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CRS — Terrorism and Transnational Crime: Foreign Policy Issues for Congress

November 8, 2012

Terrorism and Transnational Crime: Foreign Policy Issues for Congress (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report provides an overview of transnational security issues related to patterns of interaction among international terrorist and crime groups. In addition, the report discusses the U.S. government’s perception of and response to the threat. It concludes with an analysis of foreign policy options.

In recent years, the U.S. government has asserted that terrorism, insurgency, and crime interact in varied and significant ways, to the detriment of U.S. national security interests. Although unclassified anecdotal evidence largely serves as the basis for the current understanding of criminal-terrorist connections, observers often focus on several common patterns.

  • Partnership Motivations and Disincentives: Collaboration can serve as a force multiplier for both criminal and terrorist groups, as well as a strategic weakness. Conditions that may affect the likelihood of confluence include demand for special skills unavailable within an organization, greed, opportunity for and proclivity toward joint ventures, and changes in ideological motivations.
  • Appropriation of Tactics: Although ideologies and motivations of an organization may remain consistent, criminals and terrorists have shared similar tactics to reach their separate operational objectives. Such tactics include acts of violence; involvement in criminal activity for profit; money laundering; undetected cross-border movements; illegal weapons acquisition; and exploitation of corrupt government officials.
  • Organizational Evolution and Variation: A criminal group may transform over time to adopt political goals and ideological motivations. Conversely, terrorist groups may shift toward criminality. For some terrorist groups, criminal activity remains secondary to ideological ambitions. For others, profit-making may surpass political aspirations as the dominant operating rationale. Frequently cited terrorist organizations involved in criminal activity include Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Al Qaeda’s affiliates, D-Company, Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Haqqani Network, and Hezbollah.

To combat these apparent criminal-terrorist connections, Congress has maintained a role in formulating U.S. policy responses. Moreover, recent Administrations have issued several strategic documents to guide U.S. national security, counterterrorism, anti-crime, and intelligence activities. In July 2011, for example, the Obama Administration issued the Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime, which emphasized, among other issues, the confluence of crime and terrorism as a major factor in threatening the U.S. global security interests.

While the U.S. government has maintained substantial long-standing efforts to combat terrorism and transnational crime separately, Congress has been challenged to evaluate whether the existing array of authorities, programs, and resources sufficiently respond to the combined crimeterrorism threat. Common foreign policy options have centered on diplomacy, foreign assistance, financial actions, intelligence, military action, and investigations. At issue for Congress is how to conceptualize this complex crime-terrorism phenomenon and oversee the implementation of cross-cutting activities that span geographic regions, functional disciplines, and a multitude of policy tools that are largely dependent on effective interagency coordination and international cooperation.

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