Tags: war | drugs | organized | global | crime | Wechsler

Defense Official: War on Drugs Shifts to Global Crime Networks

Tuesday, 01 May 2012 08:47 AM

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense William F. Wechsler represents the tip of the spear in the nation’s newest battle to degrade global criminal networks that do far more mischief than traffic drugs. He is ready to tell the world the United States is winning — thanks to a new strategy.

The military’s war on drugs has evolved since its heyday in the 1980s into a war against organized crime — a much more complex and slippery adversary than the cabal of drug kingpins that were the hallmark targets of the former mission.

According to Wechsler, drug trafficking organizations diversified their activities, triggering the U.S. military to play a game of rapid catch-up.

“Taking advantage of open borders, rapid increases in the volume and speed of global trade, and the dissemination of technology tools, criminal organizations that once dealt almost exclusively in narcotics began trafficking in small arms and light weapons, people, counterfeit goods, and money — while continuing to ship vast quantities of drugs along an expanding set of transportation routes,” Wechsler explains in a key address to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Furthermore, criminal organizations recognized the additional profits and operational flexibility that a broader range of trafficking activities could provide.

“What once predominately entailed moving illegal goods across borders via shadow networks that paralleled the global economy extended to the penetration of the licit global marketplace, infiltration of multinational companies, and gaining stakes in, and influence over, strategic markets,” the defense official adds.

Then there is the fundamental change in the structure of the enemy criminal groups from centralized organizations to highly adaptable networks that are decentralized. There are still leaders, but they are leaders of networks, not leaders of hierarchies.

Bottom line, says Wechsler: The modern transnational criminal organizations became more flexible and agile than the Geographic Combatant Commands charged with degrading them. The military response: Hustle through new policy approaches that are networked, whole-of-government, and adaptable.

Perhaps the best example of the forged links among transnational organized crime, terrorism, and insurgency is the Taliban in Afghanistan, says the defense official.

Taliban fighters continue to receive a large percentage of their revenue from the heroin trade.

“Criminal networks perpetuate the insurgency, facilitate the deaths of American, allied, and Afghan soldiers on the battlefield, and undermine the legitimacy and capacity of the Afghan government. Drug money corrupts government officials, alienating the population and creating political space for the Taliban to fill,” Wechsler says.

In Afghanistan, the Haqqani criminal network is afoot, providing the materials and financial and logistical support for improvised explosive devices, which are among the most significant threats to U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.

Another example of the crime-terror-insurgency nexus is Hizballah, which has discovered that illicit activities provide a critical avenue for raising the necessary capital to sustain their destabilizing activities. Indeed, Hizballah has become a drug trafficking and money laundering organization, as well as a terrorist group. It has even established a business-as-usual presence in the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.

“Looking to the future,” says Wechsler, “it will be vital to enhance what is becoming very strong collaboration that exists among law enforcement, the military, and intelligence if we expect to have long-term strategic success in disrupting and degrading transnational criminal networks and the links among crime, terrorism, and insurgency.

“A phrase I often repeat is that to defeat a network, we have to organize as a network,” Wechsler instructs.

He uses Colombia as an example of the success of this approach:

“On the verge of being consumed by a drug-fueled insurgency in the late 1990s, Colombia has rolled back the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [FARC] insurgency to the periphery of the state and is now an exporter of security in the Western Hemisphere.

“Our comprehensive approach of harmonizing law enforcement, military, intelligence, and diplomatic support was a key driver of this outcome — though it would not have been possible without the will and dedication of Colombia's people and leaders. The lesson is that success is achievable, even in situations that many may perceive as hopeless,” says Wechsler.

The critical lesson, he says, is that if the United States treats entities such as Hizballah and the Taliban as criminal businesses, we discover new ways to undermine and degrade their operations. Like any business, these organizations have weak points in their networks that, if attacked, can cause disproportionate damage to the enterprise overall.

“Exposing them as criminals who deal in drugs and undermine the economy has the potential to substantially undercut popular support. Moreover, it is also often easier to convince our allies around the world to take action against individuals and entities that are involved in criminal activity, rather than simply alleging that they are part of a terrorist organization.”

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Tuesday, 01 May 2012 08:47 AM
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