Remarks by David T. Johnson
Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Good afternoon. I want to thank Dr. Robert Satloff for his invitation to speak to you today.
It is a pleasure to be here with this distinguished group, and to contribute to the Washington Institute series on
these important issues. I would also like to applaud the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence for
advancing our understanding of the links between crime and terrorism and the risks those links can pose to
America’s national security interests.
Dangerous Alliances in the Crime-Terror Continuum
While our discussion today will focus on Middle Eastern terrorist groups’ links to criminal activity, it is
important to bear in mind that the threat of terror and the origins of terrorist groups spans beyond any single
region. Moreover, terrorist groups’ links to criminal activity is not a new phenomenon. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, for
example, groups like the Red Army Faction, the Red Brigades and the domestic Symbionese Liberation Army
financed violent terrorism with violent crimes like bank robbery.
In recent years, many of these groups have focused almost exclusively on using narcotics as a means to finance
their activities. As the international community clamped down on state-sponsored terrorism and pressured
governments from financially supporting terrorist organizations, many groups resorted to drug trafficking and
other illicit activities as sources of revenue. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 19 of the 44
groups that the U.S. Government has designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) participate in the
illegal drug trade, and many also engage in financial and other forms of crime.
Today, we look at organizations as diverse as Hizballah, Al Qaeda, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC), the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (Sri Lanka), all of which engage or have engaged in criminal activities as a vehicle to finance their terrorist
(or violent political) activities.
In places like West Africa, we now see how increased drug flows from Latin America, kidnappings, and other
crimes produce opportunities for criminal groups that might sympathize with Al Qaeda to tap into the wealth
generated by narcotics trafficking and other illicit activities to fund their operations. Last month, for example, US
prosecutors in the Southern District of New York charged three men who claimed to be Al Qaeda associates with
conspiracy to smuggle cocaine through Africa. In Afghanistan, we have long known that among the Taliban’s
funding sources were informal taxes on heroin traffickers. Two years ago, U.S. and Colombian investigators were
able to dismantle an international cocaine-smuggling and money-laundering gang that funneled some of its
profits to Hizballah, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. In the Horn of Africa, we are seeing illicit
routes established by criminal groups to smuggle immigrants, arms, narcotics and other contraband, and know
these illicit activities will create opportunities for terrorist groups to exploit.
We also remain concerned about the crime-terror links in an increasing number of ungoverned or insufficiently
governed spaces, such as Yemen and the Sahel belt, where insecurity and other destabilizing factors provide
opportunities for illicit networks to thrive and find safe haven—and [act] as possible staging platforms to project
their terror campaigns abroad. For example, in the tri-border area, along the loosely controlled region that borders
Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, individuals with apparent connections to radical Islamic groups have been active
in drug trafficking, money laundering, intellectual property rights piracy, alien smuggling and arms trafficking.
These are very serious issues, but you may ask why these issues are becoming national security priorities for the
United States now.
Threats to U.S. National Security
Violent criminal and terrorist networks threaten the security, economic health and social fabric of all nations.
These transnational threat networks imperil public trust and core democratic and market values, especially in the
midst of the most serious global economic and financial crisis in decades. Criminal entrepreneurs who smuggle
billions of dollars of illegal goods across borders—drugs, arms, humans, natural resources and endangered wildlife
parts, counterfeit medicines and pirated software, as well as embezzled public funds—create insecurity, cost our
economies jobs and tax revenue, endanger the welfare and safety of our families and communities, and overwhelm
law enforcement countermeasures. Similarly, terrorist groups create great insecurity by the acts of cowardice and
the killing of thousands of innocent people to advance their political and ideological objectives. They do not
respect traditional borders or nation-states, and they exploit ungoverned and under-governed areas as places for
safe haven, as places to rest, to recruit, to train, and to plan their operations. In many places, these networks
become the de facto government.
Corruption, Crime, and Terrorism: The Unholy Trinity
Poor governance and corrupt officials in many parts of the world enable criminals, insurgents, and terrorists to
operate with impunity. Criminal syndicates have long supported terrorist groups—for both ideological and
economic reasons—by facilitating their trans-border movements [and] weapons smuggling and providing forged
documents. At the same time, terrorist groups also resort to organized crime to finance their activities, including
through drug dealing.
