LANGUAGE
Due to translations, the other language editions of NATO Review go online approximately two weeks after the English version.
About NATO Review
Submission policy
COPYRIGHT INFO
Editorial team
 RSS
SEND THIS ARTICLE TO A FRIEND
SUBSCRIBE TO THE NATO REVIEW
  

Organised crime and terrorist groups: comrades or chameleons?

NATO Review looks at how terrorist and organised crime groups work together, how they are changing, which one is a greater security threat and asks whether the groups can still be distinguished from each other.

Video length: 11mins

 Subtitles: On / Off

It's easy - and comforting - to think that the activities of organised crime

and terror groups are distant problems in faraway lands.

We may also like to think that their activities

only impact the edges of our society.

But these two groups are working closer together,

and not just in the shadows, and not just in illegal goods and services.

Their activities can be found at the heart of our everyday lives.

Razors, batteries, anything you care to think of, is now being faked,

largely in factories in East Asia.

But imported into the European Union

with the assistance of traditional organised crime groups.

In terms of people's everyday lives cigarette smuggling is clearly one.

Alcohol smuggling as well. And also credit card fraud and that sort of thing.

Misha Glenny is an award-winning author and former BBC correspondent.

His recent book, 'McMafia', has provided one of the clearest insights

into how organised crime operates in different ways around the world.

In the area which the largest number of people are involved,

and that is the carding, what's called carding,

bank phishing scams and credit cards and so on and so forth,

there have been cases of al-Qaeda people here in the United Kingdom

and elsewhere being involved in carding operations in order to finance themselves.

You can get things like the carder markets, for example,

which to all intents and purposes are just low-level criminality,

and then suddenly you find a botnet that's involved in a carder scam

that is also involved in attacking Estonia or something like that.

And you say, wait a minute, what's that guy doing there?

At first sight organised crime groups and terrorist organisations

may seem unlikely partners.

Organised crime groups generally like to keep a low profile

and avoid attention, particularly by the police;

whereas terrorist activities are all about eventually gaining a large amount of attention.

Organised crime groups work purely for profit;

whereas terrorists, ostensibly at least, work for ideologies.

Organised crime groups will not let principles get in the way of financial gain;

whereas terrorist organisations justify many of their actions on political or religious principles.

But these descriptions paint a very black and white picture.

In fact, the reality is it's grey.

Let's look at the nature of organised crime,

and I divide it into zones of production

—Colombia, Afghanistan, for example

—zones of distribution—northern Mexico, the Balkans—

and zones of consumption—the United States, Western Europe.

Now, in zones of production and zones of distribution organised crime does not take a backseat.

Security experts have found that the overlap between organised crime and terror groups

can sometimes make it difficult to tell them apart.

What you've seen in more recent years is an emergence of the hybrid organisations which either lean to one side or the other of the spectrum,

but essentially engaging both in relatively, if not equal measure,

they're much more fused in terms of their goals and operations and recruitment strategies.

The idea that there’s sort of Hezbollah organised crime division here,

am I speaking to Juan Pablo of the Cali Cartel? It doesn't work like that.

The two groups' overlaps include activities, interests, personnel and skills.

If you now have a network of personnel it doesn't matter if one person is working

half their time for a criminal group and half their time for an insurgent group,

it's simply an exchange of skills.

Terrorist groups have long used criminal activities to fund their organisations.

These can be kidnap for ransom, smuggling people and drugs, particularly.

Now this is quite a “raison d'être” of its own for many terrorist groups,

so they become organised crime groups.

Closer links have even led to groups changing their structure to help avoid police detection.

They'll move from a hierarchical to a network structure.

It's something that both sides have been learning from each other.

In this case you might say the criminals have been slightly behind the insurgents.

They followed the cell-type structure and have now managed to use that to avoid law enforcement scrutiny.

This area of London is very close to the east end,

which until a few decades ago was characterised by being full of local people

in a close-knit community.

Now, however, it's full of international shops and people and money from all over the world.

