Global Organized Crime

The Emergence of Global Organized Crime and its Transnational Influence


The Globalization of Crime

In strategy, sophistication, and reach the criminal organizations of the late twentieth century function like transnational corporations and make the gangs of the past look like mom-and-pop operations....Today's transnational criminal cartels use high-speed modems and encrypted faxes. They buy jet airplanes three or four at a time and even have stealth-like submersibles in their armadas...By its nature, crime adapts fast to changing circumstance. Unencumbered by scruple or law, criminals and criminal organizations are quick to identify new sources of profit to be had through the use of violence, deceit, or both.(9)
(Senator John Kerry, former Chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations)

Criminal organizations, increasingly involved in activities that tend to cross national borders, have evolved into transnational entities. With the globalization of trade and consumer demand, it was a natural progression for organized crime groups to move from national activity to transnational operations.(10) What is now evident is that they are organized for and engage in large scale criminal activity across international boundaries.


Features of Transnational Crime

With criminal organizations are now operating in a cross-border capacity, the tendency is for groups to have a home base in an area where the risks are low while allowing the international transfer of illicit goods and services to markets where the profits are high. Acting transnationally provides the groups with access to lucrative markets and points of vulnerability that they can infiltrate. These groups are bigger and much more profitable than traditional groups and it is common for criminal organizations to channel the profits that they make through the global financial system, using tax havens and relatively unregulated banking centers as a means to hide their illegal income.

Organized crime on a global basis takes the form of an unregulated enterprise that engages in many forms of illegal activity. Through transnational activities, organized crime groups have become major players in illicit industries, such as drug production and trafficking, that are global in scope and yield profits higher than the gross national products of some nations.

International criminal networks also provide flexibility to adapt quickly and creatively to law enforcement efforts.(11) These groups are able to successfully avoid localized law enforcement efforts through operations that take place in the international arena and cross national boundaries at will. The diversification of operations and location provides a means to more effectively adapt to changing situations in one country while exploiting gaps in international law enforcement cooperation.


Transnational Links

The global networks of organized crime provide mobility, an effective communications infrastructure, and international connections for criminal enterprise.(12) These structures have been essential for enabling criminal groups to create whole new "markets" for goods and services, as the introduction of crack to the U.S. in the 1980's demonstrated. Further, the international character of organized crime has produced links from one group to another. For example, the Colombian cocaine cartels have established relationships with Italian mafia groups, opening up new market areas in Europe for illegal narcotics distribution.

The transnational links -- criminal groups international connections with other, transnational, non-state actors -- have become an emerging characteristic of organized crime. The international criminal organizations operate vast transnational business empires and have begun to establish links not only to other similar groups, but to insurgents and terrorists. Additionally, there is a growing ability of international criminal groups to threaten the stability of states, to undermine democratic institutions, to hinder economic development, and to undermine alliance relationships.(13)


International Organized Crime Groups

There are multiple numbers of international organized crime groups spread across the globe. The groups vary in their skills and specializations while operating in different geographical domains and product areas. They use a variety of techniques and mechanisms for circumventing legal restrictions and avoiding law enforcement. Transnational criminal organizations also differ in the scope of their activities and the structure of their organization. Five major groups are identified in this web site: the Italian Mafia, the Colombian and Mexican Cartels, the Russian Mafiya, the Asian Triads, and the Nigerian Criminal Enterprises.


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