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Column 091712 Crime-Terror

Monday, September 17, 2012

Criminals, Gangs and Terror Networks Interact in the Americas

By Jerry Brewer

Evidence continues to indicate that transnational organized crime within Latin America is converging with terrorists. Many worldwide terrorist organization's primary sources of funding are now believed to be traditional crime. Furthermore, the U.S. government's list of terrorist organizations shows that nearly half of the 41 groups listed "have ties to organized narcotics trafficking syndicates."

And, since September 11, 2001, counterterrorism officials have focused on finding al Qaeda operatives inside the U.S., as well as homegrown radicalized Islamist extremists.

There is an error in perspective in many preemptive measures directed against terrorists and their criminal counterparts.  International terrorism and extremism, especially when motivated and inspired by radicalized Islamists, becomes an integrated perspective to the criminal and insurgent.  Criminals generally are the targets of police organizations, thus they face police strategies, tactics, and police organizational methods.

As the motley associations of villains, misery and destruction merge in many transparent venues, an overlap of motivation becomes necessary to achieve some common goals.  The manner in which these criminals, including political and ideological fanatics, morph and mix within the insurgencies is hard to disguise in anything other than death, violence and other extremist behavior.  This is how they must be interdicted.

When we speak of the motivating factors within these diverse elements, the common ingredients are the ability to finance their operational acts, and the armaments to enforce and elicit voluntary compliance or inflict their own verdicts of death.  Narcotraffickers and associated criminal elements have come to see the "terrorist" label as somewhat of a glamorization process. This, much like many U.S. inner city gangs that relate to the gangster and mafia movie mystique.

One significant difference from the terrorist is in being driven by diffuse anger rather than specific anger. However, the anger factor is a non-mitigating issue in a quest for attaining access to the strength of other networks in the form of weapons, manpower, money laundering, and tactical expertise.

Examples of this terrorist and criminal insurgent bonding for material gain are crime notorious regions such as the tri-border area of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, and the blood-diamond conflict zones in Africa such as Sierra Leone and Liberia.  These areas in which criminals and terrorists work side by side, and extend needed cooperation.  Resources drive the individual goal achievement, such as the Afghanistan poppy trade in financing the Taliban.

The potential to totally destabilize a hemisphere is not farfetched.  Weak economies, scarce resources, and inadequate training and indoctrination for police to interdict this enemy, without military involvement, are realities to be faced.

Mexico is a reminder that its enforcement methods were not prepared for such an onslaught, as authorities were forced to utilize the power of the military in the face of superior weapons, intimidation and internal corruption, made possible by the massive wealth and power of drug lords and other organized criminals.

Regardless of how one chooses to characterize the turmoil and inhumanity, the process has been a slow, methodical and organized global insurgency of violent revolutionary ideology.  The progressive expansion of terror and extremism throughout the hemisphere, to the borders of the U.S., are more than simply fear campaigns.  The guerrilla tactics, sophisticated weaponry, unpredictable attacks, technical expertise and organization of these insurgents have been for a myriad of interests.

It is critically important to understand and to look to the evidence of the bigger picture and associated tentacles of the nexus of terror.  This is not all motivated by the narcotics trade.  The total elimination of illicit narcotics by product or via legalization would do nothing to a terror campaign's ideology that other crime revenue sources could not replace.

In Latin America, criminal street gangs are elements that have evolved as not only tools of the narcotics trade, but also as merchants of crime du jour.  Too, many of these gang members, as well as many former military conscript soldiers have been recruited throughout the Americas for their particular expertise.

In the world terrorist's equation, it is a good marriage to exploit their ideology of intense ethnic hatred, anger and revenge towards those that work valiantly to interdict them.  Especially when the land mass is contiguous to the U.S., and resources are scarce to prevent their strategic and progressive movements.  Transnational criminal groups and terrorist networks have an ironic need for each other.

Safety and security in the Americas necessitates sound intelligence infrastructures to conduct better threat assessments and anticipate attacks on sovereignty by terror elements, rogue state security services, and  others looking to disrupt free governments.  Revolutionary style terror must be met strategically, swiftly and jointly.

More specifically, with regards to the U.S., according to House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, "Hezbollah operatives are here (in the U.S.).  The question is whether these Hezbollah operatives have the capacity to carry out attacks on the homeland, and how quickly they can become fully operational."


Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at

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