Just as this area has changed following the process of globalisation,

so have the people and practices of groups of organised crime and terrorists.

The ability for capital to move freely between states, across borders and people,

to some extent, has clearly facilitated the nexus between organised crime and terrorism.

For organised crime groups the advances in technology, particularly in communications,

means that they can now communicate rapidly with personnel in other countries,

other continents, and also get in touch very quickly with new clients or potential co-operators.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991,

and other events in the 1990s provided excellent conditions for the growth of organised crime.

At the same time you had the liberalisation of international financial markets.

Now that meant in a very short space of time that the volume of transactions,

particularly when you take into account the new technologies that were emerging,

the volume of transactions in the financial market were absolutely staggering,

and nobody, nobody could keep track of them.

Just as the 1990s provided a period of flux and uncertainty,

so the recent financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 has provided conditions which

criminal groups and terrorist groups are poised to take advantage of.

This is the heart of financial centre of the City of London.

One of the worries that security analysts have pointed to is that

with the financial crisis there may be the right conditions now for organised crime

and terrorist groups to invest in places such as these,

which are now desperate for the capital and may be asking less questions about where it's come from.

You might say that criminal groups are one of the few sectors that will do very

well out of the credit crunch, simply because they now have the opportunity to buy

out companies that are failing or buy into them, for example, through the property market.

Also moving into small- and medium-sized businesses, particularly to take advantage

of many governments having introduced programmes in order to prop up these businesses.

The key to this is that we are facing this huge liquidity crisis

and organised crime operates in a cash-rich economy.

So it's a golden opportunity for organised crime.

The relationship between terror groups and organised crime is a marriage of convenience,

but that marriage too can hit the rocks.

We're starting to see signs of emerging turf warfare between some groups,

particularly in places such as Russia and Central Asia

where there's almost too much of a good thing for them.

They're now trying to move in and trying to move in and trying to carve it up

and this is obviously resulting in turf warfare.

I think you'll find that in most areas, like in narcotics, you know,

people who are coming in as newcomers have to listen to what their elders and betters are saying.

I mean, if you want to try and take on the gangs running heroin into this country

then be my guest, but, you know, even if I was Osama bin Laden

I'd think twice about taking those guys on.

One thing that is clear is that the links between organised crime and terrorist

organisations are not new.

In 1981 the El-Jihad group that assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat

funded those attacks through the robbery of several Christian-owned jewellery shops.

More recently in 1993 the first attacks on the World Trade Centre were partly funded

by the sale of counterfeit T-shirts.

In the fast-moving 21st century neither organised crime

nor terror groups show any signs of being left behind.

Hezbollah is much more of a modernist organisation than people seem to understand.

I mean, its working of the cyber area is really quite impressive,

in terms of, you know, developing offensive capabilities, cyber capabilities;

the fact that it has been constructing its own fibre optic network in Lebanon.

And with modern challenges such as climate change come modern means of profiting from them.

Details have emerged for the first time of the first major carbon emission

trading fraud -a crime that has come out which was worth huge sums of money.

One of the most effective ways of challenging these groups is tight coordination

between countries and organisations. Failure to do so leaves gaps which are ruthlessly exploited.

It becomes much more difficult to work a combined operation together

if one side is unwilling to share the most information it has with the other.

I'd say that that's probably one of the major hurdles at the moment to sufficient cooperation.

The advent of Internet banking has been incredibly useful in terms of siphoning off funds,

transferring money very quickly around the world, and hiding the trace.

In fact, one of the changes has been that it's now become much quicker

to avoid jurisdiction and law enforcement activity simply because

any sign of an investigation you can start moving money almost instantly.

Interestingly enough, in terms of the most concentrated value to organised crime in Europe

the biggest operations deal with so-called carousel frauds, or missing trader frauds,

which is basically exploiting the discrepancies in VAT regimes between different countries.

This brings in billions upon billions of euros every year.

But perhaps the key question is which activity does more harm

and does more of a security threat: organised crime or terrorism?

Personally I think that the threat from terrorism is often exaggerated

over the social threat that organised crime poses around the world.

