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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

1.3 – Assessing the links between terrorism and organized crime, and the impact of the narcotics industry on conflict and post-conflict situations.


By Daniel Mossop


There are a variety of reasons and circumstances why groups form links with others, and there is a range in the degree of such relationships. It is dependent on what exactly it is that each group wants from such a relationship. Further to this, Hutchinson and O’Malley (2007) suggest that the extent of a group’s organizational structure and need is vital in predicting the type of crime they are involved in. This section will explore some of the varying types of relationships and the purposes proposed for forging such links. This will give a better understanding of the issue as well as some thought on the future threat posed by such convergence.


Concern over such relationships is deserved as both groups – criminal and terrorist – operate trans-nationally whilst threatening the stability of the state in economic, political and social terms. Organized crime and terrorism have been categorized as two separate issues, but research now suggests that the two phenomena share a range of operational and organizational similarities which are beginning to pose a significant threat to global security (Makarenko, 2004). The attacks of 9/11 prompted a global crack-down on terrorist activity as well as any actors linked to them. With more than a hundred countries committing themselves to the ‘war on terror’ there has been a resulting decrease in funding and support from states and private actors, which has pushed groups to seek funding and support elsewhere, namely through organized crime. Resorting to crime may take different forms as terrorist groups may either form links with already established organized crime groups or establish their own ‘in-house’ capabilities for organized criminal activities in order to fund their operations themselves (Sanderson, 2004).

One of the most prominent thinkers in this area is Tamara Makarenko (2004) who devised the ‘Crime-Terror Continuum’ (CTC). The CTC model can essentially track the evolution of security threats and their potential future in relation to terrorism and organized crime as it places both phenomena on the same plane, demonstrating how the two may converge (Makarenko, 2005). “It illustrates the fact that a single group can slide up and down the scale - between what is traditionally referred to as organized crime and terrorism - depending on the environment in which it operates.” (Makarenko, 2004, p.130) One possible outcome is that groups may not converge themselves, but as Williams, Savona and Schweitzer have elaborated, they may take on the characteristics of the other in a form of ‘mutation’. Groups of this nature are referred to as ‘hybrid groups’ (Bovenkerk & Chakra, 2007).

At opposite ends of the continuum lie terrorist and organized crime groups with the fulcrum representing the point of main convergence where groups may undertake characteristics of either phenomena simultaneously (Makarenko, 2005). Relationships can be assessed by looking at four sub-categories along the continuum: the first being ‘alliances’, followed by ‘operational motivations’, ‘convergence’ and finally ‘the black hole’. These groups represent the different degrees of convergence between terrorism and organized crime. Hutchinson and O’Malley (2007) offer support to the CTC by suggesting that the organizational structure of the groups will have an effect on the nature of their relationships. They offer two types of group: ‘ephemeral-sporadic’ and ‘organized-enduring’. Terrorist and organized crime groups of ‘ephemeral-sporadic’ nature operate in isolated or low-level instances and are generally small-scale operations designed for quick profit or low-resourced attacks. They require minimal skill, funding and operational assistance and therefore groups of this type are unlikely to form strong, if any, relationships. ‘Organized-enduring’ groups however require substantial amounts of skill, funding, and operational capacities in carrying out their operations. The organizational structure of such groups will be tailored to evade law-enforcement and to maximize effectiveness, for example by using affiliated networks and ‘cells’. Both terrorist and organized crime groups of this nature will display characteristics which allow for long-term existence in their respective fields, such as corruption networks or the ability to coerce change or loyalty through the threat or use of violence. This will ensure the endurance of a group and allow for more complex operations, therefore relationships between terrorism and organized crime may be more likely.

Hutchinson and O’Malley (2007) suggest three types of relationships between groups: temporary, parasitic, and symbiotic. Temporary relationships generally refer to one-off contracts including a limited range of activities usually utilized by sporadic groups. Parasitic relationships are far more enduring and consist of a group utilizing the others forte to further their goals. Finally, symbiotic relationships are noted as the least likely to occur due to the extent of differences between the groups and would most likely end in competition.   

With the CTC, the first point of convergence is the formation of alliances between groups. The nature of these relationships varies from one-time meetings to short or long-term relationships, and might be for a number of reasons including tactical knowledge or operational assistance. Alliances are formed with the means of maximizing the effectiveness of carrying out a groups goals whether it be for the pursuit of economic profit or for the sourcing of funding and support for operations (Makarenko, 2005). The narcotics industry represents possibly the main area of alliances as both groups offer significant benefits to the other,  such as the safe transportation of drugs across borders. Examples include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), who despite their denials have been reported by US government officials as sending cocaine to Mexico in return for arms shipments. Other examples include the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, who allied with central Asian crime groups and Afghan warlords for the safe transport of heroin to Russia and the Caucasus. Al-Qaeda have also been suspected of forming relationships with criminal organizations in Bosnia in pursuit of a safe transport route for Afghan heroin into Europe through the Balkans (Makarenko, 2004). Such alliances tend to be formed in regions of poor security and law enforcement,where the weak political environment caused by terrorist activity is beneficial to organized crime groups as they may take advantage of the decreased security in carrying out their illicit activities. This in turn provides the opportunity of funding for the terrorists should the groups decide to merge.

