Narcoterrorism, Transnational Crime and the Global War on Terror


Terrorism is often defined as violence which is perpetrated to attain social, religious or political goals.

In this context, narcoterrorism is violence generated by illegal drug organizations to coerce and extort governments to effect policy changes that would generally facilitate and benefit criminal enterprises involved in illicit drug production and trafficking,

In the Global War on Terror, narcoterrorism has expanded beyond the violent pursuit of profiteering from the drug trade. Transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups have formed partnerships utilizing the illegal drug trade as a common bond to achieve their very different objectives and goals.

Narcoterrorism has a definite role for terrorist organizations that may seem almost altruistic as they claim to act as “freedom fighters” or an avenging force, rather than profiteers or outright criminals.

These groups are composed of subversive factions that are understood to have social, political or even radical religious goals, such as the Colombian revolutionary terrorist group FARC, the Peruvian Shining Path, Asian terror groups, and, of course, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Hezbollah, the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Boko Haram are also well known participants and are embedded in the illicit drug trade.

For  terrorist organizations and , narcoterrorism is a means to an end by becoming embroiled in the illicit drug trade to fund their activities as a primary goal.

In general, the vast of the public knows much more about jihadi terrorism than they do about narcoterrorism. People feel a greater immediacy of connection to the idea of hostages being taken or suicide bombers than they do revolutionary violence that is funded by cocaine or heroin trafficking.

While the illicit drug economy does not inherently advance terrorist operations, per se, it assists in fortifying their physical capabilities and expanding terrorist networks and alliances.

In most part, terrorist organizations benefit from the drug trade through financial profits, political capital and regional instability. Most definitely, this poses a threat to both domestic and international security.

Profits gleaned from drug related activities could conceivably fund elaborate terrorist attacks, utilizing conventional or non-conventional (CBRNE) weapons.

The phrase and concept of “narcoterrorism” gained initial acceptance by the law enforcement and intelligence communities around 1983.  Narcoterrorism is often attributed to Peru’s president Belaunde Terry to describe violence perpetrated by cocaine traffickers against law enforcement authorities, who alleged that the Maoist rebel group, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) had commonalities with the illicit drug trade.

The notorious drug kingpin known as “El Chapo” Guzman utilized terrorist tactics to eliminate adversaries but also to change the political and social climate regarding the illicit drug trade.

The demand for illegal narcotics has led to the development of vast and intricate networks dedicated to drug trafficking, as well as the proliferation of narcoterrorism in various areas of the world such as Central and South America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

The illegal drug trade has created an atmosphere of ultraviolent competition, avarice and greed to achieve maximum financial profits for cartel empires and other organized criminal organizations.

These organizations, such as the Mexican and Colombian cartels, have been able to gain sophisticated caches of weaponry and equipment, build quasi- or paramilitary capabilities and influence both law enforcement efforts and political structure by intimidation and extreme violence, including assassination of law enforcement officials, judicial officials and political figures.

Transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups continue to use common tactics such as hostage -taking, extortion, assassination and providing protection to drug lords.  Like a perverse symbiotic relationship, both categories feed off of one another to realize their nefarious objectives.

Ultraviolence ranging from the use of automatic weapons to high yield explosive devices continue to be used by cartels and other organized criminal entities to eliminate both competitors and officials at all levels who dare to engage in counter narcotics operations.

The vicious cycle of violence affects entire communities and results in the tragic death of countless innocents, such as the families of officials and by-standers.

The economics and logistics of illegal drug trafficking has also led to the funding of international and state-sponsored terrorism and serves to thwart and destabilize governments from Afghanistan to Thailand.

For example, Afghanistan is a major source of opium, and has produced as much as seventy percent of the world’s opium, which is converted to heroin.

Historically, the Taliban benefited from the drug trade by imposing taxation, as well as by being intrinsically involved in trafficking operations.

Multi-source intelligence received from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revealed that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda had been involved in the financing and facilitation of heroin-trafficking operations, and in turn, many global terrorism activities have been funded by proceeds from the drug trade.

While poppy cultivation and drug production may have been curtailed in Afghanistan by banning these activities, there still remains large areas still being cultivated that can yield tons of opium that can be converted into heroin.

In Colombia, terrorist organizations such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC); the National Liberation Army (ELN); and the paramilitary organization known as United Self-Defenses of Colombia (AUC) have been heavily involved in drug trafficking with the proceeds going to funding political violence and terrorist activities.

The US State Department has opined that the group FARC is one of most dangerous international terrorist organization in the Western Hemisphere.

Generally speaking, we know that these terrorist and guerilla groups are intimately embedded in cocaine production and trafficking in Colombia.

In May 2014, Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, a Romanian arms dealer took a call from an individual claiming to be a member of the anti-American guerilla terrorist organization, FARC.  The caller stated that FARC wanted to purchase a cache of new weapons.

Three months later, at a meeting in Bucharest, Georgescu let one of three FARC contacts present to peruse catalogs containing photos and specifications for rocket-propelled grenades and various assault style weapons. The guerillas had stated that they wished to down several US aircraft, including helicopters sent in as US assistance to the Colombian government.

In December 2014, Georgescu and two other arms traffickers were promptly arrested in Montenegro The arrest was made after an undercover sting operation concealed as a potential arms deal and an investigation by the DEA.

Due to the FARC’s strong anti-American stance and its ubiquitous global presence as a significant terrorist threat, sending US undercover operatives is not unusual and has been particularly successful in interdicting criminal activities connected to terrorist operations.

The FARC organization is heavily engaged in the production and trafficking of cocaine for its own nefarious purposes.

In West Africa, drug trafficking undermines regional development, and stability, while financing dangerous terrorist operatives and criminal enterprises.  The West African drug transit route is exploited by Latin America cartels working in conjunction with regional smuggling networks and terrorist organizations that pose a direct security threat to the international community.

The ties between Hezbollah and the Mexican drug cartels are also posing a serious threat to US national security with serious trans-border implications.

This article is intended to present a general overview of the connections between transnational criminal organizations, illicit drug trafficking and terrorism in all its forms.

The fact remains that transnational criminal entities and illicit drug trafficking contribute to terrorism in source, transit and consumer countries. These alliances between criminal enterprises and terrorist organizations present a serious threat to global security.

In addition to providing cash flow, Illicit drug production and trafficking support and facilitate terrorism by providing a common infrastructure, such as smuggling capabilities, illicit arms acquisition, money laundering, and the production of false identification and forged documents, capable of serving both transnational criminal organizations involved in illicit drug production and trafficking and terrorist factions.

Transnational criminal and illicit drug activities also support terrorism by generating corruption in law enforcement, military, and other governmental and civil institutions and weakening counter narcotics and counterterrorism efforts.

The future is full of opportunities for transnational criminal entities and terrorist organizations to collaborate and further degrade the quality of life in nation-states around the world, especially through illicit drug trafficking and other related activities often associated with illicit drug production and trafficking.

We must continue to break the bonds and to take advantage of the opportunities to increase illicit drug interdiction activities and continually be vigilant regarding the collaboration of transnational criminal entities and the terrorist organizations that threaten global security and peace.

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Frank G. Rando possesses over 30 years of real world experience as a public safety professional,clinician, educator ,emergency and crisis manager ,author and consultant in the areas of tactical ,disaster and operational medicine, weapons and tactics, law enforcement /criminal investigations ,counterterrorism, hazardous materials management and emergency response ,toxicology, environmental safety and health,and health care and public health emergency management .