Criminal and terrorist groups are highly interconnected according to new analysis of data by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. The conventional wisdom was that criminals worry that working with terrorists may draw unwanted scrutiny from their governments, and they are only inclined to cooperate only in resource-poor environments where it is necessary to survive. But the CTC finds that transnational traffickers and criminals appear to be more than willing to partner with terrorists, and that they benefit from these relationships in a wide variety of environments.
The full report can be read here. It is very thorough (89 pages) and includes academic language and models. Here are a just a few of the salient points from the study about members of the global underworld that may be of interest to practitioners and analysts outside of academia:
- Interconnected: 98 percent of the individuals in the global illicit marketplace are within two degrees of separation of each other.
- International: One in three individuals in the network have international relationships.
- Distributed power: Unlike typical hub-and-spoke networks where 80 percent of the connections rely on 20 percent of the actors involved, the global illicit network is somewhat less dependent on a small number of powerful actors/kingpins. Twenty percent of participants are responsible for only 65 percent of underworld connections. This diffuse hub-and-spoke model makes the network tougher for law enforcement to disrupt.
- Willingness to work with terrorists: “Individuals involved in other illicit activities link to terrorists 35 percent of the time” (p. 43). Terrorists often serve as “boundary spanners,” that link and form introductions between disparate groups such as drug traffickers, arms dealers, and organized crime.
- Frequent bilateral links with the United Arab Emirates: The top two bilateral connections in the criminal underworld–the U.S. and Colombia and the U.S. and Mexico–are probably unsurprising to Americans. The third most prevalent bilateral connections are between India and the U.A.E., and the sixth most common are between Pakistan and the U.A.E.
- Organized crime, not just terrorism, benefits from state sponsorship. We know that state sponsorship of terrorism exists, but for some reason we erroneously assume that state sponsorship of crime does not. The evidence from North Korea, Russia, the Balkans, and Pakistan indicates that criminals can carry out national interests—a phenomenon deserving further study.
- Convergence is not driven by poverty. Terrorists and criminals are drawn together in a variety of environments, not just in countries where there are little money or resources. The evidence indicates that the opposite is often true—that criminal masterminds prefer climates where there is some level of predictability and economic development, such as Monzer al-Kassar operating in Spain and Dawood Ibrahim in Dubai. Focusing only on failed states could be a red herring.
Acknowledgment: Thanks to Twitter user @El_Grillo1 for sending in a link to the CTC study.