In linking this category of relationship to Hutchinson and O’Malley’s (2007) distinctions, it is most likely to be sporadic groups who form such alliances as a temporary link, however we may also see organized-enduring groups forming such alliances.

It should be noted that groups may tend to forgo the ‘alliance’ stage in exchange for developing their own ‘in-house’ capabilities, representing a degree of ‘mutation’ within the group. These ‘mutated’ or ‘hybrid’ groups adopt the operational capacities of the other group, for example a terrorist group may engage in criminal activities to fund their operations or a criminal group may utilize terrorist tactics to secure their market dominance (Bovenkerk & Chakra, 2007). Groups of this nature can be placed along the continuum at the second point of convergence; ‘operational motivations’. “The primary reason for acquiring in-house capabilities is to ensure organizational security and to secure organizational operations” (Makarenko, 2005, p.175) Groups that go through this mutating process do have their advantages as they are able to eradicate any concerns or problems that may have arisen from their alliances.

The end of the Cold War and the demise of state sponsorship of terrorism in the 1990s led terrorist groups to focus more on developing their own structures and capabilities for funding and support as opposed to forming links with groups already working in those areas. This allowed them the advantage of retaining a sense of security in whatever it was that they found themselves doing. At the same time, organized crime groups saw an opportunity for profit in the weak environments created during the Cold War. It is here that we can see mutation from the criminal side as organized crime groups may use terrorism to manipulate the political climate of weak states; not in an attempt to change the status quo but to ensure their dominance and operational environments in order to maximize their profits by quelling competitors or law enforcement efforts (Bovenkerk & Chakra, 2007). This happens throughout the world in regions of low state security, such as in Brazil where drug cartels utilize violence against the state in order to counteract the government’s crackdown on the illegal trade. The violence stopped once the leaders of the group were allegedly granted legal immunity, thus allowing them to continue their activities (Makarenko, 2004).
Groups at this point along the continuum can be linked to Hutchinson and O’Malley’s (2007) distinctions as they may represent an ‘organized-enduring’ group at the ‘parasitic’ level. Such groups, whether terrorist or criminal will be of a substantial level of organization in order to continue and further their operations. Their relationship to the opposing group will be one where they may adopt the others forte in an attempt to further their goals and their existence. By comparing Makarenko’s (2004) model to Hutchinson and O’Malley’s (2007) distinctions, such links between the two phenomena gain weight and legitimacy, providing a useful source from which to examine such relationships.

It is important to note that there are very little, if any, political motivations behind the use of violence by organized crime groups. The main motivations are profit maximization through intimidation. However, as groups mutate into ‘hybrid‘ entities they run the risk of losing sight of their motivations where they may then simultaneously show traits from either circle, for example terrorist groups engaging in crime in order to raise funds for their operations may end up continuing their criminal activities solely for personal gain. Groups of this nature fall into the next category; convergence.

Groups at the convergence stage demonstrate the capacity to change as they may display characteristics of either group simultaneously. An eventual change of goals and aims may also prevail as groups transform from one to the other. Makarenko (2004) notes two elements to the ‘convergence thesis’, firstly criminal groups with political motivations, and secondly terrorist groups with criminal motivations. If we take criminal groups to start with, we can further break them down into two sub-sections; those who use violence to gain political control, and those who use violence to establish a monopoly. Using violence for political control benefits the group as they may be able to assert themselves in the political process giving them control over certain areas which will allow for further operations resulting in greater profit as “political power subsequently sustains both the life of the organization and its activities - be they criminal and/or political” (Makarenko, 2005, p.177). Using violence for the purpose of gaining monopoly over other groups and sectors will not only add to the political power of a group, thus making them stronger, but it will also allow for greater profits due to them beating their competitors (Makarenko, 2004).   

The second element of the convergence thesis concerns itself with terrorist groups who shift to being motivated by profit as opposed to political ideology. Such groups’ political motivations are replaced with ideas of profit and personal gain. They continue to use terror tactics and to assert themselves as a politically motivated group as a cover up for their new activities. Groups of this kind may continue their terrorist activities albeit without the same dedication. The continuation of attacks provides groups with two benefits. Firstly it keeps law enforcement agencies busy with the threat of terrorist attacks instead of changing their investigations to criminal ones, allowing for the easier execution of goals. Secondly it offers them status among other criminal groups as well as among those in support of their political activities. Groups of this nature are able to expand their capabilities by drawing on both areas and by using one to legitimize the other and to gain support.

