Terrorism in Latin America (Part Two): The Threat from Human Trafficking

Brief Analyses | National Security

No. 843
Thursday, May 11, 2017
by Dr. David Grantham

Hypothetical scenarios often dominate the storyline of possible collusion between organized crime and jihadists in Latin America. The elaborate web of networks woven by drug cartels and Islamists adds to the confusion. A wide range of U.S. adversaries have conducted successful human smuggling operations, posing an immediate threat to U.S. national security.

It Is All about Networks. Complicated networks of fringe supporters, associate funders and full-time operators help connect criminal and terrorist elements from hot spots around the globe. These webs help them facilitate each other’s illicit behavior. Hezbollah — a militant Islamist group based in Lebanon and proxy force of Iran — works with powerful Colombian and Brazilian drug syndicates to move tons of cocaine into Africa and Europe. Meanwhile, networks of loosely affiliated criminal organizations facilitate the paid covert transfer of terrorists over international borders.

The fluidity of this network, however, poses a problem for counterterrorism and interdiction efforts. Navy Admiral Kurt Walter Tidd explained that “what’s true about [a network] today…isn’t necessarily true tomorrow.” Understanding the complexities of the international connections linking organized crime with terrorist organizations can be confusing since they remain in constant flux, he said.

Terrorism expert Douglas Farah offers a more static picture of networks, breaking them down into three essential elements: fixers, super fixers and shadow facilitators. Local fixers are business elites that profit from connecting seedy organizations to otherwise difficult to penetrate local financial networks, while the super fixers do something similar on a regional or global scale. The shadow facilitators, Farah writes, specialize in moving weapons and commodities, in addition to having access to fraudulent documents and money-laundering services.

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