David M. Luna
Director for Anticrime Programs, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
George Mason University, School of Public Policy
Arlington, VA
May 4, 2009

An Emerging Global Agenda for Combating Transnational Threats and Dismantling Threat Networks: Securing Peace, Safeguarding Integrity, and Promoting Democracy

Lecture Series: Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption

Thank you Dr. Louise Shelley for that warm introduction.

First, let me also applaud George Mason University's Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) for its leadership in advancing and understanding of the threats posed by terrorists, transnational criminal organizations, kleptocrats, and other illicit actors. Also allow me to applaud Dr. Shelley’s pioneering research over the years on pressing national security challenges, including transnational threat networks and offering constructive roadmaps for addressing these challenges.

I also want to thank you for the invitation to be here this afternoon to discuss and engage on this important subject matter at GMU with a dynamic group of students who are not only inquisitive about national security issues but who may one day advance the public interest in making our world safer and more secure.

Navigating Today’s Geo-Security Risks and Vulnerabilities

On March 12, 2009, President Barack Obama in remarks at the National Defense University (NDU) discussed many of the challenges facing the country and international community alike - from terrorism to violent extremism to the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), from organized crime and cybersecurity to human security issues such as pandemic disease, social conflict and poverty. At NDU, President Obama underscored a need "to develop the capacities that we need to confront emerging danger and to act with purpose and pragmatism to turn this moment of peril into one of promise”. The President further said, “That is how we will find new pathways to peace and security.”

The President’s message is relevant beyond just his immediate audience at NDU, or even the broader national security community. Given the complex world that we live in today, we need all segments of our society working together developing the “new approaches and new capabilities” and security footprints against the threats and challenges we are confronting globally.

Today, I would like to focus on the threats we face from transnational illicit networks and outline some of the steps the USG is taking to address these challenges. Especially in the midst of the most severe global recession since the 1930s, interlinked illicit threats not only undermine the integrity of vital governmental institutions meant to protect peace and security, but cost economies tax revenue and jobs, and promote a culture of impunity.

In already weakly governed countries, criminal groups and illicit power structures can subvert the remaining vestiges of law enforcement and security and help fuel widespread insecurity, chaos, and lawlessness. In particular, in many of today’s “hot spots” and emerging failing states, transnational illicit actors such as organized criminal organizations, terrorist groups, criminal insurgencies and enterprising kleptocrats will capitalize on the political and economic turmoil to amass wealth and create safe havens and monopolies of ungoverned spaces.

Fragile states struggling to maintain the rule of law or provide basic services for their populations can be breeding grounds for corruption; they can be magnets for crime and terrorism; they can be hubs for trafficking in people, drugs, and weapons; and they can export violence far beyond their borders. Such spiraling chaos further exacerbates the ability of the international community to confront some of the threats to human security such as, for example, extreme poverty, pandemic diseases, and climate change.

As national coffers are plundered, law enforcement institutions are infiltrated and subverted, the resulting state capture by illicit power structures destabilizes a country and stymies efforts for poverty eradication, economic and sustainable development, and security.

Regional insecurity respects no borders and its spillover effects ripple across many regions. We are under a threat from a growing wave of crime and transnational illicit activities that, if not contained, has the potential to destroy our cities and subvert governments. For example, drug cartels that have long been a key security threat in the Western Hemisphere, are now brazenly expanding their illicit operations beyond traditional areas and sectors of operation. Multi-ton shipments of cocaine from Latin America now flow through West Africa as a transit/staging area for moving the product to Europe and Asia and other regions. In Europe, we are seeing synergies among various Eurasian mafias and criminal syndicates from Africa and from other regions that if left unmitigated, will continue to harm the collective interests of governments committed to democracy and the rule of law.

Of equal concern are the illicit nodes where criminal syndicates are active in supporting terrorist groups by facilitating their clandestine trans-border movements, weapons smuggling, and forging of documents.

Similarly, in the crime-terror nexus, terrorist groups appear to be resorting to organized criminal activity as a means of self-financing. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 19 of the 44 groups that the U.S. Government has designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) participate in the illegal drug trade and many also engage in financial and other forms of crime. Besides drug trafficking, these activities include direct involvement in arms smuggling, commodity smuggling, goods smuggling, migrant smuggling, trafficking in persons, extortion, kidnapping, intellectual property theft, counterfeiting, fraud, credit theft, armed robbery, and money laundering. As terrorist groups begin to increasingly take on characteristics of organized crime entities, our international response will need to incorporate more of the tools used by law enforcement to combat organized crime.