Examples of such groups may include the FARC, who originally offered security to the Colombian drug cartels but now have moved deeper into the criminal world taking control of elements of production and transportation, taking some $500 million per year from the drugs trade. The Abu Sayyaf group also provides has also moved away from their intention of establishing an Independent Islamic State to being involved in kidnapping and the drugs trade, bringing in an estimated $20 million in 2000 (Makarenko, 2004, 2005). In linking this point of the CTC to Hutchinson and O’Malley’s (2007) distinctions, it would be the organized-enduring groups again who participate in such convergence, doing so at the parasitic level.
The final point along the continuum at which groups may converge is known as the ‘black hole thesis’, which refers to the heightened convergence of groups within weak or failed states where such unstable environments allow for the prevalence of criminal and terrorist activity with little concern over law enforcement. “It is at this point where the convergence between criminal and political motivations within a single group allows that group to subsequently gain economic and political control over a state.” (Makarenko, 2005, p.178) The concern here is that weak or failed states will act as a breeding ground for criminal and terrorist activity allowing for the continuation of such activities. The ‘black-hole thesis’ offers two situations: firstly one where groups that are involved in civil wars shift from political aims to criminal aims; and secondly where the state is at risk of being taken over by hybrid groups, creating a ‘black hole state’ where illegal activities may flourish. Both situations demonstrate the worst case scenario of convergence between terrorism and organized crime, that is the creation of civil unrest in order to pursue economic and political power (Makarenko, 2004).  

The first situation is essentially one where civil unrest is promoted in order to secure political and criminal interests. The political motivations of such unrest may be replaced by criminal motivations as the use of terrorist tactics may be utilized to gain profit. Afghanistan offers a good example of this situation as well as standing as a ‘black hole state’ where due to the weak state of the government and its lack of control over the country since the end of the Soviet invasion, civil unrest has been a common occurrence. Although those involved in the fighting may have originally held ideological motivations, they have shifted their focus to be centered around criminal motivations and personal profit. The lack of security and stability throughout the country has allowed warlords to divide up the land into respective territories whilst also allowing them to continue their participation in the narcotics trade as well as in other illicit markets such as arms trafficking (Makarenko, 2004).

The continuing instability throughout Afghanistan has also allowed for criminals and terrorist to take up refuge in the country as they were offered a safe haven within the region. This in turn presents a substantial security threat to the area as groups are able to grow in strength and capacity, such as was seen with al-Qaeda. “Afghanistan provides multiple opportunities and few constraints on organized crime growth and activity.” (UNODC, 2009)

The black-hole thesis essentially incorporates terrorist groups who in their political struggle have lost sight of their aims and who utilize the weak state in order to pursue criminal goals, thus giving them a relatively easy profit due to the lack of law enforcement. On the organized crime side, we may see groups utilizing the weak state and the lack of government control which will allow for the carrying out of criminal activities. Such groups may use terror tactics in order to establish themselves among other groups as well as for the purposes of continuing the instability of the state in order to continue their criminal activities (Makarenko, 2004). A United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2009) report has noted how organized crime groups have used suicide bombings to further their cause by eliminating their competition. “Instability is in the interest of terrorists because it diminishes the legitimacy of the government in the eyes of the public - the very people terrorists seek to gain support from; and it is in the interests of criminal groups seeking to maximize criminal operations.” (Makarenko, 2005, p.180)

Hutchinson and O’Malley note the advantages of organized crime groups in funding terrorists and insurgents within weak or failed states as this will lead to the continuation of conflict within the region, thus allowing them to continue their criminal activities. This shows a somewhat cooperative relationship between the groups where they may coexist, living off each other. It is the relationship between terrorism and crime and even insurgency within these regions of instability that are of interest to me as they provide a highly relevant and applicable area of study considering the current security environment throughout the Middle East today, namely in Afghanistan and Iraq. This will be discussed further in due course. 

The crime-terror continuum thus offers a useful model on which to assess the nature of relationships between terrorism and organized crime. The model suggests that political and economic power enhance each other which in turn suggests that we may expect to see more relationships between the two phenomena developing, especially in those regions of insecurity. The CTC can also stand as an important tool in law enforcement efforts as it can demonstrate where groups are most likely to converge; counter terrorism efforts can aid anti-crime policies and vice versa.

