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

Blood from Stones

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What is Missing in the Terrorist Threat Assessment
In recent days two high-level assessments of the threats facing the United States have come out, and both are striking for their stark omissions of the same central theme: the criminal/terrorist nexus that is driving so much of what we see around the world.

The first assessment is the Annual Threat Assessment presented by Dennis Cl Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, presented as Congressional testimony.

The second is FBI Director Robert Mueller to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Both are interesting reading, and is heartening to see the Horn of Africa move far up the priority scale in both discussions. The DNI report also focuses some passing (but more than any other public statement) attention on Latin America, particularly Venezuela.

Director Mueller correctly states that: The world in which we live has changed markedly in recent years, from the integration of global markets and the ease of international travel to the rise and the reach of the Internet. But our perception of the world—and our place in it—also has changed...The universe of crime and terrorism stretches out infinitely before us, and we, too, are working to find what we believe to be out there, but cannot always see.

What has changed less, it seems, is the ability to integrate into out thinking and assessments changes as they occur. The paradigm shift in terrorist financing from states and large donors to crime and quasi-state institutions is a clear trend that is accelerating.

While the Taliban use of drug money is mentioned in the DNI statement, and there is a passing reference to the FARC's drug revenue, organized crime receives a small, separate section in the report, and no overlap with terrorist activity is noted.

Given the shared information that likely shaped both presentations, it seems the conventional thinking in the intelligence and law enforcement communities (with the notable exception of the DEA) is that organized criminal groups and terrorist groups remain separate entities, with little overlap.

The objective reality is that this is no longer true. The Taliban, FARC, AQIM, Hezbollah, HAMAS, ETA and others all rely on significant organized crime ties to survive.

Hezbollah has perfected the ability to work with established networks of Lebanese diaspora entrepreneurs, legal and not, to collect funds totaling tens-if not hundreds-of millions of dollars a year. (see the West Africa diamond trade and Tri-Border region) AQIM participates in and collects taxes on cigarette smuggling and human trafficking. Etc. Etc.

These activities are not tangential to the terrorist operations, but fundamental. That is why the failure to grasp this nexus is so important. If the mutually-beneficial ties are not understood, tackling the threat will be impossible.
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