacking airliners and crashing them into the Twin Towers, among other targets. The new attack was much more spectacular, and would cause more damage....
But, when two of the very tallest buildings ever constructed were being engineered and designed, it was known then that sooner or later an airliner full of fuel would crash into them -- this was not a possibility, it was an inevitability. Consequently, both of the Twin Towers had to be designed for such an eventuality. They were not just engineered to withstand the impact of a large airliner full of fuel -- they were overengineered for such an event, known to be inescapable at some point. There would be a horrendous fire, and perhaps a terrible loss of life, but the buildings would remain standing. In fact, each tower would be able to withstand multiple such impacts, and remain standing -- that is how they were engineered and constructed. Yet, on 9/11, not just one, but both towers were brought down by the impact of one airliner each. Not only that, but a third tower that wasn't even struck collapsed that day.
(For information on this last paragraph and the next, see You Can't Touch This.)
In the wake of the first attempt on the World Trade Center, blueprints for certain US skyscrapers went to the Middle East, and the FBI eventually heard of this. The FBI also heard that terrorists were planning to crash airliners into tall buildings in the US -- all before 9/11. Law enforcement and the US intelligence community did nothing; the information was suppressed, and not allowed to flow freely throughout the US government agencies that could have done something.
This latter issue is what the Sibel Edmonds case is about.
Six years after 9/11, we are in the midst of this War on Terror, with our military being spent in its fourth year of occupation of Iraq, a nation that had no connection to the events on 9/11 which spawned the war. Meanwhile, the culprit behind the hijackings, Osama bin Laden, is still at large. (It is worth recalling in contrast that less than four years after Pearl Harbor, the culprits behind that attack and their allies around the world had been defeated, having surrendered unconditionally.) On top of it all, those who have business ties with Osama bin Laden are considered our allies in the War on Terror; indeed, the United States supports a military dictator who seized power in a coup, and whose military intelligence helped bin Laden in the attacks on 9/11, the results of which we know were outside the capabilities of bin Laden's terrorist network.
We stand on a planet, not comprehending what we see -- not believing our eyes, because of the magnitude of the object we behold. The horizon fades off into the distance in this flat world of ours, because the orb upon which we stand is in reality round.
We stand in the midst of a War on Terror, not realizing that powerful forces share common interests in generating and then perpetuating the instability, death and destruction around us. This War on Terror is not flat: it is a continuous surface, where all points on it can be reached from all other points by going in any direction.
The War on Terror is a separate world, and it exists in the Shadow Realm.