The involvement of insurgent and extremist groups in criminal activity is an issue that has been a concern of U.S. administrations for decades. In recent years, some observers have claimed that interactions between international terrorists and criminals are increasing. If true, expanded links between criminal and terrorist networks could increase U.S. vulnerability to attack by terrorist groups with enhanced criminal capabilities and financial resources. An expanded range of combined criminal and terrorist activity could also affect the global economy and U.S. foreign policy goals, undermining licit international commerce and the promotion of good governance and rule of law. Threats posed by a crime-terrorism nexus may be particularly challenging, as the scale and nature of their cooperation are believed to vary widely and limited anecdotal evidence largely serves as the basis for current understanding of the problem.scale and nature of their cooperation are believed to vary widely and limited anecdotal evidence largely serves as the basis for current understanding of the problem.
U.S. efforts to combat the relationship between crime and terrorism are a subset of broader policy
responses to transnational crime and international terrorism individually. While numerous U.S. strategies and programs are designed to combat international terrorism and transnational crime separately, fewer efforts focus specifically on addressing the confluence of the two. Those efforts that do exist focus mainly on (1) human smuggling and clandestine terrorist travel, (2) money laundering and terrorist financing, and (3) narcoterrorism links between drug traffickers and terrorists. Many of these efforts, including the creation of the Human Smuggling and Trafficking
Center, the reorganization of the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, and the expanded extraterritorial jurisdiction authority to investigate and prosecute international narcoterrorism cases, occurred in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Congress played a large role in such efforts, holding at least eight hearings specifically on some aspect of criminal-terrorist interactions between the end of 2000 and 2005. Legislation that has expanded and adjusted agency authorities, resources, and responsibilities related to the crimeterrorism nexus includes the USA PATRIOT Act (P.L. 107-56), the Intelligence Reform Act and Terrorism Prevention Act of2004 (P.L. 107-458), the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-177), and appropriations-related legislation through the 111th Congress for various U.S. agencies, including the Departments of State and Defense.
This report provides a primer on the confluence of transnational terrorist and criminal groups and related activities abroad. It evaluates possible motivations and disincentives for cooperation between terrorist and criminal organizations, variations in the scope of crime-terrorism links, and the types of criminal activities—fundraising, material and logistics support, and exploitation of corruption and gaps in the rule of law—used by terrorist organizations to sustain operations. This report also discusses several international case studies to illustrate the range of crime-terrorism convergence and non-convergence, including Dawood Ibrahim’s D-Company; the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); the 2004 Madrid bombers; the Taliban; Hezbollah; Al Qaeda; the 2005 London bombers; Al-Shabaab; as well as known or alleged crime-terrorism facilitators such as Viktor Bout, Monzer Al Kasser, and Abu Ghadiyah. Policy considerations
discussed in this report include possible tensions between counterterrorism and anti-crime policy objectives, implications for U.S. foreign aid, gaps in human intelligence and analysis, the value of
financial intelligence in combating the crime terrorism nexus, impact of digital and physical safe havens and ungoverned spaces, implications for nuclear proliferation, and effects of crimeterrorism links in conflict and post-conflict zones. Unless otherwise noted, this report does not address potential crime-terrorism links in the domestic or border environment.