Criminal Activity in a Globalizing World

By Ross, Madeline K. B. | Journal of International Affairs, Fall-Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Criminal Activity in a Globalizing World


Ross, Madeline K. B., Journal of International Affairs


Transnational Crime and the 21st Century: Criminal Enterprise, Corruption, and Opportunity

Jay S. Albanese

(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 158 pages.

In the early twentieth century, the U.S. government was struggling to find a way to combat Al Capone and powerful city gangs. Institutional corruption allowed the gangs to expand into complex organized crime systems that took decades to dismantle. Jay Albanese argues that transnational crime is currently at a similar nascent stage, poised to lay the groundwork for an entrenched international criminal infrastructure that could prove costly and challenging to eradicate.

Transnational Crime and the 21st Century: Criminal Enterprise, Corruption, and Opportunity is foremost a primer to the current varieties of crime that reach across national borders. But it is also an argument for a systematic approach to analyzing these crimes, highlighting the similarities of transnational crime to organized crime. Albanese is a criminologist by training, and his past books and articles have focused on criminal justice and organized crime. It is therefore unsurprising that he views transnational crime through the lens of organized crime, focusing on methods of risk assessment and opportunities for crime prevention.

Albanese makes a clear distinction between transnational crime--which are crimes that seek personal gain but transcend political borders--and international crime, which he classifies as crimes against mankind. (1) Thus, terrorism and genocide are not examined in the book. Instead, the volume examines drug trafficking, cybercrime, and the many other forms of illegal activity that occur on a global level. Albanese draws on case studies, interviews, and an extensive review of United Nations and other multinational organization reports.

Transnational Crime divides all transnational crimes into three broad groups: provision of illicit goods, provision of illicit services, and, less clearly, infiltration of business and government. Albanese makes a persuasive argument for moving from a system that classifies transnational crime by the participating criminal groups to a system that focuses on the criminal activity itself. In today's world, a single criminal operation may involve the collusion of corporations, career criminals, and corrupt government actors from different countries and cultures. Albanese's logic for the taxonomy he applies, however, is not always made clear. While the connection between extortion, racketeering, and money laundering is clear, it is more difficult to draw a line between human trafficking and cyber fraud, which Albanese places together in the provision of illicit services. (2) The parallel between sexual slavery and phishing schemes feels forced.

The volume's criminology approach describes transnational crime by identifying economic risk factors, such as availability of supply, strength and elasticity of demand, competition in the market, and strength of regulation. Such examination of the economic underpinnings of a criminal organization are familiar to anyone who has read Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt's Freakonomics or watched an episode of "The Wire." However, Albanese takes it a step further by suggesting that economic pressures can be used not only to regulate existing crime but also for risk assessment, identifying where organized, transnational crime may be most likely to occur. …

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