The Interconnectedness of Transnational Organised Crime – International Risks like never before.

The world is becoming increasingly interconnected. One state’s politics is no longer isolated in its impacts. The outcome of elections are becoming increasingly more meaningful for the stability of international relations, and global agreements. Wars being fought in the Middle East and Europe currently represent not only the interests of the states whose cities become theatres of battle, but also the interest of those states for whom those directly taking part in battle represent proxies. Global interconnectedness doesn’t just transcend the boundaries of statehood and formal political practice; as we have heard in our recent podcasts, the nature of organised crime, and the global risks it poses to societies are continuously increasing, and as we heard from Christopher Allen, police organisations remain two steps behind in the fight against transnational organised crime. The Council of Foreign Relations  goes as far as to posit that ‘transnational criminals have been one of the biggest beneficiaries of globalisation’. This article will assess the international risks posed to communities worldwide as a result of the increased interconnectedness of organised crime groups.

Global Crime Routes

Global crime routes are constantly changing, and the advent of technology has made these routes far harder to track. In our podcast with Christopher Allen, he explained to us how quickly a criminal organisation can transfer illegally gained funds through banks in multiple states, making it almost impossible for police organisations to track given the time it can take to go through the bureaucratic processes to legally trace funds internationally. This increased interconnectedness has set a precedent to international crime groups, showing that, on a large scale, criminal organsations’ actions cannot be fully tracked. Increased global interconnectedness has also increased the sophistication of transnational drug routes. As we heard from Roy McComb, Whilst kilos of cocaine are purchased week in, week out, by european businessmen and partygoers for hundreds of thousands of dollars, those growing the raw materials to produce these drugs risk their lives in South America for pittances.

 Furthermore,  with the advent of globalisation, global forces of supply and demand have generated new markets for illegal goods and services produced by criminal groups. There is a significant market for narcotics (especially in Europe and North America), weaponry (in Africa and the Middle East), exotic wildlife and animal parts (Asia), and exploitable persons (almost everywhere). The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently calculated that the international trade in counterfeit and stolen goods might be worth half a trillion dollars. Criminal networks also have new options to create facilities in multiple nations from which they may produce and distribute their illicit commodities, lowering costs and increasing profits.

Source: OECD

The Advent of Technology and The Dark Web

Globalisation increases access to the items and services accessible on the so-called Dark Web, ranging from purchasing explosives or other weaponry to hiring a skilled cross-border smuggler, document forgery expert, or bomb-maker; additionally operational communication among criminal or terrorist network agents in different regions of the world has become much easier. Originally created for the US Department of Defence, the dark web now connects criminal groups with consumers in a very similar way to legitimate services such as Ebay. Being fully encrypted, conversations on the dark web remain almost impossible to trace. According to Yuri Fedotov, the executive director of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, ‘thanks to advances in technology, communication, finance and transport, loose networks of terrorists and organized criminal groups that operate internationally can easily link with each other. By pooling their resources and expertise, they can significantly increase their capacity to do harm.’

Whilst the risks attributed to technological advancements are undoubtedly vast, they can also, at times, reap  rewards for police organisations. This was no more evident than in 2020 when police were able to intercept thousands of ‘private’ messages by breaking through the encryptions  of EncroChat. In this case, French and Dutch police agencies successfully formed a joint investigation team (JIT)  2020, with support from Eurojust and Europol. Since gaining access to the encrypted messages, about EUR 900 million in illegal proceeds have been confiscated or frozen. The breakdown of EncroChat, an encrypted communications service commonly used by organised crime groups (OCGs), has resulted in 6,558 arrests globally. 197 of those apprehended were considered high-value targets. Whilst this was a roaring success for tackling organised crime, it also begs the question of how many organisations and how many encrypted messaging services continue to go undetected.

The Failures of the International System

As global interconnectedness continues to strengthen transnational organised crime groups, policing organisations continue to fall further and further behind. The incapacity of states to control what flows in and out of their borders, and an increasing cases of corruption emerging in economically weaker states, in conjunction with the time taken for policing organisations to make any headway in an international investigation, has provided the perfect melting pot for transnational organised crime groups to continue to gain power and prowess, and yet carry out operations undetected. As Chris Allen states, policing organisations, and arguably the overall international system are in need of urgent reform. Such reforms would need to take place in a way that increases transparency between police organisations, to speed up investigation processes. How these reforms would take place is uncertain, but we can be sure that the international risks that come with the current system make reform an urgent necessity.

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