By Daniel Mossop
“It has become increasingly evident that the greatest threat to security emanates from the rapidly evolving phenomena of terrorism and transnational organized crime (TOC).” (Makarenko, 2005, p.169)
Since the attacks of September 11th, terrorist activity has been at the forefront of global security concerns as desperate attempts are made to ensure nothing like that happens again. In embracing the global ‘war on terror‘ however, we must not fail to acknowledge the existence of other threats which may put our safety and stability in jeopardy. One concern in particular is that of organized crime, which is emerging as one of the key issues posing a threat to international security today (MacFarlane, 2004). In light of this, this chapter is concerned with the links between terrorism and organized crime and will focus on a number of elements surrounding the issue. An understanding of the driving force behind the formation of such links will be given, as this is the basis of any form of collaboration, in an attempt to understand the need for such relationships.
Before beginning any form of discussion it is important to distinguish between the two concepts as this will provide a better basis on which to assess the issue. Terrorism is in essence a politically motivated struggle utilizing violence or the threat of violence in an attempt to change or alter a political environment. The political aspect is a fundamental element, which according to Hoffman (2006), “is absolutely paramount to understanding its aims, motivations, and purposes, and is critical in distinguishing it from other types of violence” (p.2). That said, the motivations behind terrorism are political and ideological, which contrast greatly with those behind organized crime, which is motivated by economic profit and market domination (Bovenkerk & Chakra, 2007). Both however are criminal entities and both operate outside of the law. This is a brief example of how the two share similarities as well as differences, something which may consequently act as contributing factors to the existence or non-existence of relationships.
Research suggests that one of the main factors that prompts terrorist and organized crime groups to form relationships is the process of globalization. For the purposes of this paper I will use the term ‘globalization’ to refer to the gradual, yet still evolving integration of the global economy. This integration is not limited to the financial economy but extends through all areas of life, from social communication to trade to environmental concerns and politics, among others. It is the general integration of the global community. So what is it about globalization that promotes relations between criminal and terrorist groups? In actuality there are a number of aspects linked to globalization that allow for collaboration, which may be described as the unintended consequences of globalization. For example, Biersteker (2002) takes note of the ‘dark side’ of financial market globalization in relation to the funding of terrorist activity when he suggests that “money laundering and the operations of transnational criminal organizations had long been identified as side-effects of financial market globalization.” (Biersteker, 2002, p.74).
These so called ‘side-effects’ can be seen in other areas as well, for example in relation to communications. The rise of the internet and the ease at which we now communicate with each other and swap information has been a wondrous development in world history, although it has also allowed for the spread of crime and terrorist propaganda, uniting like-minded individuals all over the globe, while at the same time keeping them hidden from law enforcement agencies. Al-Qaeda for example, have taken advantage of this development by using video footage broadcasted by satellite and over the internet to communicate their message to thousands of people throughout the world (Booth & Dunne, 2002). Jones and Smith (2004) also noted that, “the networks developed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates effectively manipulated the technology and opportunities afforded by globalization for their own particularist ends.” (p.12).
The concept of global network systems is another aspect of globalization that has had a detrimental effect on the emergence of terrorism and crime and the possible links between the two. The idea of global networks essentially refers to the connections that link people throughout the world via different networks based on a particular state of affairs, such as trade networks. This notion is better expanded by Castells (2000) who explains that, “economies throughout the world have become globally interdependent, introducing a new form of relationship between economy, state, and society, in a system of variable geometry.” (Castells, 2000, p.1)
This integration via networks does not stop with legitimate actors, but extends to incorporate criminal groups as well as terrorists who make use of such networks. It is these networks that give rise to chances for collaboration between groups as both entities may make use of the similar if not the same networks. A current example of terrorists taking up this notion of networks may be the decentralization of al-Qaeda. The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan saw the dismantling of al-Qaeda bases, causing its members to disperse, but what we have seen since is the expansion of al-Qaeda throughout the world with its members being connected via the internet and other communication networks. Cotton (2004) notes the spread of the al-Qaeda network throughout southeast Asia and in turn regards the region as the ‘second front’ in the ‘war against terror’. We can see another aspect of globalization here in terms of the flattening of national borders that allows for easier movement of people and resources between countries. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, highlights this issue by asserting that the increased interaction between groups and individuals across frontiers brings with it many dangers such as the proliferation of illicit goods, crime and terrorism , which have all been moving back and forth at a greater rate than in previous years (MacFarlane, 2004).