I mean, people's lives are affected much, much more if, for example,

as I do, you take the war in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

to essentially be the consequence of a large criminal enterprise

and you see that five million people have been killed.

Terrorism, frankly, can only dream of those numbers.

It's easy - and comforting - to think that the activities of organised crime

and terror groups are distant problems in faraway lands.

We may also like to think that their activities

only impact the edges of our society.

But these two groups are working closer together,

and not just in the shadows, and not just in illegal goods and services.

Their activities can be found at the heart of our everyday lives.

Razors, batteries, anything you care to think of, is now being faked,

largely in factories in East Asia.

But imported into the European Union

with the assistance of traditional organised crime groups.

In terms of people's everyday lives cigarette smuggling is clearly one.

Alcohol smuggling as well. And also credit card fraud and that sort of thing.

Misha Glenny is an award-winning author and former BBC correspondent.

His recent book, 'McMafia', has provided one of the clearest insights

into how organised crime operates in different ways around the world.

In the area which the largest number of people are involved,

and that is the carding, what's called carding,

bank phishing scams and credit cards and so on and so forth,

there have been cases of al-Qaeda people here in the United Kingdom

and elsewhere being involved in carding operations in order to finance themselves.

You can get things like the carder markets, for example,

which to all intents and purposes are just low-level criminality,

and then suddenly you find a botnet that's involved in a carder scam

that is also involved in attacking Estonia or something like that.

And you say, wait a minute, what's that guy doing there?

At first sight organised crime groups and terrorist organisations

may seem unlikely partners.

Organised crime groups generally like to keep a low profile

and avoid attention, particularly by the police;

whereas terrorist activities are all about eventually gaining a large amount of attention.

Organised crime groups work purely for profit;

whereas terrorists, ostensibly at least, work for ideologies.

Organised crime groups will not let principles get in the way of financial gain;

whereas terrorist organisations justify many of their actions on political or religious principles.

But these descriptions paint a very black and white picture.

In fact, the reality is it's grey.

Let's look at the nature of organised crime,

and I divide it into zones of production

—Colombia, Afghanistan, for example

—zones of distribution—northern Mexico, the Balkans—

and zones of consumption—the United States, Western Europe.

Now, in zones of production and zones of distribution organised crime does not take a backseat.

Security experts have found that the overlap between organised crime and terror groups

can sometimes make it difficult to tell them apart.

What you've seen in more recent years is an emergence of the hybrid organisations which either lean to one side or the other of the spectrum,

but essentially engaging both in relatively, if not equal measure,

they're much more fused in terms of their goals and operations and recruitment strategies.

The idea that there’s sort of Hezbollah organised crime division here,

am I speaking to Juan Pablo of the Cali Cartel? It doesn't work like that.

The two groups' overlaps include activities, interests, personnel and skills.

If you now have a network of personnel it doesn't matter if one person is working

half their time for a criminal group and half their time for an insurgent group,

it's simply an exchange of skills.

Terrorist groups have long used criminal activities to fund their organisations.

These can be kidnap for ransom, smuggling people and drugs, particularly.

Now this is quite a “raison d'être” of its own for many terrorist groups,

so they become organised crime groups.

Closer links have even led to groups changing their structure to help avoid police detection.

They'll move from a hierarchical to a network structure.

It's something that both sides have been learning from each other.

In this case you might say the criminals have been slightly behind the insurgents.

They followed the cell-type structure and have now managed to use that to avoid law enforcement scrutiny.

This area of London is very close to the east end,

which until a few decades ago was characterised by being full of local people

in a close-knit community.

Now, however, it's full of international shops and people and money from all over the world.

Just as this area has changed following the process of globalisation,

so have the people and practices of groups of organised crime and terrorists.

The ability for capital to move freely between states, across borders and people,

to some extent, has clearly facilitated the nexus between organised crime and terrorism.

For organised crime groups the advances in technology, particularly in communications,

means that they can now communicate rapidly with personnel in other countries,

other continents, and also get in touch very quickly with new clients or potential co-operators.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991,

and other events in the 1990s provided excellent conditions for the growth of organised crime.

