News: NDU book addresses emerging networks that combine criminal, terrorist activity
By Michael Norris, Pentagram Assistant Editor
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - A book launch was held at National Defense University’s Lincoln Hall May 15 for “Convergence: Illicit Networks and National Security in the Age of Globalization,” a compilation of articles dealing with the linkage of national and international criminal and terrorist networks that threaten the stability of countries and alliances. The book, published by the university’s imprimatur NDU Press, is edited by Michael Miklaucic and Jacqueline Brewer, who work for NDU’s Center for Complex Operations under the Institute for National Strategic Studies. The book includes 14 chapters by 18 different authors, three of whom were at the book launch participating in a panel discussion.
The event kicked off with introductory remarks by Kenneth LaPlante, acting director of the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies. LaPlante cited the growing confluence of political violence, drug trafficking and computer hacking, and said he hoped the book “will encourage future analysis to promote security and prosperity around the world.”
Miklaucic described the origins of his book, explaining how “information, people and goods can travel more freely than ever before,” which while having many positive benefits, poses “an existential security threat” by helping to strengthen “transnational illicit networks” that are engaged in laundering money, human trafficking, narcotics and terrorism.
Miklaucic next introduced the event’s keynote speaker, Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, the commander of U.S. European Command and NATO supreme allied commander. He described the admiral as an innovator, motivator, serious thinker and agent of change.
Stavridis, who wrote the preface to “Convergence,” talked about the intermingling of groups with ideological agendas with those whose main goal is to make money, and how the two have merged in the last several decades. He cited the Taliban in Afghanistan and how it has used drug smuggling to finance its political agenda.
“Weapons, cash and narcotics move along the same transnational routes,” he said.
Stavridis said these illicit networks have become very resourceful and innovative in pursuing their goals, citing crudely-made cannons designed to shoot bundles of cocaine across international borders.
The leaders of these networks “wake up every day and ask, ‘How can I innovate?’” the admiral said. “We’ve got to match that. We have to think harder and faster.”
Stavridis espoused international cooperation in defeating some networks. He explained how the U.S., Russia, China, India and Iran came together with the U.N., the European Union and Combined Maritime Forces to adopt policies that combat piracy on the high seas.
“Show me another endeavor which brings together all these nations,” he said.
However, confronting illicit organizations will require more than just international diplomacy, Stavridis said. “We will need hard power. Soft power by itself is no power.”
“We want to bring together a stream of intellectual thought that can improve 21st century security,” he emphasized.
The book launch concluded with a panel discussion by “Convergence” contributors William F. Wechsler, deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism; Douglas Farah, a former Washington Post reporter and senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center and adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Celina B. Realuyo, assistant professor of National Security Affairs at the Center for Hemispheric Studies.
Alluding to a portrait of the pirate Barbarosa that Stavridis displayed on a screen during his presentation, Wechsler explained how piracy drove the birth of the Navy. At one time, he said, “Ten percent of the U.S. budget went to paying tribute to pirates.”
Wechsler discussed how criminal networks and terrorist networks borrow tactics from one another, explaining how Mexico’s Zetas drug cartel used to try and operate under the radar before eventually expanding to kidnappings, video torture and cutting the heads off its victims – something it picked up from terrorist elements in the Middle East.
Wechsler said the connection goes both ways. He referenced how the Iranian Quds Force tried to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. in 2011 using elements of a Mexican drug cartel to carry it out.
This sharing of tactics isn’t entirely new, he said, reminding the audience that a stagecoach robbery in the Republic of Georgia was meant to support the actions of Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin in 1907.
“Criminal infrastructure is just too useful to the terrorist organization,” Wechsler said.
Farah, who covered Latin America and portions of Africa when he was a reporter, spoke about the overlapping networks of terrorist and criminal activity, at one point focusing on Liberia and how the trade in uncut diamonds helped finance the insurgency of former president Charles Taylor, who was later convicted of war crimes.
Taylor didn’t know how to leverage uncut diamonds into acquiring weapons, Farah said, until he developed links to criminal networks.
Government corruption also plays a part in empowering criminal and terrorist networks, Farah said. “Criminalized states can offer genuine passports that allow undetected travel,” he said.
“We have to look at the big picture but also at the granular level … and ask who is the fixer,” Farah said. “It’s not unknowable, but we’re not that good at knowing it.”
“We need the legal framework that empowers governments to pursue criminal networks. We need to develop and integrate technology,” said Realuyo. She said the private sector needed to be integrated into the fight against criminal and terrorist networks, explaining how many of those being extorted are in the private sector. “We have to find out how to engage them.”