Furthermore, transnational criminals are pioneering increasingly sophisticated criminal operations. Among the most prevalent today include cyber crime, identity theft, financial fraud, on-line gambling (money laundering), and intellectual property rights (IPR) piracy. Cyber and financial crimes are becoming more prevalent throughout the world as criminals have become more computer-savvy, capitalizing on the absence of regulation and law enforcement entities’ failure to adapt to apparent “digital safe havens” and expanding through recruitment of young “techies” into their criminal organizations.

In recent months, we have also witnessed the security ramifications of criminal piracy in the Horn of Africa and issues related to ungoverned spaces. Maritime piracy is a crime under international law which places the lives of seafarers in jeopardy and affects the shared economic interest of all nations. Through the United Nations, the international community is speaking with one voice that it will not tolerate a haven where pirates can act with impunity and is working together to repress piracy off the Horn of Africa, and in other parts of the world. Without international cooperation and coordination to repress piracy fully, long-term actions to establish governance, rule of law, security, and economic development in Somalia and the Horn of Africa become more difficult. Without concerted action ensuring security and stability in the region and preventing a terrorist sanctuary and illicit safe haven, these threats could potentially extend beyond these shores and have a destabilizing spillover effect.

Finally, increasing terrorist-criminal ventures are also of particular concern to the international community, especially because some of these criminal syndicates may facilitate for terrorists the acquisition of radioactive materials, chemical and biological weapons, or technologies used for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

Smart Power: Transnational Threats Require Global Responses and Partnerships

"With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy." --Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton

The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), which is responsible for international counter narcotics and counter crime issues, leads diplomatic efforts to raise awareness of the destabilizing impact of transnational organized criminal activities to the community of nations and to strengthen global efforts to combat these threats. We are enhancing international cooperation to dismantle criminal networks and combat the threats that they pose -- not only through law enforcement efforts, but also by building up governance capacity, supporting committed reformers, and strengthening the ability of citizens to monitor public functions and hold leaders accountable for providing safety, effective public services, and efficient use of public resources. We are also coordinating within the government and internationally to employ full spectrum capabilities and dynamic responses to combat the global illicit architecture and pathways that runs across the crime-terror continuum.

United States efforts strengthening cooperation include encouraging other governments to fully implement their international commitments undertaken as parties to the anti-crime conventions. Two of the newest international law tools to combat organize crime threats are: the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (and its Protocols) and the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). These international instruments, built on the foundation of the three United Nations counter-drug conventions, create a broad legal framework for mutual legal assistance, extradition and law enforcement cooperation. In addition, the UNCAC contains unique provisions to facilitate the recovery of stolen assets. Additionally, the United States supports implementation of UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1373, and other UNSC resolutions and UN legal instruments, to combat terrorism.

Strengthening the capacity-building of our government partners enhances our collective capabilities to safeguard critical institutions from corruption, the integrity of our borders from smugglers, our financial system from abuse by terrorist financiers and criminals. It also helps to strengthen our respective legal, regulatory, financial intelligence, law enforcement, and prosecutorial entities to effectively combat crime and terrorism.

Preventing corruption is a key to combating emerging transnational criminal threats. Today, criminals and other illicit actors imperil the functioning and legitimacy of the state when they harness public institutions to facilitate their illicit activities and create a culture of impunity. In the most extreme cases, they subvert and undermine state functions to a point that official institutions become a de facto criminal enterprise. This is particularly problematic when the military, police, border control, and justice system officials align with drug traffickers, gangs, and criminal insurgencies. Government protection of criminal elements can take many forms -- officials may turn a blind eye to a syndicate’s illicit activity, choose not to pursue investigative leads, opt not to enact or enforce certain criminal laws, or ignore the efforts of others to extradite a wanted criminal.

In some cases, officials may actively work for criminal organizations -- supplying them with information or providing other services. In the worst case scenario, a government may effectively cede complete power and authority to a criminal group, allowing them to form their own territories -- criminal states within states -- and power networks. Regardless of the form that government protection takes, it fundamentally provides criminal elements safe haven -- and in today’s globalized society, any safe haven can provide an opportunity for criminal and terrorist groups to project their influence transnationally and undermine our joint security. As criminal syndicates expand globally, these groups’ new trafficking routes share at least one common characteristic: they include stopovers in the world’s most corrupt and politically fragile states. The United States is working with other committed governments to deny safe haven to high-level corrupt government officials and to deny them the fruits of their illicit conduct. Through Presidential Proclamation 7750, the U.S. regularly revokes and denies visas to corrupt foreign public officials and those who corrupt them.