At the same time you had the liberalisation of international financial markets.

Now that meant in a very short space of time that the volume of transactions,

particularly when you take into account the new technologies that were emerging,

the volume of transactions in the financial market were absolutely staggering,

and nobody, nobody could keep track of them.

Just as the 1990s provided a period of flux and uncertainty,

so the recent financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 has provided conditions which

criminal groups and terrorist groups are poised to take advantage of.

This is the heart of financial centre of the City of London.

One of the worries that security analysts have pointed to is that

with the financial crisis there may be the right conditions now for organised crime

and terrorist groups to invest in places such as these,

which are now desperate for the capital and may be asking less questions about where it's come from.

You might say that criminal groups are one of the few sectors that will do very

well out of the credit crunch, simply because they now have the opportunity to buy

out companies that are failing or buy into them, for example, through the property market.

Also moving into small- and medium-sized businesses, particularly to take advantage

of many governments having introduced programmes in order to prop up these businesses.

The key to this is that we are facing this huge liquidity crisis

and organised crime operates in a cash-rich economy.

So it's a golden opportunity for organised crime.

The relationship between terror groups and organised crime is a marriage of convenience,

but that marriage too can hit the rocks.

We're starting to see signs of emerging turf warfare between some groups,

particularly in places such as Russia and Central Asia

where there's almost too much of a good thing for them.

They're now trying to move in and trying to move in and trying to carve it up

and this is obviously resulting in turf warfare.

I think you'll find that in most areas, like in narcotics, you know,

people who are coming in as newcomers have to listen to what their elders and betters are saying.

I mean, if you want to try and take on the gangs running heroin into this country

then be my guest, but, you know, even if I was Osama bin Laden

I'd think twice about taking those guys on.

One thing that is clear is that the links between organised crime and terrorist

organisations are not new.

In 1981 the El-Jihad group that assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat

funded those attacks through the robbery of several Christian-owned jewellery shops.

More recently in 1993 the first attacks on the World Trade Centre were partly funded

by the sale of counterfeit T-shirts.

In the fast-moving 21st century neither organised crime

nor terror groups show any signs of being left behind.

Hezbollah is much more of a modernist organisation than people seem to understand.

I mean, its working of the cyber area is really quite impressive,

in terms of, you know, developing offensive capabilities, cyber capabilities;

the fact that it has been constructing its own fibre optic network in Lebanon.

And with modern challenges such as climate change come modern means of profiting from them.

Details have emerged for the first time of the first major carbon emission

trading fraud -a crime that has come out which was worth huge sums of money.

One of the most effective ways of challenging these groups is tight coordination

between countries and organisations. Failure to do so leaves gaps which are ruthlessly exploited.

It becomes much more difficult to work a combined operation together

if one side is unwilling to share the most information it has with the other.

I'd say that that's probably one of the major hurdles at the moment to sufficient cooperation.

The advent of Internet banking has been incredibly useful in terms of siphoning off funds,

transferring money very quickly around the world, and hiding the trace.

In fact, one of the changes has been that it's now become much quicker

to avoid jurisdiction and law enforcement activity simply because

any sign of an investigation you can start moving money almost instantly.

Interestingly enough, in terms of the most concentrated value to organised crime in Europe

the biggest operations deal with so-called carousel frauds, or missing trader frauds,

which is basically exploiting the discrepancies in VAT regimes between different countries.

This brings in billions upon billions of euros every year.

But perhaps the key question is which activity does more harm

and does more of a security threat: organised crime or terrorism?

Personally I think that the threat from terrorism is often exaggerated

over the social threat that organised crime poses around the world.

I mean, people's lives are affected much, much more if, for example,

as I do, you take the war in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

to essentially be the consequence of a large criminal enterprise

and you see that five million people have been killed.

Terrorism, frankly, can only dream of those numbers.

Share this    DiggIt   MySpace   Facebook   Delicious   Permalink