Such terrorist-criminal cooperation is of particular concern, especially because some of these criminal syndicates
have the organizational and financial wherewithal that could potentially allow them to acquire and sell radioactive
materials, chemical and biological weapons, or technologies used for weapons of mass destruction. This financial
strength makes it much more difficult for governments to shut off the spigot used to finance terrorism, at least
through traditional means that focus on deterring exploitation of the formal banking system. As terrorist groups
move toward mimicking the tactics of organized crime, our international response will need to incorporate more
creative law enforcement tools that go well beyond effective regulation of financial transactions.
The question is frequently raised as to why criminals would want to assist terrorist groups. While it is possible
that criminals may not want the extra attention from states’ national security institutions that will come from
associating with terrorists, some may nevertheless find the financial temptation too great. Others may not care
with whom they conspire, as long as they are paid for the increased risk of detection they assume when
cooperating with known terrorist groups. For example, reports indicate that some charge extra for dealing with
certain nationalities and others more for “special services.” And some criminals may have no idea who their clients
really are. These people are undoubtedly clever, but they may nevertheless be more greedy than smart.
A convergence of crime and corruption can also pave the road for terrorist organizations to finance their terror, as
was the case in Bali, Madrid and Mumbai. In particular, terrorist financiers are not only concealing their
financing assets through complex transactions in the formal banking system, but also harnessing centuries-old
money laundering tactics. They exploit informal value transfer mechanisms such as hawala or hundi and tradebased
money laundering, and use illegal cash couriers as bulk cash smugglers, particularly in countries with
nonexistent or weak anti–money laundering enforcement practices.
Winning the Peace: Smart Power and International Cooperation
So what is the U.S. Department of State doing to combat these transnational threat networks? The State
Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), which I lead, is responsible
for international counter- narcotics and counter-crime issues. We lead diplomatic efforts to raise awareness of the
destabilizing impact of transnational organized crime and illicit activities, and we strengthen global efforts to
combat these threats, including through enhanced law enforcement cooperation, where organized crime and
terrorism intersect. We are enhancing international cooperation to dismantle criminal networks and combat the
threats that they pose—not only through law enforcement efforts, but also by building up governance capacity,
supporting committed reformers, and strengthening the ability of citizens to monitor public functions and hold
leaders accountable for providing safety, effective public services, and efficient use of public resources.
In the Middle East and other parts of the world, the United States is working with partner governments to
develop effective, democratic, civilian-led and skilled law enforcement and justice sector institutions. Hamas and
Hizballah continue to finance their terrorist activities mostly through the state sponsors of terrorism, Iran and
Syria, and through various fundraising networks in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. The funds
channeled to these organizations frequently pass through major international financial capitals such as Dubai,
Bahrain, Hong Kong, Zurich, London, or New York. Hizballah also continues to profit from the drug trafficking
groups in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.
In response, the United States is helping to strengthen the anti–money laundering and counter–terrorist
finance programs of partner countries that aim to detect, disrupt, and dismantle these illicit activities. In
Palestine and Gaza, besides being responsible for hundreds of rocket, mortar, and small arms attacks into Israel,
Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza engaged in tunneling activity, and smuggle weapons, cash, and other
contraband into the Gaza. In the West Bank, the United States helps to support the PA security forces (PASF) to
establish law and order and fight terrorist cells by helping to build capacity to administer criminal justice
institutions. The United States has also helped train thousands of Palestinian security forces at Jordan’s
International Police Training Center (JIPTC), who can then be deployed by the Palestinian Authority to
protect peace and stability in the West Bank. In Lebanon, a place I visited last week, we are partnering with the
Lebanese Government, and specifically with its Ministry of Interior, in an initiative to train the next generation
of Internal Security Forces officers. Our objective is clear: to support the development of professional institutions
under the Ministry of Interior which can provide security and vital services to the Lebanese people.
In Iraq, criminal insurgencies have profited from the illicit trade of siphoned oil. The United States is working to
target and dismantle these illicit networks as part of our broader counter-insurgency effort. We continue to
support reconstruction and stabilization by helping to develop an Iraqi criminal justice system that is sufficiently
fair and effective that the Iraqi people have confidence in that system and turn to it rather than extra-judicial
groups and militias to resolve disputes and seek justice. We also support rule of law programs that focus on judicial
security, capacity building for judges, prosecutors, investigators, and court administrators, and integration of the
various components of the justice system. We are also working with Iraq on legislation to reform their criminal
codes, and continue to support the FBI-led Major Crimes Task Force.
