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Countering Linkages between Terrorist and Criminal Networks. James J.F. Forest Director of Terrorism Studies. T he C ombating T errorism C enter . A t w est p oint. EAPC/PfP Workshop on Threat Convergence, Zurich, 5 March 2007.

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countering linkages between terrorist and criminal networks
Countering Linkages between Terrorist and Criminal Networks

James J.F. Forest

Director of Terrorism Studies

The CombatingTerrorismCenter

Atwest point

EAPC/PfP Workshop on Threat Convergence, Zurich, 5 March 2007


The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

networked organizations
Networked Organizations
  • “Living, breathing organisms” with no state/geographical boundaries
  • Distributed cellular architecture can insulate and protect the core
  • Can concentrate resources when necessary (‘swarming’)
  • Becoming preferred method of communication, coordination, cooperation & collaboration
    • Political Activists
    • Organized Crime
    • Terrorists
    • Academic Researchers
trust is critical
Trust is critical

“To work well, networks require strong shared beliefs, a collective vision, some original basis for trust, and excellent communications”

- Brian Jenkins, 2006

In human networks, trust is established by various social mechanisms and shared beliefs

Anyone can plug into the network if they use the proper protocols (the “trusted handshake”), usually enabled by previously established network credentials

trust is critical1
Trust is critical
  • Examples of the “trusted handshake”
    • Political, ideology, political activist goals
    • Presidential candidate supporters,
    • Environmental issues, animal rights, other special issues
    • Shared academic/scientific knowledge base
    • Mutual friends/acquaintances who vouch for you w/their life
    • Family ties, clan, tribe, etc.
    • Religion (doctrinal knowledge, credentials, etc.)
    • Battlefield veteran status (Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq)
    • Shared experiences (prison, battlefield, oppression)
  • Some individuals have a very high level of "betweeness centrality" – these are critical knowledge brokers connecting different types of members (e.g., veterans & new recruits; scholars & mujahideen)
cross border linkages
Cross-Border linkages

We have seen an increase in the establishment of linkages between terrorist and criminal networks, creatingHybrid Networks

  • Why?
    • Need for new funding sources, money laundering services, specialized skills, etc. (especially when state sponsorship, charity funds are constrained)
  • Upon what grounds are these linkages established?
    • Mission-specific, temporary, transaction-specific vs. long-term linkages (examples include smuggling, kidnapping, trading drugs for weapons)
  • Money is a centrifugal force; because they both need it, this force brings them together
cross border linkages1
Cross-Border linkages
  • “Trusted handshake” of Hybrid Networks established by
    • Ethnic ties, often within a diaspora (e.g., Algerians in France, Spain; Pakistanis in UK; Tamils in Canada; Turks in Germany)
    • Record of successful black market transactions
    • Shared prison experiences
    • Shared anti-government sentiment
    • Mutual friends/acquaintances who vouch for you w/their life
    • Family ties, clan, tribe, etc.
  • Where are criminals and terrorists most likely to meet? Where do we see increasing chances of forming “trusted handshakes”?
    • Prisons
    • Black market transaction centers
    • Ethnic enclaves related to a diaspora
enabling environments
Enabling environments
  • Environmental issues that enable or facilitate network linkages:
    • Conflict zones (& former conflict zones flush with weapons)
    • Low level of rule of law
    • High level of corruption
    • Weak civil society
    • Zones of competing governance/ungoverned spaces
    • Ethnic enclave/diaspora neighborhoods
    • Areas of deep ethnic fissures, animosity towards a “them”
    • Regions of financial/economic desperation forces alignments
    • Poorly equipped, underpaid border guards
    • Authoritarian, statist regimes that overly control economy
    • Lack of transparency in private and public sector finance
  • Any organization involved in clandestine activities faces similar challenges in terms of operational security
    • Includes ferreting out spies within the organization
  • Must maintain a level of security that facilitates conducting meaningful transactions of information and finance
  • Secure long-distance communication is time consuming and expensive
  • Constant fear of intelligence agencies, law enforcement
technology and opsec
Technology and OPSEC

Technology enables organizations to become more “networked”

Constraining their technological capacity forces more face-to-face interaction

More frequent face-to-face interaction can increase a clandestine network’s vulnerabilities

- technology, eavesdropping

- human intelligence, spies



Organizational Tightness

agency theory
Agency Theory
  • A network’s members have different preferences, based on personal experiences, perceptions, etc.
  • Preference divergenceimpacts the level of trust/expectations of shared effort toward common goal
  • Preference divergence can make it harder for a network’s principals to maintain:
    • Tactical control
    • Transaction integrity
    • Strategic authority
  • These challenges are exacerbated by Hybrid Networks
tactical control
Tactical Control
  • Cellular structures complicate C2
  • Political and ideological leaders—the principals—must delegate certain duties to middlemen or low-level operatives, their agents.
  • But because of the need to maintain operational secrecy, terrorist group leaders cannot perfectly monitor what their agents are doing.
  • Thus, preference divergence creates operational challenges which can be exploited to degrade a terrorist group’s capabilities.



