An analyst may begin by asking this question in another way; “Why would terrorist organizations and illicit actors not work together? Our approach to assessing this type of relationship depends not entirely on the nature of what a terrorist organization or illicit network is, by definition, but also on the methodologies these entities and actors employ and where they operate in order to achieve their objectives. Transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups may not be linked strongly by ideological purpose in all cases; however, both such actors and their networks rely on a hierarchy of needs including two main “resources”: people and money.
Countering the nexus of terrorist and criminal activity demands the robust capability to identify and penetrate emerging and established networks in order to de-link the chains that service exploitation streams for participating organizations and affiliate units.
Criminal organizations exploit production, shipment, and distribution cycles to generate profit and expand geographic operation, commonly known as trafficking of drugs, weapons, and persons, while utilizing manipulative methods such as gambling, theft and resale, and extortion. For example, the trafficking of persons from the Balkans, Southeast Asia, and Africa provides a disproportionate amount of people who are enslaved to prostitution and indentured servitude around the world.
Transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) concentrate on high-value crimes in order to produce the most profit in the least amount of time. For example, piracy in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, a failed state with limited (or no) functional government, extorts millions year-to-year despite operating in the area where international warships have been tasked to prevent it.
Terrorist groups, specifically Al Qaeda and the Taliban, have continued to utilize criminal methodologies to advance their network activity while operating in de-centralized fashion, often smuggling items throughout Europe and Russia. Moreover, as just experienced in the United States, the Department of Justice (DoJ) revealed that they had foiled a plot to assassinate the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the U.S., a plot planned and financed by officials of the Iranian Regime’s Quds Force.
Monitoring the nexus of terrorist and criminal activity remains a priority as alliances between terrorist and criminal networks continue to grow or evolve. The possibility of fusing state-based terror with violent methods of criminals could lead to unexpected attacks, thus re-defining our understanding of who these organizations are and how they operate in order to achieve their objectives.