Monday, April 09, 2007

Crime + Terrorism = Vulnerability

A few news items today call to mind the ever-growing connection between crime and terrorism. First, a new report from the Center for Policing Terrorism (CPT) highlights the problem:

[Non-state-sponsored] terrorist groups ... pose the greatest threat to the United States. Consistent with post-Cold War trends, these groups have become heavily involved in criminal activities.
Specifically, the report addresses five common criminal activities that terrorists have engaged in:
  • Drug trafficking
  • Financial scams
  • Cyber-crime
  • Illegal money transfers
  • Immigration violations
The link between terrorism and drugs is well established, both overseas (e.g., poppy farming in Afghanistan) and in the U.S.:
[A]s U.S. News & World Report has said, “[n]early half of the 41 groups on the government’s list of terrorist organizations are tied to narcotics trafficking, according to DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] statistics.”

In January 2002, the federal investigation dubbed Operation Mountain Express III culminated in a series of raids that ... resulted in charges against 136 people, and the seizure of “nearly 36 tons of pseudoephedrine, 179 pounds of methamphetamine, $4.5 million in cash, eight real estate properties and 160 cars used by drug gangs.” [I]n the wake of the operation Asa Hutchinson, then the DEA’s director, revealed that “[a] significant portion of some of the sales are sent to the Middle East to benefit terrorist organizations.”

Around the same time as Mountain Express III, federal investigators were also engaged in Operation Green Quest [which] likewise exposed instances of drug money being laundered in support of Hizballah.

One little-known aspect of the [March 2004 Madrid] train bombings is that the Madrid cell received substantial financing from the sale of drugs, something the cell’s ideologues justified “as a weapon of jihad.”
Financial scams come in many flavors, including identity theft, bank fraud, counterfeiting, and cigarette smuggling. Of these, identity theft is especially attractive to terrorists, because it facilitates the commission of other crimes:
One critical aspect of identity theft, according to Dennis Lormel, the chief of the FBI’s
Terrorism Financial Review Group, is the “cloak of anonymity” that it provides. He noted that identities are often stolen in order to carry out such violations of federal law as bank fraud, credit card fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, bankruptcy fraud, and computer crimes.
Bank fraud has also proven lucrative. It may include:
"...a wide range of offenses, including credit card fraud, bank fraud, mail fraud, mortgage fraud, wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud," and others.
Cigarette smuggling, which involves the illegal transport of cigarettes from states with low tobacco taxes (e.g., North Carolina and Virginia) to states with high tobacco taxes (e.g., New York, Michigan), is also a large and growing source of illegal income:
By mid-2004, the ATF had more than 300 open cases of illegal cigarette trafficking, and an official reported that several of these were linked to terrorist fundraising.
One of the most common vulnerabilities for terrorists - including the 9/11 attackers - is immigration violations:
Janice Kephart, former counsel to the 9/11 Commission, recently authored a report entitled Immigration and Terrorism that examines the histories of 94 foreign-born terrorists who operated in the United States between the early 1990s and 2004. It concludes that of these 94 terrorists, “about two-thirds (59) committed immigration fraud prior to or in conjunction with taking part in terrorist activity.”
The CPT report advocates taking an aggressive approach to terrorist policing - going after suspected terrorists and terrorist supporters by pursuing any and all illegal activities, no matter how minor. The authors point out that this strategy has been successful in attacking organized crime networks.

To attack criminal and terrorist networks, information sharing is vital. So it's always good to hear about new efforts such as the one established between police agencies in Central Florida and Puerto Rico to share information about criminal gangs that operate in both locations. The Florida Sun-Sentinel reported:
Criminal suspects moving between Central Florida and Puerto Rico face new scrutiny after an agreement reached [April 4] between law-enforcement agencies.

Computerized information sharing about gang members begins almost immediately between police on the mainland and the island as a result of last month's arrests of workers at Orlando International Airport on gun-smuggling charges.

"We're establishing a great partnership," said Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary, standing next to Puerto Rico police Superintendent Pedro Toledo.

Investigators in Central Florida and Puerto Rico have complained since the mid-1990s that their counterparts rarely responded without repeated requests for help. The lack of an information-sharing system was one of the main reasons.

Puerto Rico police now will have instant access to information collected and shared by local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies and fire departments in nine Central Florida counties.

The same criminal information exchange, known as a Fusion Center that is funded by the federal Department of Homeland Security, will pass on information from Puerto Rico to local authorities.
It's good to see the Fusion Centers extending the information sharing network. Yet some other DHS facilities still have work to do before they collaborate effectively, according to a new GAO report. Washington Technology reported:
The Homeland Security Department’s gaggle of 25 national and regional operations centers that run around the clock every day of the year suffer from poor collaboration and coordination, auditors said. DHS’ slipshod management has hobbled the effectiveness of a pivotal information-sharing network and created other problems, the Government Accountability Office said in a report issued [April 5].

Management disarray within the DHS operations centers extends to the department’s Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), the report said. Though department officials repeatedly have boasted about their success in developing the collaboration tool, GAO found that DHS had not provided standards, policies and procedures for its use.

DHS officials evaluated a draft of the report, according to the letter. They agreed with the recommendations and said the Operations Directorate was working to bolster collaboration.
They have been trying to get the HSIN right for a while now. (See this post.) But it had been my understanding that the HSIN would be replaced by the new Homeland Security Data Network. (See this post.)

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