Collaborative consumption: evaluating the convergence between terrorism and transnational organized crime and its implications for the national security of the United States.

Author:Gallagher, Robert W., Jr.

    The United States indicted Jamal Yousef with one count of narco-terrorism conspiracy in July of 2009 following his arrest in New York City. (1) Yousef had allegedly been negotiating with a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent posing as a representative of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) for the exchange of military-grade weapons for hundreds of kilograms of cocaine. (2) Yousef claimed that the weapons had been stolen from Iraq and stored in Mexico at the home of a relative who was a member of the Hezbollah organization based in Lebanon. (3)

    The growing convergence of terrorism and transnational organized crime, as exemplified by the account of Jamal Yousef, may be the defining national security threat facing the United States in the twenty-first century. (4) Yet the major fallacy in the identification and assessment of this threat resides in the failure to acknowledge the extent of this convergence. (5) Examples of this disturbing trend can be seen in parts of Mexico, as well as the Tri-Border Area of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil (TBA). (6) In these areas, increasingly sophisticated methods of cooperation between designated terrorist organizations and transnational criminal syndicates have been observed in recent years, and this pattern continues to escalate as globalization allows these groups to easily communicate and synergize operations. (7)

    This Note will examine and analyze the rapidly growing collaboration of these groups in the TBA and Mexico. (8) In Part II, this Note will discuss the executive orders and legislation in the United States describing the process of designating specific groups as either a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) or Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). (9) Part III of this Note will examine the historical and present interactions between organized crime and terrorism in the TBA and Mexico. (10) In Part IV, this Note will analyze the growing confluence among these once-distinct groups and its implications for the national security of the United States. (11) Additionally, this Note will suggest that the United States should engage in a more comprehensive process of identification and designation of these groups to more efficiently combat the potential threat of this nexus. (12) Finally, Part V will conclude that the threat from the growing convergence of terrorist groups and TCOs is presenting a national security threat to the United States. (13)

  2. FACTS

    1. Designation as a TCO in the United States

      On July 24, 2011, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13581, "Blocking Property of [TCOs]" (EO 13581), which addressed, for the first time, the gravity and potential implications of organized crime on the international economic and political arena. (14) EO 13581 specifically provides for monetary sanctions for any person who provides "financial, material or technological support" to a designated TCO. (15) Furthermore, it directs that any interest or property within the jurisdiction of the United States affiliated with the aforementioned support may not be "transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn or otherwise dealt in." (16) Lastly, it vests complete decision making and oversight for such sanctions with the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of State. (17)

      For an organization to be designated a TCO it must exhibit three distinct characteristics. (18) First, the organization must consist of one or more foreign persons. (19) Second, these persons must engage in an ongoing pattern of criminal activity involving the jurisdictions of at least two foreign states. (20) Finally, the organization must threaten the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States. (21) There are currently five officially designated TCOs that fall under the jurisdiction of EO 13581. (22) This list includes: The Brother's Circle, Yakuza, Camorra, Los Zetas, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). (23)

      For comparative purposes, "the Federal Bureau of Investigation [(FBI)] defines organized crime [as] any group having some manner of a formalized structure, whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities." (24) These groups are able to maintain their positions through the use of threatened or actual violence, bribery, corruption, and extortion, and generally have a significant influence on the people in their regions or countries. (25)

      The United States partially recognizes the national security threat posed by TCOs; however, it does not go far enough. (26) The implications of this growing threat can affect "public safety, public health, democratic institutions, and economic stability across the globe." (27)

    2. Designation as a FTO in the United States

      Approximately a decade prior to EO 13581, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13224 (EO 13224) on September 23, 2001, in response to the events of September 11, 2001. (28) The purpose of EO 13224 is to provide a streamlined process of identifying, designating, and ultimately blocking financial assets of individuals found to be affiliated with or in support of an FTO. (29) The principal responsibility for monitoring and identifying potential FTOs rests with the Bureau of Counterterrorism of the U.S. Department of State, with the Secretary of State having final approval in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of Treasury. (30) The criteria for designation as an FTO are similar to that of EO 13581. (31) The organization must be foreign to the jurisdiction of the United States. (32) The organization must engage in terrorist activity or retain the "capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism." (33) Lastly, the organization's terrorist activities must threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security of the United States in general. (34) As of September 28, 2012, there are over forty designated FTOs. (35)

      The United States uses two similar definitions of terrorism. (36) The United States Code defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatants by sub-national groups or clandestine agents," usually intended to influence an audience. (37) The Department of Defense defines terrorism as the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to instill fear, intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological. (38) The international community has not agreed upon a global definition of terrorism. (39)


    1. The Crime-Terror Nexus in the TBA

      The TBA is a notorious epicenter of the incubation and collaboration of organized crime, corruption, and terrorism. (40) The Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este, for example, functions as one of the major breeding grounds for such activities. (41) While the sources of the problem are numerous and varied, the effects reveal a "dynamic shadow economy" thriving as a result of the interlocked network of criminals and terrorists. (42) This shadow economy is so entrenched within Ciudad del Este that the area is a potent attraction for transnational criminal groups and terrorist organizations. (43)

      Indigenous organized crime syndicates have been a concern among the national leaders of the TBA for some time. (44) But the presence of non-indigenous organized crime syndicates has dramatically increased over recent decades as conditions in the TBA became more appealing. (45) Organized crime groups from China, Colombia, Corsica, Ghana, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan,

      Korea, Lebanon, Nigeria, Russia, and Taiwan have operated in the TBA. (46) These groups engage in numerous illegal activities, such as narcotics and arms dealing, extortion, money laundering, pirating counterfeit goods, and smuggling stolen goods, to raise funds. (47) Numerous types of goods are available for sale in small shops in the TBA including sophisticated military hardware and advanced weaponry. (48) Corrupt police forces and lax enforcement of laws provide a fertile ground for criminal enterprises. (49) In addition, permissive banking systems, lacking any form of transparency, foster the money laundering necessary for TCOs to thrive. (50)

      The presence of terrorist organizations in the TBA is of particular concern. (51) The TBA has a "longstanding presence of Islamic extremist organizations." (52) For example, Hezbollah allegedly orchestrated the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1992 from the TBA. (53) Additionally, Al Qaeda has organized bases in the TBA. (54) The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) believed at one point that Al Qaeda was attempting to designate the TBA, specifically Ciudad del Este, as its main base in the Western Hemisphere. (55) The CIA and Mossad believe that the base in Ciudad del Este is intended to build on existing Al Qaeda links to narcotics, arms, and uranium trafficking in the TBA. (56) Furthermore, the base will utilize existing money laundering arrangements in association with other TCOs, notably the Chinese and Russian Mafias. (57) Other terrorist organizations, such as Islamic Jihad, FARC, and Gamaa Islamiya, have established bases in Ciudad del Este from which operations can be planned, developed, and executed. (58)

      Due to the multitude of factors described above, collaboration among various terrorist organizations and transnational criminal syndicates in the TBA is the expected logical progression. (59) Joint-access to regional streams of illicit fundraising provides the necessary backbone for cooperation among the groups. (60) Numerous accounts of collaboration between otherwise distinct organizations have been reported in the TBA. (61) For example, the Hong Kong-based mafias in Paraguay maintain strong ties to Hezbollah, the political party and militant group based in Lebanon and designated FTO. (62) Similarly, two branches of the Chinese...

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