Saturday, October 24, 2009

Links between Terrorism and Drug Trafficking: A Case of “Narco-terrorism”?

This article explores the nature of links between terrorism and trafficking in illicit narcotic drugs. It discusses some of the empirical evidence on the simultaneous presence of armed conflict, including the terrorist variety, and the cultivation, processing and trafficking of narcotic drugs. While some authors postulate close links - and even convergence - between terrorist groups and organized crime groups, the author of this article is more skeptical about the nature and extent of this connection. He points out both similarities and differences between these two types of organizations and also explores the possible reasons which might tempt - and restrain - groups of one type to establishing connections with groups of a significantly different mindset. He finds that the “in-house” development of organized crime activities by terrorist organizations is a more imminent problem than a close alliance or convergence of organized crime and terrorist organizations. Consequently, he recommends that the Palermo Convention against Transnational Organized Crime be used to prevent terrorist organizations from acquiring the financial resources needed to launch and maintain terrorist campaigns. At the same time he is skeptical about the use of the concept of “narco-terrorism”. Its implication, the fusing of the “war on drugs “and the “war on terror,” might do a disservice to both.


On December 9th 1994, the General Assembly of the United Nations issued a Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism wherein it expressed, inter alia, its concern “at the growing and dangerous links between terrorist groups and drug traffickers and their paramilitary gangs, which have resorted to all types of violence, thus endangering the constitutional order of states and violating basic human rights”.
Since then, much stronger and broader statements have been made, especially in Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) wherein the Council “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 materials.…”
Of all the alleged and real links between terrorism and other forms of crime, the one between illicit drug trafficking and terrorist and guerrilla organizations seems to be the strongest. It certainly appears to be the best documented. Yet, while there are hundreds of terrorist organizations and at least as many drug trafficking organizations, the evidence, which is said to exist, is derived from relatively few cases.
For some thirty countries, a link between armed conflicts and illicit drug production and trafficking can be established with reasonable certainty. Yet according to UN estimates, there are more than 100 countries involved in some way in the illicit drug trade, either in terms of cultivation, processing, trafficking, distribution, or the laundering of illicit profits. While in most countries where drugs are produced, trafficked or consumed there is a causal link to crime, including violent crime, these are not necessarily terrorist crimes. There is often only sparse empirical evidence for some of the frequently cited cases of alleged connections between illicit drugs and terrorism. Even where these links have been established with reasonable certainty, estimates about the profits from drug trade going to terrorists vary widely. Lack of conclusive proof is often compensated by deductive reasoning such as this: with the end of the Cold War state-supported terrorism declined and terrorists had to look for alternative sources of financing and found it, inter alia, in the production, taxing and trafficking of illicit drugs like cannabis, heroine and cocaine.
The crucial question is: are these known and probable linkage cases, as it were, the tip of an iceberg, or are they, on the contrary, the exceptions to the rule that terrorist organizations and drug traffickers do in general, not work together?
Illicit drugs are, to be sure, not the only possible source of income for terrorists. The spectrum of terrorist funding is broad, as Table 2 makes clear.

Table 1: Principal Sources of Terrorist Financing
individual and corporate, voluntary contribution or coercive extortion
Diaspora-migrant communities:
voluntary contribution or coercive extortion
Co-ethnic and co-religious support
donations and contributions from people with religious or ethnic affinity
patron states encouraging terrorist group to engage an inimical state
Public and private donors and individual financiers:
support for terrorist-controlled welfare, social and religious organizations
Low level crime and organized crime:
fraud, illegal production and smuggling of drugs, document forgery, smuggling, kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, money-laundering, racketeering, smuggling of, and trafficking in, human beings
Investments and legitimate business:
money earned (e.g. from publications) is used to acquire enterprises and engage in trade with profits being used to finance terrorism
Non-governmental organizations and community organizations:
terrorist organizations set up front organizations, which receive funds from sister NGOs in other countries or infiltrate established community organizations, which receive grants.


