Since 2001, violent sub-national groups with disparate ideologies and motivations have been working together to further their objectives. They are collaborating, sharing each other’s tactics, and learning from one another’s successes and failures. To comprehend fully the complex nature of the nexus or convergence of transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs), the research first examines the root causes and contributing factors that have given rise to the nexus.
Mexican transnational criminal organizations (MTCOs) are flourishing both south and north of the United States (U.S.) border with Mexico. They operate with sophisticated business plans that parallel legitimate multi-national corporations. The MTCOs are taking full advantage of globalization, advantages in technology, communication, and logistics. As the MTCOs have grown in wealth, and operational capability, they have also increased their willingness to commit acts of extreme violence in an effort to terrorize, threaten, intimidate, and coerce people in a manner that had previously only been perpetrated by terrorist organizations.
At the same time, many of the traditional terrorism funding methods, such as charitable donations, which were used to fund the 9/11 attacks, came under intense scrutiny from the U.S. government and its allies. Today, it is imperative that FTOs fund their operations in a manner that keeps it below the radar of law enforcement. As a result, many terror groups are now turning to activities that were once considered the sole domain of criminal organizations, such as drug trafficking, money laundering, human trafficking, etc. According to the Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime, the U.S. Department of Justice reports “29 of the 63 organizations on its FY2010 Consolidated Priority Organization Targets list, which includes the most significant international drug trafficking organizations threatening the United States, were associated with terrorist groups.”
At times, the crime-terror nexus has been promoted and facilitated by different nation states. For example, the late Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, promoted what he called, “‘asymmetric war,’ ‘fourth generation war,’ ‘people’s war,’ or ‘super insurgency.’” Chavez also widely distributed copies of Jorge Verstrynge’s book entitled, Peripheral War and the Islamic Revolution, which according to Max Manwaring, has become “one of the most comprehensive and universally read analyses of contemporary revolutionary conflict.” A Spanish Leninist scholar, Verstrynge calls modern conflicts guerra periferica or peripheral war. “Guerra periferica,” as Verstrynge describes it, combines irregular or asymmetrical, unrestricted and total war involving several different methods, with protracted war that recognizes time as a factor in contemporary conflict.
Today, transnational crime is on the rise. MTCOs operate undeterred on all seven continents. Similarly, the U.S. State Department’s list of FTOs continues to grow, with six new organizations added in 2014. If left unchecked, the nexus between these disparate groups will only make their suppression or eradication increasingly more difficult.
This thesis uses a case study approach to examine the history of the nexus between TCOs and FTOs. The three violent sub-national groups selected for the case studies are each engaged in a variety of illicit activities that could be classified as both criminal and terroristic in nature. For these reasons, the three violent sub-national groups pose a significant threat to U.S. homeland security, through their interactions and cooperation with one another. For the purposes of this thesis, the case studies focus on the three violent sub-national groups known as Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the MTCOs. Each of these violent sub–national groups also has a distinct primary area of operation represented in specific geographic areas, which means their various illicit activities have broad implications for U.S. homeland security.
The three case studies suggest the activities of these violent sub-national groups are so protean in nature; they are best described by analysts as falling into the “gray area phenomenon.” The three case studies, the analysis, and conclusion of this thesis support the following recommendations:
- More effort needs to be placed on intelligence collection, especially at the domestic and local levels
- Strategic level decision makers across the U.S. homeland security enterprise should review both versions of the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan, and work collaboratively to implement the recommendations contained in both versions.
- Strategic level decision makers across the U.S. homeland security enterprise should consider working to increase the collaboration and reduce the division between the fields of counterdrug and counterterrorism intelligence to disrupt the crime-terror nexus more effectively.
 Jennifer L. Hesterman, The Terrorist-Criminal Nexus: An Alliance of International Drug Cartels, Organized Crime, and Terror Groups (Boca, FL: Taylor & Francis, 2013), 329.
 United States, Executive Office of the President, United States and President, Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime Addressing Converging Threats to National Security (Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President, 2011).
 Hesterman, The Terrorist-Criminal Nexus: An Alliance of International Drug Cartels, Organized Crime, and Terror Group, 4.
 United States, Executive Office of the President, United States and President, Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime Addressing Converging Threats to National Security.
 The White House, Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime (Washington, DC: The White House, 2011).
 Jon B. Perdue, The War of all the People: The Nexus of Latin American Radicalism and Middle Eastern Terrorism (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2012).
 Max G. Manwaring, The Complexity of Modern Asymmetric Warfare (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012), 5.
 Ibid., 4.
 “Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” accessed October 3, 2015, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/ des/123085.htm.
 Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, rev. and expanded ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 432.