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

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AG Mukasey's Overdue Attention to Organized Crime
Almost as soon as my last post on the transnational threat of cigarette smuggling was posted, several alert friends sent me the recent speech by Attorney General Michael Mukasey at CSIS, where he announced a new effort to understand and combat transnational criminal organizations.

The initiative is long overdue. As Mukasey noted, the Organized Crime Council had not met for 15 years. Quite a feat, given the numerous and wide-ranging indications that organized criminal groups have steadily gained influence, power and control or near-control over areas that are vital national security. As Mukasey noted:

International organized crime is a hybrid criminal problem that implicates three of the department’s national priorities: national security, violent crime, and public corruption. It needs a coordinated response and an openness to new ways of doing business. It also demands that we work closely with our foreign colleagues in order to dismantle global criminal syndicates. In short, this is about more than the Department of Justice. It involves our law enforcement and non-law enforcement colleagues at the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Treasury, and Labor, the U.S. Postal Service, as well as the intelligence community. And I’d like to thank these other agencies for their help and for their efforts.
The attorney general’s Organized Crime Council will have a leading role in coordinating that effort.

But one thing was curiously missing from Mukasey's comments, and that is growing link, as I and others have outlined numerous times, between these organized criminal networks and terrorism, including but not limited to terrorism driven by radical Islamist theology.

Mukasey did mention the case of Viktor Bout and the FARC, which I have written about extensively. But it is hear that Mukasey's silence is most interesting.

Regarding the Bout case, Mukasey said:

As this example makes clear, although these criminals are not motivated by ideology, when the price is right, they are more than willing to help the people who are motivated by ideology.

That is certainly true. But it can also be people motivated by theology. Bout sold weapons and aircraft to the Taliban, and indirectly armed al Qaeda in Afghanistan. He has helped arm Hezbollah, the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia, and other cases.

All have the stated goal of establishing a radical Islamist government that transcends any nation state, imposes sharia law and ushers in a radically different world.

My point is that what makes transnational criminal organizations more dangerous now transcends the power to corrupt, undermine the legitimate economy and threaten the sovereignty and security of the states in which they operate.

Those issues are clearly vitally important. But the real difference between today and 10 years ago is that criminal groups have not only grown and created pipelines for moving illicit goods, but that terrorist organizations now place people and products in those same pipelines, as I described recently in a paper for the NEFA Foundation.

While criminal organizations are driven by economic considerations, often kill those who stand in their way and challenge the authorities of states in numerous ways, they have not traditionally had, as an objective, the destruction of the West, the toppling of governments and the imposition of a government claiming divine legitimacy.

Yet these criminal groups now provide the infrastructure on which radical political groups (FARC etc.), governments (Iran, North Korea, Venezueal etc.) and radical, expansionist religious groups (al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas etc.) can build.

That is the true difference between our time and the time when the Council stopped meeting. States can-and often but not always do-ultimately meet the challenges of transnational criminal organizations.

But the pipelines that they develop and constantly shift can be used by terrorists who are not interested in money, but in maximizing the number of people they can kill. And that is a whole new world.
An Interesting Pairing at a Conference
Cigarettes and the Criminal-Terrorist Nexus
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