Jim Kouri
Fighting global crime and terrorism
By Jim Kouri
April 3, 2009

While meeting with world leaders during G-20 in London this week, it's a safe bet that President Barack Obama did not discuss international organized crime and global terrorism. However, President Obama will someday regret his failure to address what are obvious national security concerns.

The end of the Cold War meant a significant change in the nature of the foreign threats to US security. The principal worry of most Americans is no longer a devastating military offensive from abroad, but rather more insidious assaults which hit closer to home, threatening lives and property and creating a climate of fear.

The 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, in addition to thwarted attacks against other targets in New York City demonstrated that terrorist acts are no longer risks that Americans confront only abroad. The use of chemical agents in the attack on the Tokyo subway heightened the concern that similar attacks could occur here.

International drug cartels continue to pump enormous quantities of cocaine and heroin into the United States, destroying countless lives, raising public health costs, and contributing to a large percentage of the criminal acts committed in this country.

The breakup of the former Soviet Union and increased efforts by other countries to obtain weapons of mass destruction and related technologies have resulted in greatly increased trafficking in illicit materials, leading many Americans to worry more now about the possibility of a nuclear explosion than during the Cold War.

Most of these threats to our security stem from foreign groups whose activities are not limited by governmental or national boundaries. Some operate with the support or tolerance of a government; others do not. Some are organized groups with far-flung operations; others are independent actors.

International terrorism, narcotics trafficking, trafficking in weapons of mass destruction, and international organized crime are sometimes called "nontraditional" or "transnational" threats. Recognizing the vagueness of these labels, however, the intelligence and law enforcement communities have chosen to refer to these activities as "global crime." In using the term "global crime," it's widely recognize that not all such activities constitute violations of US criminal laws. Nor is it implied that they should be treated only as law enforcement matters. In fact, the opposite is true.

Intelligence and police officials believe that global crime will pose increasing dangers to the American people in the years ahead as its perpetrators grow more sophisticated and take advantage of new technologies. These threats also affect US interests in other ways, for example, by undermining the stability of friendly governments or even requiring the commitment of US military forces.

Recognizing the increasingly menacing nature of these threats, the President of the United States has issued separate directives specifically identifying international terrorism, narcotics trafficking, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and international organized crime as threats to national security, and creating separate interagency working groups under the auspices of the National Security Council to share information with regard to them.

A growing number of US departments and agencies now have responsibility for combating global crime. The Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Administration have historically been the lead agencies in US efforts to protect our citizens against transnational wrongdoers, but the Departments of State and Defense, as well as the intelligence community, have been given increasingly larger roles.

While each of these agencies' roles is important, their overlapping responsibilities have led to conflicts in mission and methods. These conflicts have been most visible between the intelligence and law enforcement communities — where disagreements came to a head in the early 1990s over several large-scale investigations — but they are not unique to them. In the view of many police commanders, these petty squabbles between agencies seriously undermine the country's ability to combat global crime in an effective manner and must be ended.

The departments and agencies have taken a number of substantial actions in the years following 9-11 to work out their differences. However, some experts believe the US government has relied too heavily on law enforcement as the primary response to international wrongdoers, to the detriment of other possible actions. In the words of one expert, a former Attorney General, "when the law enforcement juggernaut gets going, everyone else gets out of the way."

Law enforcement can be an extremely powerful weapon against terrorism, drug trafficking, and other global criminal activity. But it may not be the most appropriate response in all circumstances. Often the perpetrators have sought sanctuary in other countries and cannot be brought to trial. Compiling proof beyond a reasonable doubt-the standard in criminal cases may be even more difficult with respect to global crime. Diplomatic, economic, military, or intelligence measures, in many cases, can offer advantages over a strict law enforcement response, or can be undertaken concurrently with law enforcement.

Sources: US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Drug Enforcement Administration, National Security Institute, National Association of Chiefs of Police

© Jim Kouri


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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)


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