The Crime-Terror Continuum
The crime-terror continuum allows those professionals monitoring organized crime groups and terrorist groups to track the different actions of them concerning the possibility of groups working together and the possibility of convergence of a certain group. Tamara Makarenko created the continuum for “The Crime-Terror Continuum: Tracing the Interplay between Transnational Organized Crime and Terrorism” in volume 6 of Global Crime released in February of 2004 to explain her beliefs on the connections between organized crime and terrorism. With the transient nature of criminal organizations and terrorist networks, the possible levels of cooperation or convergence between them are simplified by the continuum.
Organized crime is located on the left while terrorism is situated to the right of the continuum. Convergence is located at the center of the continuum as a point where the actions and characteristics of a certain group can be defined as both organized crime and terrorism. Each of the levels on the continuum is labeled with numbers dividing the groups into (1) alliances, (2) operational motivations, (3) convergence, and (4) the ‘black hole’ syndrome.
Alliances are the first level of relationship that exists between organized crime groups and terrorist organizations. At this level the two groups work together in a variety of ways, for different lengths of time, and for diverse reasons. Alliances can be one time only, intermittent, short-term, and long term. Many groups who create alliances are terrorist groups looking for weapons, funding, and other commodities and organized crimes groups working in the illegal drug trade. Some of these relationships are also based on specific services of certain groups needed by another group, such as smuggling operations. Thus many alliances are out of best interest and convenience.
The United States Government reports that yhe Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) trades cocaine with Mexican and Russian criminal groups in return for firearms. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) had a relationship with the Afghan drug mafia and Central Asian criminal groups to guarantee shipments of heroin are safely transported between Afghanistan and Russia through the Caucasus region.
(2) Operational Motivations
Many terrorist groups operate in actions known to be used by organized crime groups to enhance effectiveness. Criminal organizations also use terrorist behaviors when appropriate. Groups don’t work with other groups decide that a change in their structure and organization will better fit them if the group decides they need to operate in new ways. By the group making a change within its organization, they are able to ensure organizational security and operations. In this way they also avoid compatibility issues such as, differences in priorities and strategies, trust, mistakes, and competitors.
Often terrorist groups work in organized crime to accrue large amounts of money to fund future operations. After Cold war, there was a decline in powerful nation states. At that time many terrorist groups were left unfunded causing them to commit lucrative criminal acts to create an income. Inversely, organized crime groups use terror tactics and pick specific targets to preserve their functions rather than public targets for political goals and to attract international audiences when committing terrorist-like acts. Often this can cause organized crime groups and terrorist groups to lose track of their original motivations and goals.
After the Cold War FARC, Basque Homeland and Freedom Movement (ETA), the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and Sendero Luminoso linked to the drug trade along the Balkan Route to fund terrorist attacks. In the 1990’s, the Sicilian Mafia utilized terror tactics to attack the Italian Government’s Antimafia Commission successful efforts to remove its influence. The Mafia bombed historic sites such as the Uffizi Galleries and the Church of St John Lateran, and planed to blow up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to intimidate the Italian Parliament to end anti-mafia legislation.
At the middle of the continuum are organized crime groups and terrorist organizations that exhibit the same characteristics and actions as each other simultaneously. Groups falling at the center of the continuum, at convergence, lose their defining characteristics and do not hold either the same goals or motivations as they originally did. The ‘convergence thesis’ explains that groups can act both in an organized crime manner and in terrorist ways, but they still have the capability to convert back to their original goals and operational techniques at any time. Within convergence there are two ways organized crime and terrorist groups act: criminal groups that display political motivations and terrorist groups that display interests in criminal profits. Organized crime groups sometimes utilize political leverage to attain political control and involvement instead of as a goal to disrupt judicial process and anti-crime legislation. Convergence also includes organized crime groups who gain economic control over a market in a weak nation and inevitably gain political control from their market control. For terrorist groups, convergence can appear when groups become so engaged in criminal activities that their political motivations become a façade. This façade works to occupy government and law enforcement with political issues and can also work as a boost against other criminal groups. It also allows them to recruit new members under political and religious beliefs to commit acts that are truly criminal in nature.
The Albanian Mafia holds Panalbanian ideals, politics, military activities, and terrorism while committing criminal acts to purchase arms and military equipment for the Kosovo Liberation Army. The Mafia uses terrorist draw and criminal draw interchangeably for recruiting members. Former terror organizations that have become primarily involved in criminal activities include Abu Sayyaf, IMU, and FARC.
(4) ‘Black Hole’ Syndrome
The ‘black hole’ syndrome occurs in weak nation states which have the perfect conditions to foster organized crime and terrorist groups in a ‘safe haven’. In these places two different situations arise to cause this: when the motivations of groups fighting in wars change goals from political to criminal and when hybrid groups fully take over a nation state. These two convergence scenarios are very dangerous because they encourage war to secure economic and political power. These civil wars evoked by ‘black hole’ syndrome have evolved from the ideological or religiously motivated wars of the past into criminally motivated wars using terror tactics to achieve power. Terrorist groups at the ‘black hole’ level betray their ideological ideals to gain more power and more money; whereas terrorist groups from the convergence stage lose sight of their original goals because they had to depend on criminal activity for funding for such a long period of time.
The ‘black hole’ syndrome provokes a natural process when political criminal organizations or commercial terrorist groups gain economic and political control as a result of a failed or weakened government and market. These groups gradually take over all processes and functions and become the governing body of the land.
Some current nation states that have showed profitable characteristics for organized crime groups and terrorists and are susceptible to fostering groups at the ‘black hole’ stage are Afghanistan, Angola, Myanmar, North Korea, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Thailand.
Makarenko, T. (2004). The Crime-terror Continuum: Tracing the interplay between transnational organized crime and terrorism. Global Crime 6, 129-145.