Now that we have an understanding of the possible links between terrorism and organized crime it is important to distinguish which relationships are most likely and what the factors are that sustain such a nexus between the two entities. Hutchinson and O’Malley (2007) noted the importance of a groups organizational structure in determining the types of crime they involve themselves in as well their relationships to other groups. Sanderson (2004) shares this claim in suggesting that the organizational structure can be an effective tool for collaboration. For example, if both terrorist and criminal groups adopt a cell structure to their organization it offers a sense of security within the group. This would reduce the likelihood of either organization being compromised by law enforcement as their operations could be easily dismantled. The cell structure allows for a degree of secrecy so that the actors cannot be traced back to the illegal activities committed.

Group similarities and differences also offer useful indicators as to the likelihood and type of relationship that may develop between the groups. Many factors exist that suggest the two phenomena would form links, such as they both work in secrecy from the law and indulge in criminal activities to further their goals, although there also exists many factors that would negate such relationships. These differing factors may be substantial enough to put a halt to any relationships being formed such as the difference in motivations for either group as terrorists are politically motivated, whereas criminal groups will be motivated solely by profit. Another example of the differences that may arise is where terrorists may wish to have increased media attention and to be well known by their respective audiences, organized crime groups on the other hand may enjoy secrecy and little attention from the media. A working relationship between the two may then bring unwanted attention to the organization (Sanderson, 2004).
In light of the concerns evolving from the differences between the groups it may be that the types of relationship that we are more likely to see is not one between two separate groups, terrorists and criminals, but one where either group mutates into a hybrid, adopting the others tactics and operations. The continuing instability within the Middle East provides a suitable environment for such organizations to evolve into hybrid groups. However, although this may be the case, we must not ignore the fact that groups may just as easily form alliances with each other within such an environment as this may be more beneficial for them.

My concern lies with the links between terrorism and crime within regions of instability and this further incorporates insurgents into the picture as they all are rife in such areas. The three groups can essentially unite within a post-conflict or transitional environment where they may survive off each other, promoting unstable conditions in order to further their activities but also to assert their dominance among other groups (Oehme 111, 2008). The weak states in which they operate also offer the opportunity for further criminal activities due to weak borders and systematic corruption among officials. Relationships may develop as other non-state actors may wish to take advantage of the instability and may form links to criminal groups in order to raise funds or for operational support. “In these states, terrorists and insurgents are resorting to organized crime to sustain their activities but also opportunistically seeking out criminal networks when specialized support is needed, such as document fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering.” (Oehme 111, 2008, p.82)

Afghanistan and Iraq provide useful case studies into the relationships between terrorism, crime and insurgency within unstable environments as they are both weak states with high levels of instability, yet both offer different situations. It is no secret that Afghanistan is the biggest producer of opium in the world and according to Oehme 111 (2008), the profits derived from the trade are large enough to bring the different groups together for working purposes. Does this suggest that groups would not form relationships should the opium trade not exist? Does there have to be a substantial reason to link together? These are interesting questions as they will help to assess future relationships. In response to the motivational and organizational differences noted by Sanderson (2004), groups involved in the drug trade in Afghanistan, as long as they are all benefiting from the trade, will put their differences behind them. It is not only the drug trade that brings groups to interact but also other illicit markets such as people and weapons smuggling and money laundering (Oehme 111, 2008). This will be discussed further in the following chapter.

The situation in Iraq, although similar in the sense that it houses criminals, terrorists and insurgents, is somewhat different due to the lack of a primary income, namely the drug trade. Whereas the concern in Afghanistan is with the groups working together for the purposes of profit, the concern in Iraq is centered around the reliance of the insurgents and terrorists on organized crime groups and their activities. The relationships between the groups here are ones based upon support for operations as opposed to utilizing weak states for profit through the drug trade. As there is no substantial drug trade to participate in, groups are forced to turn to other criminal activities such as kidnapping, fraud, money laundering, extortion, theft and oil smuggling. However, due to their inexperience in crime, insurgents and terrorists look to organized crime groups to carry out the operations in a form of ‘outsourcing’ (Oehme 111, 2008). This contention however, is contradicted by Kan (2007) who asserts that the drug trade is a driving force for numerous conflict within the state and that Iraq itself is as risk from becoming a ‘narcotized’ conflict. It should be noted however that Iraq offers a different situation in that it is not a narcotic producing country. The concern arises due to it being a main transit point for the drugs coming from Afghanistan as well as a destination point, thus allowing for criminal activity centered around the trade.


The above examples demonstrate the differing nature of the relationships that may evolve within regions of instability and we can see then that the environment in which groups work and the types of activities they are involved in will have an effect on the nature of the relationships between terrorism, crime and insurgency. As can be seen above, weak states offer a very interesting area of study in relation to the links between terrorism, crime, and insurgency, especially when lucrative industries such as the narcotics trade are involved. This will be looked at in the following chapter.

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