The United States also continues to work and support the creation of a viable civil society where it does not exist and to strengthen the capacity and opportunity of public-private partnerships to combat transnational terrorism, crime and corruption.

Multilaterally, and bilaterally, the United States is working with committed international partners to combat the growing wave of crime and other illicit threats and to employ our diplomatic tools and technical assistance to support our committed partners to disrupt and dismantle transnational threat networks:

  • G-8: On April 23-24, 2009, the Government of Italy, the 2009 G-8 President, hosted a conference in Rome on “Destabilising Factors and Transnational Threats”. Participants discussed how transnational threats -- terrorism, organized crime, nuclear proliferation, corruption -- contribute to domestic and international destabilization and challenges to global security; how these threats required greater synergies and ideas for the G-8 and international community to enhance the security toolbox to preempt and counter transnational threats; and encouraged stronger joint inter-governmental coordination to combat the assets of the criminal and terrorist organizations. G-8 Leaders are expected to discuss these issues at their Summit in L’Aquila Italy in July 2009, and G8 Justice and Home Affairs Ministers will discuss in Rome in May G8 efforts to combat transnational organized crime and the UNTOC.

  • Summit of the Americas: On April 18-19, 2009, at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, President Obama and other hemispheric leaders agreed to fight all forms of transnational organized crime, illicit trafficking in drugs, illicit trafficking in arms, ammunition and explosives, illicit trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, money laundering, corruption, terrorism, kidnapping, criminal gangs, and crimes associated with the use of technology, including cybercrime.

  • NATO: On April 4, 2009, the North Atlantic Council, in Strasbourg (France)/Kehl (Germany) agreed to cooperate on combating the “global threats, such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery and cyber attacks” and to work together on “other challenges such as energy security, climate change, as well as instability emanating from fragile and failed states” which also have a negative impact to the international community.

  • APEC: The United States is working with other APEC economies to implement last year’s Lima commitment to dismantle transnational illicit networks and protect economies against abuse of our financial system by corrupt individuals and organized criminal groups through financial intelligence and law enforcement cooperation related to corrupt payments and illicit financial flows. APEC economies also continue to focus ways to combat terrorism, prevent the proliferation of WMDs, and strengthening international community to combat piracy and armed robbery at sea. The United States is working with other economies in the region to strengthen inter-regional capacities and to develop trans-Pacific cooperation to combat transnational terrorism, crime, illicit finance and corruption and to dismantle threat networks.

  • International Organizations: The United States continues to advance leadership internationally and to strengthen global partnerships to combat transnational threats globally including at the United Nations, the World Bank, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Interpol, ASEAN and numerous regional inter-governmental fora around the world.

  • High-Level Bilateral Meetings: President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton continue to have frank discussions and elevate the importance of combating transnational threats with our counterparts, including recently with Afghanistan, Australia, China, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and others, to strengthen bilateral and international cooperation in areas such as terrorism, organized crime, corruption, and narco-trafficking, and law enforcement.

  • IACC: At the 13th International Anticorruption Conference (IACC) -- a leading international gathering for civil society groups -- which was held in Athens, Greece, in November 2008, civil society organizations called on stronger public-private partnerships and an inter-disciplinary approach for combating transnational crime and corruption and its impact to human security around the world and for promoting a more sustainable future. The United States applauds Transparency International and the IACC Council for advancing public-private partnerships and an international dialogue on the relationship between good governance and transnational security issues and hopes that this important theme advances in Bangkok in 2010 at the next IACC.

Fighting Networks with Networks

Prosecuting the battle against converging threat networks is not an easy endeavor -- we must take the fight directly to these threats, dismantle transnational threat networks, and unravel the illicit financial nodes that sustain a web of criminality and corruption. It will require a constant evaluation of the types of illicit threats that will confront us all in the years to come.

President Obama is committed to a renewal of American leadership, a revitalization of our alliances, and a reinvigoration of international cooperation that is essential to promoting our interests and values in the 21st century. Together, the United States working with our partners, can combat these threats decisively by combining our joint efforts against terrorism, transnational crime and corruption across the international community, developing strong law enforcement and dynamic multi-disciplinary threat mitigation approaches, and enhancing our cooperation through public-private partnerships.

So as you continue your education and career, I encourage you to consider the dimensions of today’s transnational challenges and threats and apply the skills that you have learned during your course studies here to contribute to a better world, where integrity sustains our rule of law institutions, and where peace and democracy triumph over insecurity and chaos.

Thank you.