Counter-Terrorism: What the Mafia Taught al Qaeda

Archives

June 3, 2007: How do Islamic terrorists pay for things? By using many of the same techniques employed by organized crime. That, however, has proved to be a major weakness, and is being exploited to hasten the demise of the latest wave of Islamic terrorism. For organized crime, terrorism is just another tool. For example, terrorism is regularly practiced by organized criminal groups. That's how the famous ones, like the mafia, or the Russian or Colombian gangs, make money and maintain discipline. What separates "terrorist organizations" from criminal gangs is ideology and goals. Organized crime groups just want to make money. Islamic terrorists, however, have other goals. In this case, imposing Islam on the entire world. Making money using criminal methods is a means to an end for them, not an end in itself. Keep in mind that terrorist acts are a constant, and most of these actions are carried out by criminals in pursuit of a payday. Political or religious terrorists are using similar terrorism to either attract attention, as a fund raising tool, or a weapon to win concessions from governments.

Historically, it's quite common for terrorist organization, be they motivated by political or religious goals, to gradually turn into largely criminal gangs. That's where the mafia came from. Once a resistance organization (against foreign rulers in Italy), it evolved into a purely criminal outfit, and migrated to the United States, along with millions of law-abiding Italians. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) is of more recent vintage (late 19th century originally, but revived in the 1970s) that gradually turned into a group of criminal gangs that mainly paid lip service to the IRAs political goals (of a united Ireland).

Iraq and Afghanistan are two even more recent examples. Iraq had dozens of major criminal gangs even in Saddam's police state. Once Saddam was overthrown, these gangs largely sided with the Sunni terrorists trying to put Saddam (or some other Sunni dictator) back in charge. In Afghanistan, the pro-Taliban Pushtun tribes around Kandahar turned religion into a cash cow, at least for a few tribes. Getting run out of power took away their cash flow. After a few years in exile across the border, some of the Taliban got funded (partly from one of their old sources, the drug gangs), and were back in business.

What eventually kills all of these criminal organizations is greed. Even the ones with an ideology have members who are more motivated by the money, than the politics, religion or loyalty to their fellow crooks. The use of cash rewards for information, or the capture of key people, eventually brings in more and more useful data. As time goes on, more and more of the terrorists can be turned into double agents. Civilians, caught in the middle of all this, become more desperate, and less afraid, of the terrorists. The useful tips increase, and those parts of the organization most loyal to the ideology, are hurt the most. The more purely criminal branches tend to survive, which is how the surviving mafia organizations can trace their lineage back to 19th century freedom fighters. But in the last two decades, the mafia and IRA have been reduced to much smaller, and less effective, organizations.

In some parts of the world, many people are normally employed in what would be considered, in the West, as criminal enterprises. In Afghanistan, many of the tribes out in the countryside, consider anyone not from their tribe as fair game for robbery, extortion or kidnapping. Thus the Taliban will be around for a long time, although in diminished capacity. Many of the current Taliban leaders are discovering, as did leftist rebels in Colombia, that life's a lot easier if you just ditch the ideology, and concentrate on the drug business.

The police approach to terrorism has worked numerous times in the past few decades. India crushed powerful Sikh separatists in the late 80s and early 90s by concentrating on what were basically police methods of developing informers and double agents and going after the key people and the criminal fund raising activities. At the same time, Egypt was crushing Islamic radicals, using similar techniques. Throughout the 1990s, Algeria fought a vicious Islamic terrorist group, finally reducing their numbers from over 10,000, to less than 500. Same thing with Israels success against Palestinian terrorists who were successful, for a few years after 2000, with suicide bomber attacks inside Israel. The U.S. adopted a lot of the Israeli techniques for intelligence collection and agent development.

The United States has had one major disadvantage; a severe shortage of people who speak the local language. Developing agents in Afghanistan and Iraq thus takes a lot longer, and it's necessary to depend on the local governments, which are incredibly corrupt by U.S. standards. But after a few years, the American advantages in cash, and combat power, become much more potent because of the growing amount of good intel. This can be seen happening over the last two years in Iraq, and in the last year as the Taliban tried to make a comeback.

In the end, if you are successful, you will have a lot fewer ideological terrorists (interested in blowing things up in the United States) and a remnant of criminal gangs interested in Americans as robbery victims, not dead bodies.

 


Article Archive

Counter-Terrorism: Current 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 


X

ad
0
30

Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 30 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close