International criminal networks are expanding, forging dangerous new alliances, and diversifying illegal operations like never before, the Obama administration said yesterday as it unveiled a new campaign to disrupt organised crime globally.In the past organised crime has traditionally been regionally based and hierarchically structured. Today, the report notes, “criminal networks are fluid, striking new alliances with other networks around the world and engaging in a wide range of illicit activities, including cybercrime and providing support for terrorism.”
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The Obama administration’s new strategy is a significant acknowledgment that transnational organised crime, or TOCs — including Mexico’s powerful drug cartels — pose significant threats to U.S. national security interests, including:
- TOC penetration of nation-states is deepening, co-opting governance in some cases and weakening it in may others.
- Criminal organisations are threatening U.S. economic interests and may cause major damage to the global financial system. There is also growing possibility the TOCs will gain influence over so-called “strategic markets” (i.e. gas, oil, aluminium, precious metals).
- Terrorists and insurgents are increasingly turning to criminal activities and criminal networks for funding and logistics.
- Well-established organised crime groups not previously involved in drug trafficking are now developing links to trafficking and distribution networks.
- Human smuggling and trafficking are growing more violent and lucrative.
- Criminal networks are stealing U.S. intellectual property and are increasingly involved in cybercrime.
- TOCs rely on “facilitators,” who operate in both illicit and licit worlds, to guide transactions and build their criminal infrastructure (i.e. creating shell corporations, opening offshore bank accounts, creating front businesses, laundering money, and providing secure transportation and safehouses.)
The Obama administration outlines 56 priorities to combat the organised crime threat, including enhancing intelligence and information sharing, protecting the U.S. financial system, and strengthening U.S. capability to combat cyber threats.
The release of the new plan was accompanied by an executive order from President Barack Obama, declaring the TOC threat a national emergency. The order establishes sanctions to freeze the assets of TOCs and gives immigration agents more authority to turn away or detain suspected members. The White House said it also plans to work with Congress to develop legislative proposals to combat the threat.
The new national security initiative paints a terrifying picture of global threats posed by transnational criminal networks. We took a look at the plan to find out why the U.S. needed a new strategy to fight organised crime.
International criminal organisations spend about $1 trillion annually to bribe public officials, according to a 2010 World Bank estimate.
TOCs threatening government stability and undermining free markets through their ties to political leaders, law enforcement, intelligence, and security agencies.
Criminal networks are infiltrating the political process through direct bribery, setting up shadow economies, disrupting the financial and security sectors through corruption and coercion, and positioning themselves as alternate governance providers.
In 2010, 29 of the 63 top drug trafficking organisations had links to terrorist organisations, according to Department of Justice data.
The links between terrorist organisations and the drug trade are, for now, primarily opportunistic, according to the new national security strategy. But the relationships have dangerous implications, especially if criminal networks start facilitating the transfer of materials for weapons of mass destruction to militants.
The new National Security Council report notes that Mexican drug trafficking gangs are of immediate concern because they maintain illicit border crossings that can be used by terrorist groups and insurgents.
Human smuggling from Latin America to the U.S. generated about $6.6 billion in illicit profits in 2010, according to the United Nations.
The vast majority of people who enter the U.S. illegally are moved through international human smuggling networks linked to other transnational crimes, including drug trafficking and government corruption.
In addition to economic migrants, these networks smuggle criminals, fugitives, terrorists, and victims of human trafficking, another lucrative criminal trade.
Obama's new national security strategy notes that TOCs now play an important role in international weapons smuggling, and may be providing arms to insurgents and terrorist networks.
In the last year alone, U.S. federal law enforcement agencies have intercepted 'large numbers' of weapons being smuggled to Mexico, China, Russia, Somalia, Yemen, Turkmenistan, and the Philippines, according to the NSC report.
The annual value of customs seizures related to intellectual property right violations rose from $94 million to $188 million between fiscal year 2003 and fiscal year 2010, according to U.S. customs and mail data. 60-six per cent of the products seized originated in China.
Intellectual property crimes range from pirated music, movies, software and video games to brand-name imitations to stolen proprietary designs of high-tech devices and manufacturing processes, according to the NSC report.
In 2010, the U.S. Secret Service arrested 1,217 suspects for cybercrime violations with a fraud loss of $507 million.
Virtually all of the TOCs are connected through and enabled by information technology systems, and many use cyber technologies to perpetuate sophisticated frauds, according to the new strategy. As a result, the TOCs pose an major threat to global financial systems, including banking, stock markets, e-currency and credit card services.
The U.S. Secret Service's cyber crime division estimates that anonymous online financial crimes lead to billions of dollars in losses to America's financial infrastructure. Some estimates indicate that Central European cybercrime networks alone may have defrauded U.S. citizens and entities of about $1 billion in a single year.
Transnational crime and violence costs up to 8% of GDP of some Central American states, according to the World Bank.
Central America is a key area for converging threats from the growing transnational criminal organisations in the Western Hemisphere, according to the NSC report.
Illegal trafficking in drugs, people, and weapons has increased instability for Central America's fledgling democracies, particularly Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Mexico's drug cartels move easily across the porous border, and are taking advantage of local gangs that provide a ready-made criminal infrastructure.
Central America is now one of the world's deadliest regions, with an average homicide rate of 33 per 100,000 inhabitants.
The relationship between North Korea and TOCs underscores the dangerous links between rogue states and organised crime.
The new national security strategy emphasises the need for the U.S. to increase its understanding of the TOC threats in Asia and the Pacific, particularly as drug trafficking organisations and criminal networks expand their activities in the region.
The TOC national security strategy expresses a growing concern over links between Al Qaeda's North African affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, with the drug trade, as West Africa becomes a major transit hub for illegal drug shipments to Europe.
The NSC report notes that the drug trade is fueling insecurity in already unstable states in the region. Guinea-Bissau, for example, is now on the verge of becoming a narco-state, and the re-appointment of drug kingpin Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto as the country's Naval Chief of Staff is likely to further entrench the drug cartels operating in West Africa.
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