Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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The Growing Criminal/Terrorism Nexus
One of the truly alarming global developments, particularly since the 9/11 attacks, is the growing nexus between organized, transnational criminal groups and terrorist networks.

In a thought-provoking Outlook piece in the Washington Post, Misha Glenny correctly notes the growing role of the poppy trade in Afghanistan in financing the Taliban, as well as attempts at eradication driving recruits to the armed insurgency.

The same holds true in Colombia and elsewhere, where the vast profits reaped by drug traffickers who control transnational shipping networks are enhanced by cutting security deals with terrorist organizations.

As Glenny correctly observes:

_The collapse of communism and the rise of globalization in the late 1980s and early 1990s gave transnational criminality a tremendous boost. The expansion of world trade and financial markets has provided criminals ample opportunity to broaden their activities. But there has been no comparable increase in the ability of the Western world to police global crime._

_International mobsters, unlike terrorists, don't seek to bring down the West; they just want to make a buck. But these two distinct species breed in the same swamps. In areas notorious for crime, such as the tri-border region connecting Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, or in the blood-diamond conflict zones such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, gangsters and terrorists habitually cooperate and work alongside one another._

This, of course, allows both sides access to the the strength of the other networks, with minimal risk to itself. And, if one part of the structure is hurt, the entire structure can simply move on, usually with minimal damage.

One may not agree with Glenny's conclusion on legalization, but the point that current policy, executed over almost 4 decades, has failed, is forcefully made.

I was reading the piece as I was diving into The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, fascinating look at how the new types of criminal/terrorist networks thrive on decentralization.

As a starfish can reconstitute itself out of almost any part that is severed, and has no real, centralized brain but a series of nerve impulses that guide its movements, so terrorist groups and criminal groups often thrive when deprived of centralized leadership.

This is especially true if the organization is made up of volunteers who want to be there, and are willing to carry on the enterprise (religious, terrorist, business etc.) when others are cut down.

This was certainly true some of the big stories I covered, particularly the Medellin and Cali cartels in Colombia. While the key individual leaders were killed or captured, the amount of cocaine produced never dropped, and ultimately surpassed the amount being produced by centralized groups.

This leads to deeply-troubling scenarios, because so much emphasis, both here and abroad, has focused on decapitating the leadership, rather than dealing with the network as a network.

Decapitation is often the key strategic objective, because our entire system is geared toward fighting organizations with a strict hierarchy, as our organizations are. While the military is incredibly efficient at defeating other armies, the struggle, as we see in Iraq and elsewhere, is when the enemy is a leaderless group of committed individuals, each acting autonomously to inflict damage.

These groups are free to innovate, recruit and attack as anyone in the group chooses to, rather than having to wait for orders. Targets of opportunity can be seized, the feelings of other allied groups can be ignored and leaders are followed because the followers want to follow that leader, not because they are forced to.

Any one piece of the leaderless network can reconstitute itself with little difficulty, without waiting around for someone to give an order and for that order to move down the chain of command.

Clearly, it seems, there are better and worse individuals within the network, and taking out the really good ones takes something of a toll. And leaderless groups are not highly efficient. But they survive.

If you have a system of enterprising freelance operations acting on impulses (the urge for profit, the urge to carry out attacks, the urge to acquire weapons etc.), these impulses will overlap. The actions will be taken to benefit all parties, and the networks can thrive with no one person making the important decisions.

This strikes me a perhaps the most dangerous mutation that both organized crime groups and terrorist groups (particularly Islamist terror groups, who seem more adept at moving through nerve impulses, without specific orders, than most), can take.

Successfully countering these groups and their growing reach will require a radical new assessment of both strategy and tactics in the military, intelligence community and law enforcement. But that will require a willingness to dump old assumptions and paradigms, something that has not really happened since 9-11.

The Viral Spread of Explosive Technologies in the Land of Jihad
CAIR's Amicus Brief and Due Dilligence
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