Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Deciphering the Linkages between Organized Crime and Transnational Crime

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Deciphering the Linkages between Organized Crime and Transnational Crime

Article excerpt

Over the last twenty years, traditional depictions of organized crime as an ethnic, neighborhood phenomenon have given way to discoveries of emerging transnational criminal enterprises involving trafficking, fraud, and corruption on an international scale. The available evidence suggests that these are not two distinct types of criminal conduct. Instead they are overlapping in nature in terms of the crimes committed, the offenders involved, and in how criminal opportunities are exploited for profit. This article analyzes the similarities and differences between organized crime and transnational crime, concluding that they are in fact manifestations of the same underlying conduct and the same pool of criminal offenders. They involve exploitation of similar criminal opportunities, which have changed in form over time. Recommendations for more effective international prevention and responses are made in the context of assessing the remarkable transnational organized crime control efforts of the last decade.


In 2011, online auctions involving expensive items such as cars, motorcycles, and recreational vehicles were on listed websites, including eBay, Craigslist, and Buyers (mostly from the United States) transferred funds for their purchases using Western Union and bank transfers; however, the items for sale never existed. The conspirators behind this scheme moved from city to city and used false identification to open new bank accounts, while the victims never received the items they had purchased. The case led to a Romanian man pleading guilty to fraud. (1)

This case is a classic example of transnational crime: it is a law violation that involved more than one country in its planning, execution, or impact. Unlike traditional crimes that occur within a single country, transnational crimes are distinguished by their multinational nature and cross border impact.

This article will discuss six aspects of transnational crime that help clarify misconceptions, and will also help establish a path for the future. These six aspects include: a comprehensive classification of transnational crime; transnational crimes as a form of organized crime; transnational criminal activities remaining the same over the years; focus on criminal markets rather than groups or networks; theoretical perspectives on transnational crime prevention; and finally, effective implementation of international agreements.


Transnational crimes are separate from international crimes, which involve crimes against humanity that may or may not involve multiple countries. Examples of international crimes include genocide and terrorism, as well as violations of human rights, often without a profit motive--a central objective of virtually all transnational crimes. In a recent case in New York City, four men who had met in prison concocted a plan to bomb Jewish synagogues. They wanted to carry out what they believed were Osama bin Laden's wishes. The plan was never executed because an informant infiltrated the group and police were able to defuse the bombs. (2) The underlying motive in this case was political or religious hatred without any apparent profit motive. This distinguishes international crimes from the more frequent transnational crimes, which are characterized by motives of personal gain and profit.

Transnational crimes can be categorized as having three broad objectives: provision of illicit goods, provision of illicit services, and the infiltration of business or government operations. As summarized in Table 1, transnational crimes are grouped according to these three objectives and encompass a total of nine types of offenses.

As an example of the cybercrime and fraud category, three individuals were charged with hacking into the telephone systems of large corporations simply so they could make calls around the world and sell this telephone time to others. …

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