In Afghanistan, where we have long focused on combating narcotics trafficking and the revenue stream that
creates for the Taliban, we are also working with our military colleagues to develop criminal justice institutions by
giving Afghans the necessary training, equipment, infrastructure, institutional capacity and organizational
structure to provide the rule of law and combat crime.
In Yemen, we recently completed a judicial and law enforcement assessment. Based on that, we aim to undertake
targeted assistance to the Government of Yemen to strengthen its capacity to control the movement of people
and goods through and across Yemen’s borders.
In West Africa, over the next three years, INL aims to strengthen criminal justice institutions such as the police,
prosecutors and the courts to successfully investigate, prosecute and incarcerate transnational criminals, networks
and organizations. Right now, we are considering how best to support Kenya and other partner nations in the
Horn of Africa to prosecute and incarcerate those apprehended for piracy. At the same time, though, we and others
at the State Department are focused on the longer term solution to the piracy question—political stability,
restoring the rule of law, and supporting economic opportunity in the Horn of Africa.
In Indonesia, INL has worked closely and successfully with the National Police for many years, and our
investment is paying off. The first Police units that responded to the July 2009 attacks on the Marriot and Ritz-
Carlton Hotels in Jakarta were trained through INL programs. The unit that ultimately brought down the
mastermind behind those bombings, Noordin Top, was also trained and worked closely with us for many years.
Noordin had ties to Jemaah Islamiyah as well as to Al Qaeda.
The United States is also committed to working with others to strengthen law enforcement cooperation in
combating transnational threats, including dismantling illicit networks and prosecuting high-level corrupt
officials, to disrupt the convergence of various threat networks. On numerous occasions, President Barack Obama
and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have highlighted the threat of high-level corruption, and we are working
to strengthen the tools we have to combat and deter corruption and to use those tools more effectively.
International legal and political cooperation is essential to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish serious
crimes as well as to break up terrorist networks, to eliminate safe havens, and to disrupt those activities that
support terrorist organizations. Our efforts are aimed not only at the murderous acts terrorists perpetrate, but
also their funding, their travel, their communications, their recruitment, and their intelligence and information
With our international partners, we encourage others to implement the United Nations Convention against
Transnational Organized Crime (and its Protocols) and the United Nations Convention against Corruption
(UNCAC). These international instruments, built on the foundation of the three United Nations counter-drug
conventions, create a broad legal framework for mutual legal assistance, extradition and law enforcement
cooperation. Additionally, the United States supports implementation of UN Security Council (UNSC)
Resolution 1373, and other UNSC resolutions and UN legal instruments, to combat terrorism.
Dynamic Threat Mitigation: Fighting Networks with Networks
Beyond the United Nations, my colleagues and I in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement
Affairs also work through the G-8, the European Union, INTERPOL, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)
and its regional sub-groups, APEC as well as other regional forums. Through these groups, we set international
counter-drug and anti-crime standards, take steps that close off safe havens to criminal and terrorist groups, pool
skills and resources, and improve cross-border cooperation. For example, at last year’s G-8 summit in L'Aquila,
Italy, leaders expressed concern about the converging threats of terrorism, drugs and organized crime, and agreed
to strengthen international cooperation and capacities to prevent international criminal networks, kleptocrats
and terrorists from corrupting public institutions to advance their goals. Additionally, the United States is
working with INTERPOL and other multilateral partners to strengthen inter-regional law enforcement efforts
to combat transnational threats in a coordinated manner across the Pacific and Atlantic.
As the world witnessed this past Christmas day when a terrorist attempted to blow up a commercial airliner, Al
Qaeda remains keen to harm Americans and others around the world. Our enemies will continue to use all
available means to sustain their agenda. As already noted, in places in Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, West Africa,
Somalia, and Yemen, illicit networks, trafficking in everything from weapons to drugs, are making it easier for Al
Qaeda and other terrorist groups to fund their campaigns. As a recently captured Taliban underscored: “Whether
it is by opium or by shooting, this is our common goal [to harm all infidels as part of jihad].”
Faced with these challenges, we must continue to take more effective steps to understand our adversaries and to
strengthen our capabilities to deter, disrupt and dismantle transnational threat networks, not only at the end of
their efforts, when they carry out acts of violence, but at every step along the way.
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