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Terror, Inc. (Part 2/2)

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The following article is part of a blog burst - a simultaneous and cross-linked posting of many blogs on the same theme. This blog burst commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Munich Olympics Massacre, which began in the dawn hour of September 5th, 1972. Go to The Index of the Munich Massacre Blogburst to find links to all the other articles.
The Munich Massacre in 1972 remains one of terrorism's most durable images from the 1970s. But it was not the first. Or the most extensive (terrorism in Turkey had already pushed that country into full martial law by 1971). Or the most significant.

Indeed, the most significant development for terrorism in the 1970s may be the most unremarked: despite their leftist origins, the terrorist groups that survived and prospered often did so because they became self-sustaining businesses.

Yesterday's post looked at the genesis of this trend, and surveyed the PLO as one if its enduring exemplars. Today we cast our eyes elsewhere. We'll look at what other terrorist organizations are doing to adapt this model to their own needs, and some of the possible implications.

-- Terror, Inc. --

While the Palestinians retain significant state support, the same cannot be said for other terrorist groups. They face the same issues of independence, cash flow, and the need for financial management that the PLO does. Where they differ somewhat is in their income portfolio.

To be sure, the PLO have a well-earned reputation from Lebanon and elsewhere as thieves and bandits. Bank heists were a source of significant income during the Lebanese civil war, including participation in a series of robberies whose total proceeds are a Guinness Book of World Records entry. The British Bank of the Middle East alone lost an estimated $24 million, and total proceeds from the Bank Street heists may have been well over $100 million.

Even so, such proceeds are but one facet of the PLO's income portfolio, and not an especially large facet. The same cannot be said of other organizations.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka are a good example. Developed over more than a decade, their complex, shadowy network mirrors the sophistication of the quasi-governmental structure built by the Tigers in Sri Lanka itself. Drawing on the loyalties and resources of members of a global Tamil diaspora, the network links commercial companies and small businesses, informal banking channels, a fleet of ships, political offices, aid and human rights organizations, arms dealers, and foreign mercenaries. To quote the U.S. Naval Postgraduate school archives:

"The LTTE exploits large Tamil communities in North America, Europe, and Asia to obtain funds and supplies for its fighters in Sri Lanka [JK: that means extortion and "protection" rackets]. Information obtained since the mid-1980s indicates that some Tamil communities in Europe are also involved in narcotics smuggling. Tamils historically have served as drug couriers moving narcotics into Europe."

As Anthony Davis commented in Asiaweek:

"Led by its 41-year-old supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran the Tigers have become far more than a jungle army in an isolated war. "The LTTE functions like a multinational corporation with resources all over the world," notes one former Tamil militant. "Prabhakaran's acumen is as much that of a CEO as of a military commander. He knows whom to use for what."

But the LTTE are small time compared to some of the players out there. Like Britain & Ireland's IRA. Or Colombia's FARC. And therein hangs a tale.

-- Godfathers of Terror: The IRA --

The IRA are one of the few international terrorist organizations whose sophistication rivals the PLO. James Adams ("The Financing of Terror") estimated in 1986 that the IRA required at least $7 million a year to support their activities in Northern Ireland. While "Noraid" funds from the USA provided more than 50% of the IRA's cash in the early 1970s, by 1986 FBI efforts and interceptions of weapons and equipment had brought the total down to only $200,000 - under 3% of the IRA's estimated budget.

The IRA never blinked, making up the shortfall and funding the rest through criminal proceeds. As Gerry Adams noted in 1984:

"We are grateful to the various American organizations that support us, but the fact is that, if all American aid were cut off tomorrow, it would not affect us at all."

What James Adams called "The IRA Mafia" has gone from smuggling operations that took advantage of EU subsidies (and the shady history of the lands 'twixt Carrickmore and Crossmaglen) up to large-scale corporate "protection" and extortion, robberies, building site frauds involving forged tax-exemption certificates, gaming machines, and measures that have most bars and construction sites paying a portion of their proceeds toward one or more Protestant and Catholic paramilitaries.

If all this looks a lot more like Don Corleone than Che Guevara, it is. Nor did the IRA's criminal evolution cease in 1986. The IRA's presence in Colombia is becoming more and more obvious, and the larger dimensions bear scrutiny. When one considers the IRA's modus operandi and sources of cash, the straightforward security implications of this cooperation become less relevant than the financial and criminal aspects.

Here you have an organization that operates as a Mafia, tied closely to another terrorist organization that indirectly controls a substantial amount of the cocaine and heroin production in Colombia. Even as cocaine and heroin use in Europe is increasing, and international criminal alliances involving the Colombian cartels and the Sicilian Mafia allow for efficient laundering of the proceeds in return for a modest 20% cut. Hmmm.

Do you remember the plot thread from The Godfather series in which the Corleones must decide whether or not to deal drugs? It's a matter of simple Darwinism, of course, because the families who become involved will become much richer than those who decline. In a world where money is power and blood feuds are common, no family can realistically refuse to participate.

It is highly probable that the IRA, confronted by "the Corleone choice," has made a similar decision. Throw in the devastating effects of the IRA's recent Castlereagh operation which secured information on most of Britain's informer network... and you have a window several years wide in which the IRA could easily become one of Europe's elite organized crime cartels.

