Bovenkerk - Terrorism and organized crime

Topics: Terrorism, Organized crime, Federal Bureau of Investigation Pages: 15 (5133 words) Published: December 3, 2013

by Frank Bovenkerk1 and Bashir Abou Chakra2


Analyses on Organized Crime and Terrorism have for a long time been conducted by different research communities. Only in the 1980s, when illicit drug production and trafficking were found to finance terrorist campaigns, a first beginning was made to look at both phenomena simultaneously. However, the nature of the relationship has been a matter of controversy. While some authors see close links and even convergence, others are more sceptical, pointing to the fact that a relatively small sample of groups are constantly referred to, with little in-depth investigation. The authors hold that painstaking empirical research should be the arbiter of the controversy. For this purpose, they formulate ten key questions which such research should explore to settle the issue.

Organized crime and terrorism are usually viewed as two different forms of crime. Organized crime is generally held to focus mainly on economic profit and on acquiring as much of an illegal market share as possible, while terrorism is said to be motivated chiefly by ideological aims and by a desire for political change. The word ‘terrorism’ is not even mentioned once in Abadinsky’s handbook (1990) on Organized Crime, while in his influential study Political Terrorism, P. Wilkinson (1974: 33) wrote, “We shall exclude from our typology criminal terrorism which can be defined as the systematic use of acts of terror for objectives of private material gain”. As a result of this distinction between organized crime and terrorism, two separate bodies of criminology literature have emerged. Research into each is funded by different programmes, and information about each is taught in different courses. Whatever is discovered by crime investigation specialists who scrutinize both phenomena tends to be kept confidential and their knowledge and insights are not widely shared.

A Hypothesis of Convergence

In the last two decades, suggestions have been made that there might be some links between the two phenomena. This began with the discovery of narco-terrorism in the 1980s when it was found that drug trafficking was also used to advance the political objectives of certain governments and terrorist organizations. Terrorists are happy to seize any opportunity to call what they are doing “political”, wrote R. Ehrenfeld, while drug traffickers were always seen as purely criminal. “When the two combine, terrorist organizations derive benefits from the drug trade with no loss of status, and drug traffickers who have forged an alliance with terrorists become more formidable and gain in political clout” (Ehrenfeld, 1990:xix). This notion has now been adopted by various authors. “Although they are distinct phenomena that should not be confused,” A.P. Schmid (1996: 40) wrote in an influential first article on this new phenomenon, “there are links” and “there is some common ground”.

In recent books on both of these phenomena, references are also made to other forms of crime. In Organized Crime, M. Lyman and G. Potter (1977: 307) devoted a special chapter to terrorism and noted that “political agendas and profit motivation may be concurrent variables in many acts of terrorism”. In The New Terrorism, W. Laqueur (1999: 211) wrote an entire chapter about the cooperation between the two because “in some cases a symbiosis between terrorism and organized crime has occurred that did not exist before”.

On 28 September 2001, less than three weeks after the dramatic events of September 11 in New York and Washington, the Security Council of the United Nations adopted a wide-ranging anti-terrorism resolution (SC res. 1373) in which it “notes with concern the close connection between international terrorism and transnational organized crime, illicit drugs, money-laundering, illegal arms-trafficking, and illegal movement of nuclear, chemical, biological and other potentially deadly...

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