International Organized Crime: A Growing National Security Threat

By Sullivan, Brian | Strategic Forum, May 1996 | Go to article overview

International Organized Crime: A Growing National Security Threat


Sullivan, Brian, Strategic Forum


Conclusions

* Organized crime has grown far more powerful recently because of the fall of the Iron Curtain and the spread of international drug trafficking.

* Russian organized crime is particularly dangerous due to the weakness of Russian law enforcement agencies and the huge flow of dirty money through Russian banks. Some experts believe the Russian security services may be colluding with organized crime.

* Despite the threat to U.S. security, organized crime should be fought mainly by law enforcement agencies not the Armed Forces.

* In rare cases, such as those in which organized crime controls a weak state, military intervention may be warranted.

A National Security Threat

Currently, foreign criminal organizations weaken American national security by their attacks on U.S. financial institutions, massive export of illegally obtained dollars and their provision of addictive drugs to millions of Americans. The 1995 The National Security Strategy of Enlargement and Engagement states: "Not all security risks are immediate or military in nature. Transnational phenomena such as narcotics trafficking...have security implications for both present and long term American policy."

In 1960, fewer than 30,000 people were arrested in the United States for violating drug laws. Recent annual drug arrests have increased to more than one million. For the past seven years, more people have been imprisoned for drug offenses than for all violent crimes combined. The explosion of drug-related offenses explains why more than two million people may be incarcerated in the United States before 2010. The financial burden caused by the drug trade is appalling. In late 1991, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget testified that substance abuse cost the United States $300 billion per year. A 1996 Justice Department calculation that crime costs the American people some $450 billion a year leads to the conclusion that drug abuse accounts for two thirds or more of this staggering loss. In 1992, the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control estimated that there were 6.5 million American drug users. And these numbers seem to be rising.

Organized crime also injures or poses grave threats to the United States through a host of other illegal activities including: smuggling illegal migrants, murder-for-hire, terrorism, corrupting political and police officials, currency and document counterfeiting, arms trafficking, and pirating of intellectual properties. Potentially the most dangerous threat of all has been the conspiracy by organized crime in Russia to steal and sell materials for nuclear weapons construction.

Organized crime also endangers the well-being of U.S. allies in Western Europe and East Asia, is undermining some of the new democracies in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and is attacking the sovereignty of a number of weak states, particularly in the Caribbean, Latin American and West Africa. While organized crime does not present a military threat, it causes such damage to warrant a concerted international, federal, state and local effort to bring it under control. The alternative would be the corruption of much of the prosperous world and the enslavement of much of the developing world.

What is Organized Crime?

Organized crime (as opposed to ordinary gangs, terrorist groups or guerrilla organizations):

* lacks ideology

* has an organized hierarchy

* has continuity over time

* has willingness to threaten or use force

* has restrictive membership

* gains profits through criminal activity

* provides illegal goods/services desired by segments of the general population

* neutralizes some public officials and politicians by corruption or intimidation

* seeks monopolies of specific goods or services

* assigns specialized activities to gang members

* has a code of secrecy

* carefully plans for long-term goals

The most important factor in the growth of organized crime has been the development of a global network for illegal drug trafficking that produces multi-billion dollar profits. …

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