Operational Security

tactical control1
Tactical Control
  • Preference divergence over controlled use of violence
    • Terrorists cannot afford too alienate the center of gravity, or risk losing support
    • Must reign in overzealous members, prevent low-ranking members from initiating their own attacks against strategically high-value targets
    • Difficulties in resolving chains of command
  • Preference divergence over who needs what kinds of situational awareness
  • Preference divergence over what should be done to maintain security
  • Increased potential for fratricide (AAS-AQI)



Operational Security

transaction integrity
Transaction Integrity
  • Networked organizations need to support financial transactions, movement of assets, weapons, people
  • Strength of any network is based on the level of its integrity for conducting transactions (communication, financial, etc.); reliability and trust of a network are critical
  • Expectations of money to support operations will be made available in a timely fashion
  • Expectations that individual recipients will do the correct things with those funds


Operational Security

transaction integrity1
Transaction Integrity
  • OPSEC Challenges: Transaction integrity requires additional layer of “trusted handshakes”
  • Problem: Limited or no accountability
    • Because of operational security needs, a clandestine organization cannot offer much transparency regarding its finances
    • This allows considerable latitude for abuse, corruption
    • Particularly challenging for Hybrid Networks, where suspicion is already natural


Operational Security

strategic authority
Strategic authority

Strategic Authority/Leadership Preference Divergence

Within all networks, there are forces which influence how the nodes operate. For example:

if Mafia, certain family leaders/patrons . . .

if Jihadis, certain influential scholars . . .

Preference divergence over “who’s in charge”

Internal dissension within the network’s leadership

Strategic disagreements within network lead some members to subvert the authority of senior commanders

Principals must combat perceptions of strategic drift, disconnections between rhetoric and actions

network vulnerabilities
Network vulnerabilities

Summary of clandestine network vulnerabilities:

  • Understanding a networked organization’s internal challenges and vulnerabilities is key to developing effective strategies to combat the threats they pose and degrade these groups’ capability to function
  • Networked organizations require trusted relationships in order to support information and financial transactions
    • Distrust can be easier to establish than trust
  • Preference divergence creates challenges for networked organizations that can be exploited
  • These challenges are particularly acute for Hybrid Networks
combating hybrid networks
Combating Hybrid networks
  • Hybrid networks require a higher level of trust in order to maintain operational security
  • Most criminal network operatives have difficulty trusting terrorists because of differences in objectives, rationality for violence, values, motivations, etc.
  • Religious terrorists have a particularly difficult time justifying a connection with organized crime, because of differences in objectives, rationality for violence, values, motivations, etc.
  • How to exacerbate these problems to sow distrust and discord between them?
combating hybrid networks1
Combating hybrid networks

Create greater preference divergence, exploit OPSEC vulnerabilities, degrade network capabilities

Linkages between criminal and terror organizations exacerbates trust, agency theory problems

Magnify the differences and distrust among network components and individuals

Exploit network vulnerabilities and produce a constant state of disruption and uncertainty – degrade its ability to function effectively

exacerbate tactical control challenges
Exacerbate tactical control challenges
  • Exacerbate Tactical Control challenges - Force leaders to consider punitive actions against agents/operatives
  • Exploit preference divergence over controlled use of violence
      • Terrorists cannot afford to alienate the center of gravity, or risk losing support
      • The members of the criminal network(s) have different views on the use of violence
  • Make information management more difficult; degrade the C2 network channels with noise, static
  • Flood the network nodes with requests for info/requests for clarification of intent, strategy, etc. Goal: overwhelm the decision-makers from within
exacerbate transaction integrity challenges
Exacerbate transaction integrity challenges

Because of operational security needs, a clandestine organization cannot offer much transparency regarding its finances

  • This allows considerable latitude for abuse, corruption
  • Use their need for secrecy against them

Get money to disappear with no reason

Have conspicuous consumption items (big screen TV) appear in place of the missing money

Spread rumors of preferential treatment, special benefits given to certain members of the network unfairly

Publish articles on “lavish lifestyles of AQ leaders” focusing on KSM and his playboy antics; al Fadl stealing money in Kenya; the Montreal cell and its money mismanagement, etc. Paint a portrait of these guys as anything but humble, pious, devout Muslims or competent financial decision makers.

exacerbate transaction integrity challenges1
Exacerbate transaction integrity challenges

Slow the transfer of funds, assets from one node to another; cause unexplained transaction delays

Encourage internal looting (or perception of looting)

Promote suspicion, rumors, mistrust

Publicize accounts of financial mismanagement, corruption, misappropriation, fund diversion

Encourage suspicion that donations, funds will not necessarily be used as donor intended (e.g., to pay drug couriers, prostitutes, murderers of schoolchildren, etc.)

Force leaders to consider punitive actions against agents/operatives

Overall goal: degrade the integrity within financial networks; make asset management more difficult

exacerbate strategy authority challenges
Exacerbate strategy authority challenges
  • Identify the most influential members within each network; who is trusted most? Whose word carries most weight, and why?
  • Identify and exploit rivalries within each network and between networks
    • - Disagreements already exist in these networks
    • - How to exacerbate them, make them more acrimonious?
    • - Encourage debate; force them to defend their ideas
    • - Ideology vs. profit motivation differences lead to legitimacy questions
  • Raise questions about strategic coherence, leadership competency, direction
  • Highlight personal agendas of those who are “in charge”
  • Highlight disconnect between rhetoric and actions – especially when an ideologically-driven group is involved in narcotics, extortion (e.g., UDF)
  • Publicize CT successes and the network’s tactical failures; spread rumors of incompetence, strategic drift, lack of tactical control
final thoughts
Final thoughts
  • Refrain from actions that encourage preference alignment between terrorist and criminal networks
  • Intelligence on what drives the formation of links between terror groups and criminal networks helps us identify potential undercover/covert operations
  • Increase personal insecurity of members, recruits
  • Increase their concern about network infiltration, forcing them to spend more time on screening new members
  • Information warfare: influencing “street perception” of an organization is a powerful component of an overall counterterrorism strategy
  • Get FTOs and TCOs to contest each other over monopoly of violence
  • Provide incentives for members to quit (“exit” and “voice”)