Fact Sheet
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
September 10, 2010

To appreciate the growing impact of transnational organized crime, consider the following recent estimates:

  • The World Health Organization estimates that 10% of the world’s medicine supply is counterfeit—a figure that rises to 30% in the developing world. Beyond the direct harm inflicted on victims, substandard medicine can fuel drug-resistant diseases and threaten global health.

  • One third of all cybercrimes reported by U.S. citizens in 2008 originated from abroad; the United States is also the leading source of stolen credit card numbers advertised on underground criminal websites.

  • Human smuggling networks facilitated the entry of approximately 90 percent of all illegal migrants from Mexico into the United States, earning an estimated $3 billion in profits.

  • At least 12.3 million adults and children are victims of human trafficking through forced labor, bonded labor, and commercial sexual servitude at any given time. Many foreign victims, especially from Thailand, Mexico, Philippines, Haiti, India, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic, are trafficked to the United States.

  • Worldwide, the overall economic impact of counterfeiting and intellectual copyright piracy could top $600 billion, and the annual domestic value of IPR seizures at U.S. borders surged from $93 million in 2005 to $273 million in 2008.

These examples represent the growing impact of transnational crime. The extent of such illegal activity has increased enormously in the wake of globalization. And those involved in it have no respect for, or loyalty to nations, boundaries, or sovereignty.

Certain types of international crime -- terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and contraband smuggling -- involve serious violence and physical harm. Other forms -- fraud, extortion, money laundering, bribery, economic espionage, intellectual property theft, and counterfeiting -- don't require guns to cause major damage. Consequences include the loss of profits, productivity, and jobs for Americans at home, as well as negative public health consequences. Moreover, new categories of cybercrime continue to emerge and expand in both scale and sophistication.

For the United States, international crime poses threats on three broad, interrelated fronts. First, the impact is felt directly on the streets of virtually every community in America. Drugs, migrants, firearms, counterfeit merchandise, child pornography, and other contraband are illegally smuggled into the United States every year, undermining our border security and inflicting harm on society and individuals. Transnational criminal gangs commit crimes affecting the safety and well being of Americans—often collaborating with peers beyond the territory of United States, and vice versa. Few (if any) threats from abroad have a more visible and pervasive impact on the lives of U.S. citizens than transnational crime.

Second, American businesses and financial institutions are more affected than ever before by the impact of transnational organized crime. When international crime infiltrates legitimate commercial sectors, our companies and workers are deprived of a level playing field to compete globally. Markets for U.S. products are diminished, prices are distorted, and consumers are exposed to additional risks from unregulated (and many cases unsafe) products. Counterfeiting and piracy cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars annually, have led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, and expose consumers to dangerous and defective products. Transnational crime is also corrupting international financial institutions necessary for supplying the credit and banking services that our global economy depends upon.

Third, international criminals engage in a variety of activities that pose a grave threat to the national security of the United States and the stability and values of the entire world community. Corruption and the enormous flow of unregulated, crime-generated profits are serious threats to the stability of democratic institutions, the rule of law, and free market economies around the world. Once imbedded within the political institutions of a society, transnational criminal networks weaken the bonds of trust between citizens and their state. Governments corrupted at senior levels by organized crime cannot be trusted to act as reliable partners of the United States or responsible members of the international community. The convergence of crime, corruption, and weak governments can also devolve into failed states and ungoverned spaces that provide a foothold for terrorists.