United States: Transnational Crime is a Top Security Threat

Published: 08 November 2012


Transnational crime will be one of the five most significant threats to American and global security over the next decade, according to Obama administration intelligence forecasts and the U.S. military.  It joins a chilling list which also includes biological weapons, nuclear weapons, cyber warfare and climate change.

Two primary issues concern American military personnel in the arena of transnational crime, as reported by National Defense magazine.

The first is the limited capacity of military forces to combat criminal groups. It’s difficult for the U.S. to take their eyes off state level actors to fight “non-state, non-standard” actors, National Defense reports.

“Our national defense focus and clearly the focus of our Special Operations Command has got to equally be on high-end threats and state competitors of the future,” said Garry Reid, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations.

Though U.S. forces have primarily concerned themselves with the Middle East and Afghanistan, power vacuums throughout Africa and Asia present equally fertile ground for the emergence of new criminal and terrorist organizations.

The second primary concern, according to Arnaud de Borchgrave in a report for the Transnational Threats Project, is the increasing convergence of organized crime and “ideologically-motivated networks.”

“[It’s] fostering a new generation of hybrid threats,” Borchgrave wrote.

Al-Qaida and similar groups will continue to leverage political instability in countries like Libya and Mali.  Reid said that “bandits and kidnappers” have set up shop and that kidnapping for ransom to fund terrorist activities is a relatively new, and extremely lucrative, form of criminality.

“Tens of millions of millions of dollars go into their treasure chests,” he said.

The solutions to these challenges aren’t clear-cut, but military officials acknowledge that the presence of special force operatives in remote parts of the world will be necessary.  These officials say cooperation with state governments and regional enforcement agencies will be the most effective tool.

Simply handing over the U.S. military’s complicated vehicles and surveillance systems won’t be enough, according to National Defense, which stated: “Once criminal activity is detected, the host nation must have the will and training to curtail it.”

The United States faces other dangers much closer to home. The United States is the world’s primary market for illicit drugs, and enforcement agencies are only able to confiscate roughly one-third of what flows in to the U.S., according to estimates.

General Douglas Fraser told defense reporters earlier this year that in Central and South America (where an estimated 1.2-1.5 million of illegal drugs are produced each year) countering crime is a lot like in Asia and Africa: Technology is effective, but it can only go so far.

“It’s best done through direct cooperation with regional allies and old-fashioned word-of-mouth intelligence gathering,” he said.