Emerging Alliances for the 21st Century, Part VII

07/31/2011 Terrorist-Criminal Pipelines and Criminalized States

By Douglas Farah


07/  /2011 – The trend toward the merging of terrorist and criminal groups to mutually exploit new markets is unlikely to diminish. Both will continue to need the same facilitators, and both can leverage the relationship with the other to mutual benefit. This gives these groups an asymmetrical advantage over state actors, which are inherently more bureaucratic and less adaptable than non-state actors.

Given the fragile or non-existent judicial and law enforcement institutions in West Africa; the state tolerance or sponsorship of the drug trade by Venezuela and quiescent African states; and the enormous revenue stream that cocaine represents, it is likely such loose alliances will continue to grow. The human cost in West Africa, as recent past spasms of violence have shown, will be extraordinarily high, as will the impact on what little governance capability currently exists.

(Credit: Bigstock)

(Credit: Bigstock)

Europe and the United States will face a growing threat from the region, particularly from radical Islamist groups, both those affiliated with al Qaeda and those, like Hezbollah, allied with Iran. Yet, given the current budget constraints and economic situation it is highly unlikely that additional resources from either continent will be allocated to the threat.

There are few options for putting the genie back in the bottle. Transnational criminal organizations and terrorist networks have proven themselves to be resilient and highly adaptable, while governments remain far less so. Governments have also consistently underestimated the capacity of these disparate and non-hierarchical organizations.

Human intelligence, perhaps the most difficult type of intelligence to acquire, is vital to understanding the threat, how the different groups work together and what their vulnerabilities are. One major vulnerability is the dependence of the Latin American drug traffickers on local African networks. In order to make the necessary alliances, the cartels operatives are forced to operate in unfamiliar terrain and in languages and cultures they do not know or understand. This creates significant opportunities for penetration of the operations, as the Liberian case shows.

Another element that is essential is the creation of functioning institutions in the most affected states that can both investigate and judicially prosecute transnational criminal organizations. The most efficient way to do this is through the creation of vetted police and military units and judicial corps that are specially trained and who can be protected from reprisals.

This almost universal mantra of judicial and police reform is valid, but it can only be realistically done in small groups that can then be expanded as time and resources permit. Most efforts are diluted to the point of uselessness by attempting to do everything at once. The Colombian experience in fighting drug trafficking organizations and the FARC is illustrative of this. After years of futility, the police, military and judiciary all were able to form small vetted units that have grown over time, and, just as importantly, were able to work together.

Vetted units that are able to collect intelligence, to operate in a relatively controlled environment, and which can be monitored for corruption, are also vital and far more achievable than macro level police reform.  These are small steps, but ones that have a chance of actually working in a sustainable way. They do not require the tens of millions of dollars and large-scale human resources commitments that broader efforts do. And they can be easily expanded as conditions permit.

(Credit: Bigstock)

(Credit: Bigstock)

But human intelligence and institution building, operating in a vacuum, will have limited impact absent the will and ability to match the trans-nationalization of enforcement to the trans-nationalization of crime and terror. These groups thrive in the seams of the global system, while the global response has been a state centric approach that matches the 20th century, not this one.

Without this type of human intelligence and transnational entities — able to operate in relative safety through vetted units — the criminal and terrorist pipelines will continue not only to grow but also to develop the capacity to recombine more quickly and in ever more dangerous ways.

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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