Transnational Organized Crime: A Growing Threat to National and International Security

By Council, National Security | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Transnational Organized Crime: A Growing Threat to National and International Security


Council, National Security, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


TRANSNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME: A GROWING THREAT TO NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY Transnational organized crime (TOC) poses a significant and growing threat to national and international security, with dire implications for public safety, public health, democratic institutions, and economic stability across the globe. Not only are criminal networks expanding, but they also are diversifying their activities, resulting in the convergence of threats that were once distinct and today have explosive and destabilizing effects. This Strategy organizes the United States to combat TOC networks that pose a strategic threat to Americans and to U.S. interests in key regions. Penetration of State Institutions, Corruption, and Threats to Governance. Developing countries with weak rule of law can be particularly susceptible to TOC penetration. TOC penetration of states is deepening, leading to co-option in a few cases and further weakening of governance in many others.

The apparent growing nexus in some states among TOC groups and elements of government including intelligence services and high- level business figures represents a significant threat to economic growth and democratic institutions. In countries with weak governance, there are corrupt officials who turn a blind eye to TOC activity. TOC networks insinuate themselves into the political process in a variety of ways. This is often accomplished through direct bribery (but also by having members run for office); setting up shadow economies; infiltrating financial and security sectors through coercion or corruption; and positioning themselves as alternate providers of governance, security, services, and livelihoods. As they expand, TOC networks may threaten stability and undermine free markets as they build alliances with political leaders, financial institutions, law enforcement, foreign intelligence, and security agencies. TOC penetration of governments is exacerbating corruption and undermining governance, rule of law, judicial systems, free press, democratic institution-building, and transparency. Further, events in Somalia have shown how criminal control of territory and piracy ransoms generate significant sums of illicit revenue and promote the spread of government instability.

Threats to the Economy, U.S. Competitiveness, and Strategic Markets. TOC threatens U.S. economic interests and can cause significant damage to the world financial system through its subversion, exploitation, and distortion of legitimate markets and economic activity. U.S. business leaders worry that U.S. firms are being put at a competitive disadvantage by TOC and particularly in emerging markets where many perceive that rule of law is less reliable. The World Bank estimates about $1 trillion is spent each year to bribe public officials, causing an array of economic distortions and damage to legitimate economic activity. The price of doing business in countries affected by TOC is also rising as companies budget for additional security costs, adversely impacting foreign direct investment in many parts of the world. TOC activities can lead to disruption of the global supply chain, which in turn diminishes economic competitiveness and impacts the ability of U.S. industry and transportation sectors to be resilient in the face of such disruption. Further, transnational criminal organizations, leveraging their relationships with state-owned entities, industries, or state-allied actors, could gain influence over key commodities markets such as gas, oil, aluminum, and precious metals, along with potential exploitation of the transportation sector.

Crime-Terror-Insurgency Nexus. Terrorists and insurgents increasingly are turning to TOC to generate funding and acquire logistical support to carry out their violent acts. The Department of Justice reports that 29 of the 63 organizations on its FY 2010 Consolidated Priority Organization Targets list, which includes the most significant international drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) threatening the United States, were associated with terrorist groups.

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Transnational Organized Crime: A Growing Threat to National and International Security
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