Chapter V

The Future of International Crime

In 10 years, driven by globalization and the erosion of state authority, the international criminal threat to US interests is most likely to be more diversified and impact even more directly on US strategic interests. The extent and magnitude of the problem will depend on the global political and economic conditions prevailing at the time, the extent and effectiveness of measures taken to reduce societal or systemic vulnerabilities, and the degree to which national law enforcement and security institutions around the world develop appropriate cooperative mechanisms enabling them to operate--as international criminals will be able to--outside the parameters of national sovereignty and legal jurisdictions. For example:

  • A radical breakdown of the Communist system in China could intensify the influence of Chinese criminal organizations within China's political and economic systems and provide a safehaven for expanding criminal operations abroad.
  • Enhancements to protect the security and integrity of electronic money-transfer and financial transactions systems could make it more difficult for criminal organizations to defraud banks, financial institutions, or individuals or to manipulate financial and commodities markets.
  • Flexible bilateral and multilateral agreements that allow US law enforcement agencies to pursue criminals and time-sensitive investigative leads in foreign countries with minimal impediments could help prevent criminal organizations from operating across international borders with virtual legal impunity.

Globalization and technological innovation will continue to change the nature of organized crime. While large criminal syndicates--Russian organized crime groups like Solntsevo, Italian criminal groups like the Sicilian Mafia, ethnic Chinese criminal groups including triads, and others--will remain powerful players with worldwide networks, law enforcement agencies probably will also be forced to cope with a very large number of highly skilled criminal entrepreneurs whose activities can have far-reaching impact.

  • Individuals or small groups empowered by high-tech computer skills and telecommunications capabilities may be the future wave of international crime. They would not require the infrastructure or protection of large criminal syndicates to mastermind and implement wide-ranging and sophisticated schemes in the commercial or financial arenas to gain substantial illicit revenues. Through electronic theft or computer manipulation of markets, individuals or small crime groups could cause substantial public and private-sector losses, potentially even undermining the integrity of the institutions they target and compromising market stability.
  • Meanwhile, for the same reasons, large organized crime syndicates may well be even more self-sufficient by 2010. The trend of greater cooperation among criminal organizations at the end of the 20th century may be replaced by one in which large international crime groups--because they have worldwide networks and employ highly skilled professionals--are able to produce or acquire, move, market, and distribute drugs and other contraband without any reliance on outside criminal brokers or crime groups. Such a development could mean the end of the dominance of Latin American drug-trafficking "cartels" as other criminal groups gain the ability to acquire and traffic cocaine from Latin America on their own.
  • The criminal world in 2010 may be populated by large interactive networks of smaller, independent organizations who cooperate on the basis of comparative advantage. Crime groups within these networks would specialize in specific activities, trading or selling expertise as befits their criminal interests or criminal joint ventures.
  • Criminal groups are also most likely to take advantage of scientific and manufacturing advances to produce new synthetic drugs or more high-quality counterfeit products--including high-tech components that may find their way into commercial transportation or military programs. Successful eradication efforts against narcotics crops may spur criminal organizations to exploit scientific pharmaceutical advances to produce synthetic heroin and cocaine for the illicit drug market.

Drug trafficking, alien smuggling, contraband smuggling, the trafficking of women and children, and many other traditional criminal rackets will continue to be a staple of organized crime groups worldwide. By 2010, however, organized crime groups are most likely to be a greater threat with regard to security issues that directly affect US strategic interests.

  • Organized crime groups that have access to formidable weapons arsenals may assume a far more significant role in brokering illicit arms transactions for foreign armies, militias, or insurgencies, displacing the brokers and businesses that dominate today's gray arms market. They may also become a viable alternative to independent brokers and front companies by establishing sophisticated acquisition, transportation, and financial networks to facilitate the evasion of US or international sanctions by rogue regimes and terrorist groups.
  • So far the threat of organized crime involvement in acquiring and trafficking nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons of mass destruction has been more potential than real. This potential may be realized by the end of the decade if the political and economic climates in countries both possessing and seeking WMD capabilities changed to make engineering such transactions more practical and less risky.

International criminal groups will keep pace with changes in technology and the world economy to enhance their capability in traditional organized crime activities and to move into new criminal business areas. Advances in computer and financial technology will increase the anonymity and speed of commercial and financial transactions, offering criminals more efficient and secure ways to smuggle illicit drugs and contraband, penetrate legitimate businesses, and launder and move money.

  • By 2010, international criminal groups are most likely to be particularly proficient at exploiting computer networks upon which all modern government, public, private, and financial services will depend. They also may be able to cause significant disruption to financial systems. Criminal organizations may be capable of financially exploiting or disrupting government, law enforcement, banking, or private-sector computer systems they are able to penetrate, undermining public services and the credibility of government and private institutions.
  • Greater regional integration and worldwide interdependence of national economies will make it easier for criminal organizations to operate on an international scale and blend their operations into legitimate economic activity. Improvements in transportation infrastructures and modalities to facilitate international trade will increase the volume, speed, and efficiency of smuggling and commercial transactions by international crime groups.

Many countries are likely to be at risk of organized crime groups gaining significant leverage or even control over political and economic systems. Criminal organizations are likely to penetrate troubled banking and commercial sectors. Unscrupulous politicians and political parties may align themselves with criminal organizations for financial and other support. Once in office, they are likely to have difficulty constraining the activities of organized crime. Organized crime groups themselves may promote their own political agenda as the price of support.

  • The world in 2010 may see the emergence of "criminal states" that are not merely safehavens for international criminal activities, but support them as a matter of course. The involvement of "criminal states" in the community of nations could undermine international finance and commerce and preclude effective international cooperation against organized crime. "Criminal states" may also adopt the political agendas of states of concern and terrorist groups, thereby weakening US political, economic, and security interests around the world.

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