In 1983, the term "narcoterrorism" was introduced by Peruvian President Belaunde Terry. It became very popular in a very short time . Grant Wardlaw, a senior Australian criminologist, wrote a few years later:
"Narcoterrorism has emerged as a potent weapon in the propaganda war waged by governments against terrorists, insurgents, organised crime, drug traffickers, and even other sovereign states (…). Where “narcoterrorism” is used as an analytical concept intended to convey information about the dimensions of an activity and methods of countering it, it must have well defined boundaries and not subsume under the one rubric a variety of activities of different types, involving different sorts of actors and having a range of (sometimes) contradictory law enforcement and national security implications. In fact, these contradictions are violated by most uses of the term “narcoterrorism”.
A look at a dozen existing definitions (see Appendix II) supports the statement above.
Grant Wardlaw even suggested that we should scrap the term “narcoterrorism” in an effort to encourage a more critical and specific study of drug links to terrorist and insurgent groups. This advice is still worth pondering. If one looks at the activities of organized crime groups and terrorist groups in terms of their respective motivations and group goals rather than demonizing them in terms of a drug mafia-cum-terrorist conspiracy, one is in a better position to understand the extent - and the limits - of cooperation between organized crime groups and secular and non-secular terrorist groups.
One author who has utilized such an approach is Chris Dishman. He has argued that transnational organized crime groups (TOCs) and terrorist groups will,in general, not cooperate with each other to advance aims and interests, preferring to utilize their “in-house” capabilities to undertake criminal and political acts. He postulates the adaptation by these groups of each other’s “core competencies” (for example, a transnational organized crime group’s experience in smuggling drugs or a guerrilla group’s expertise in detonating bombs from a distance). He holds that: “The disinterest of TOCs and guerrillas to forge lasting alliances is a pattern supported by the limited number of examples where collaboration between the two groups has actually occurred."
However, sometimes the development of “in-house” capabilities takes more time than is available and in such cases each other’s services are sought. In the case of Colombia, there were reports indicating that cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar hired ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrilleros to plant car bombs in 1993. In another instance, there were reports that the explosion of 1,100 pounds of dynamite in front of the Department of Administrative Security in Bogota was executed by a Spanish terrorist with ties to the Basque ETA.
The cross-over between terrorist and criminal organizations has caused some analysts - and even more politicians - to lump these two types of underworld organizations together. When it comes to the question of whether one should keep terrorism and organized crime conceptually (and operationally) apart or place them together under some label like “narco-terrorism”, a number of considerations arise. A case has been made for both positions. The argument for keeping them apart has been argued forcefully by Alison Jamieson:
“Organised crime and terrorism are correctly viewed as quite distinct phenomena. Essentially, the terrorist is a revolutionary, with clear political objectives involving the overthrow of a government or the status quo, and a set of articulated strategies to achieve them. Organised crime actors are inherently conservative: they tend to resist political upheaval and seek conditions of order and stability, those more conductive to their business activities. Unlike terrorists, who project an ´ideal state´ for which they are prepared to sacrifice their lives, organised crime sees no virtue in sacrifice, has no comparable sense of ´victory´ or ´defeat´, but operates according to a set of short and medium-term goals to be realised with maximum profit and minimum risk. In general, the organised criminal power system is not “anti-state”, but a parallel organisational model with its own legal and ethical rules, hierarchy of authority and military force. (…) Thus, unlike terrorist actors whose raison d´etre is direct confrontation with the state against which they practice violence, the survival of an organised crime group depends upon operating within the state, on the penetration by criminal actors of the legitimate political, economic and social spheres”.
On the other side, there are those who tend to label all armed groups “terrorist groups” and equate all insurgents with criminals. With regard to the second they are right in the sense that under domestic law, an internal uprising against the state is considered a crime by those holding state power and by the law of the land. Only international law gives some insurgent groups the status of privileged combatants. This finds its expression in the additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions formulated in 1977. These should not, however, apply to terrorists since their deliberate attacks on non-combatants should deprive them of combatant status. Were it war, such acts would be war crimes and the fact that these are committed in peacetime makes them even more objectionable. Terrorists and war criminals have much in common. Yet, what are the commonalities between terrorist and organized crime groups?

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