Globalization has been an evolving process where technologies, trade and financial economies have all progressed, and as they have done so, other elements have also needed to evolve in order to sustain themselves, in particular, warfare. The changing nature of warfare is something that has happened throughout history and as technologies develop so do the means by which we fight our wars. No longer are conflicts fought between armies on the battle field; they are now carried out through the use of ‘humane’ weaponry where targeting of enemy infrastructure seems to be the way of attack as opposed to mass killings of the enemy population. As nation states developed greater means of warfare, with vast amounts of money funding their operations, and the subsequent end of the Cold War, concern over conflict at the international level between states has decreased significantly, although it has ushered in a new concern: “the establishment of a new global security structure may reduce inter-state conflict only at the expense of an increased resort to sub-national violence that falls below the intensity level of conventional war.” (Chalk, 2004, p.255)
Further to this, Chalk (2004) notes how the vision of a peaceful and stable world that was expected to materialize at the end of the Cold War was somewhat short-lived. Instead he suggests there has been a growing concern over non-military threats at the lower intensity level which will take the lead in the future of conflicts. This evolution of warfare has received significant attention in relation to the threat of terrorism. Terrorism, has evolved to center more around identity in the recent years, for as Castells (2000) suggests, feelings of confusion and loneliness arise due to the changing nature of the world, pushing people to regroup around common identities such as ethnic and religious affiliations or nationalism. This in turn gives rise to the possibility of terrorist and insurgent activity and even crime. When social communication breaks down, “social groups and individuals become alienated from each other, and see others as a stranger, eventually as a threat” (Castells 2000, p.3). As such groups emerge they require the means to fight their cause, although due to marginal resources (in comparison to those of state institutions), they need to take on a form of asymmetric warfare in order to compete with the technological advances of the military.
“The transformation of war ushers in new forms of violent conflict, terrorism being foremost among them. Potential nuclear, chemical, and bacteriological terrorism, in addition to indiscriminate massacres and hostage-taking, with the media as the focus of the action, are likely to become the expressions of warfare in advanced societies.” (Castells, 2000, p.491)
A side-effect of globalization is thus the recourse to asymmetric warfare, whereby terrorist groups are forced to use asymmetric methods such as carrying out attacks on civilian populations in order to be heard. Jones and Smith (2004) support Castells’ (2000) understanding of the changing nature of struggle by asserting that identity driven conflict is becoming the norm, as opposed to ideologically driven conflict. Groups of this type are concerned with pursuing their struggle at both local and global level, which requires the use of the media, communication technologies and illicit networks to further their cause and to enable them to carry out their operations (Jones & Smith, 2004). This demonstrates how groups are forced into embracing globalization in order to further their cause, even if it is the concepts of ‘globalization’ and ‘modernization’ that they are fighting against. In line with this, the end of the Cold War saw a significant decrease in state-sponsorship of terrorism, thereby forcing groups to seek sources of support and funding elsewhere. In embracing globalization, terrorist groups may branch out to form relationships with criminal organizations to establish funding and support for their illegal operations and to stay hidden from law enforcement. “To conduct their illicit endeavors, these non-state actors have been forced to insert themselves, one way or another, in the global underground economy.” (Klare, 2003, p.30)
The prevalence of weak states offers yet another opportunity for collaboration between criminal and terrorist groups as both groups are able to thrive off the lack of law enforcement and high levels of corruption among officials, enabling them to carry out their operations with ease (Bovenkerk & Chakra, 2007). Insurgent and guerilla group activity can also come into play here as a close link to terrorist groups. Weak states offer an environment where groups are more likely to come into contact with each other, for example the Taliban in Afghanistan forming relations with organized crime groups associated with the drug trade (Holmes, 2007).
Another factor contributing to the emergence of relationships is the common ground shared by the different groups. They may utilize the same networks and infrastructure to carry out their activities, but they may also offer services which are of use to the opposing group. Organized crime groups, for example may take advantage of the social and economic conditions created by terrorist activity, and in return, they hold the money and access to resources needed by terrorist groups (Bovenkerk & Chakra, 2007). However, the main factor promoting such relationships is the opportunities provided for funding and supporting of operations, which due to the fall in state-sponsorship and the heightened checks on financial flows is becoming the increasingly viable option.