"Baby wipe billionaire" Yasser Arafat may one day look positively mild by comparison. Especially when one considers the IRA's Colombian partners.

-- Godfathers of Terror: Colombia's FARC --

The leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda, has been fighting the state for more than 50 of his 71 years. He founded the FARC in 1964 and since then has built up his guerrilla army from a handful of cousins and friends into a fearsome force of some 18,000 fighters. Today, they control almost 40% of the country.

Until the 1980s FARC's growth was slow, restricted mainly to the outer reaches of the country. But then the FARC discovered drugs. Not consuming them, which is prohibited in the rebel ranks, but taxing them. Much as Bin Laden and the Taliban did with Afghanistan's opium trade.

Now FARC taxes every stage of the drug business, from the chemicals needed to process the hardy coca bush into cocaine and the opium poppy into heroin, right up to charging for the processed drugs to be flown from illegal airstrips they control. They make at least $300m from the drug trade every year, added to which is their income from kidnapping and extortion. This is not a minor addendum. In Colombia, kidnapping is an "industry" worth more than $500 million. Estimates place the number of cases at well over 3,000 per year, up from an average of 83 cases per annum during the 1960s.

Needless to say, sophisticated infrastructures, technologies and investments along the lines of the cocaine cartels [article mirror link] with whom they work have helped FARC become a much more formidable organization. The trends and forces that have driven a revolution in American business are having a similar effect on these illicit organizations, whose resources rival and often exceed those of the government. ERRI Crime Analyst Stephen Macko reports that at a 1997 conference, one U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent said:

"Drug traffickers have the best technology that money can buy. And they hire people from the intelligence community in some countries to operate it for them or teach them how to use it."

Jungle computing

-- Evolution --

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott notes that: "The FARC are neither terrorists nor revolutionaries in the conventional sense." This may be true based on our past experiences of terrorism. I am less sure that it will be true 10 years from now. In 1997, Neal Pollard of the Terrorism Research Center noted:

"Terrorist groups are currently interacting with transnational organized crime syndicates, especially narcotics cartels... In return, these terrorist groups receive enormous amounts of money, more so than in “traditional” fund-raising operations such as kidnapping and bank robbery—operations that are far riskier than supporting narcotics trafficking. Furthermore, this interaction offers smuggling routes long established and tested by crime syndicates for drug and arms running, potentially providing terrorists with logistical infrastructure to clandestinely move people, arms and materiel.

Taken to its logical end, there might be a natural partnership between some terrorist groups and transnational organized crime syndicates. Organized crime syndicates frequently have access to and influence with political leaders, making such syndicates beneficial to terrorist groups that would seek to influence and intimidate, rather than destroy, a government. In return, organized crime syndicates can exploit terrorist campaigns, for the power vacuum present in regional instability, as a paramilitary wing of the syndicate, or to further coerce a weak government to "look the other way." As offshore banks and inner city laundromats were once notorious mob fronts, so may terrorist campaigns become operational fronts for organized crime.... Indeed, we may see the rise of superficial terrorist campaigns serving as “fronts” for regional organized crime syndicates, campaigns which do not truly seek a political objective save that of creating a climate of anarchy and fear in which it is impossible for local law enforcement to prosecute or even hinder organized crime operations."

As state sponsorship dries up even further in the wake of American efforts to drain the mideast swamp in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, more and more terrorist groups will probably see the FARC-IRA model as their best hope for continued viability. To place this prospect in context, it is necessary to note that in 1994 the UN estimated that $440 billion a year in illegal drug money was moved through the world's banking system. In late 1999 "Le Monde Diplomatique" estimated the annual drug flow at $500 billion, with the total annual proceeds of criminal activity amounting to USD $1 trillion. Even a small share of that is very large.

The 1972 Munich Massacre was one more example of terrorists adapting to the new McLuhanite world created in and by the West, an enacted fantasy prop and spectacle similar in some ways to the enacted fantasy of 9/11. The ability to use the media at this level of sophistication was a major step forward for terrorist organizations.

The question is, what's their next step? For evolution is relentless.

If the IRA, FARC, and LTTE are any kind of example, terrorism's next incarnation - and our next set of foes - could well represent a very different kind of threat. One that strikes harder at the weaknesses in our society and our polity. One that does not live in "the dream palaces of the Arabs," but in more prosaic realms of sociopathic calculation backed by immense resources.

Worse, further blurring of the lines between organized crime and terrorism will strike at the cracks within and among Western political coalitions in ways that even the War Against Islamists has not done. Crime remains an active issue in the "culture wars," but the Right is split between libertarians and traditional "law and order" conservatism. If the "war on crime" and the "war on terror" should ever merge, the natural fault lines within the conservative coalition may well serve as the cleavages that shatter it. The Left, both repelled by the "Terror, Inc." model and yet traditionally no friend of strict criminal enforcement, may well have a similar set of internal conflicts.

Al-Qaeda was just an early adopter and exemplar of a whole set of common trends. Which means that our need to refine the art of 4th Generation Warfare does not end with the demise of Al-Qaeda. What will we do about the next threat of this type? And the one after that? We'll beat Al-Qaeda. But what we will pay to do so? And will we learn the right lessons in order to handle the next threat?

A great deal may depend on the quality of our answers.

NEXT: The S.P.E.C.T.R.E. of Terror, Inc.

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