Terrorism Literature review

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Terrorism and organized crime have always been considered two separate entities of consideration in the addressing of government securities issues either locally or internationally. In fact, in the 1960s, during the humble beginnings of the Federal Bureau of investigation, the United States government considered terrorism and organized crime so separate that while there were hundreds of agents dedicated to addressing the issues of communism and various terrorist activities that threaten the borders of the United States, only five police officers — and those officers were low ranking individuals without any specific tasks and duties — that were responsible for addressing the issue of organized crime.

Therefore, from here, we immediately observed at history has taught us the progression of terrorism and organized crime to its modern derivatives — that the two significantly different in exclusive individuals have now merged into various avenues. Although they could not be conceptually considered as one — separate agencies are still responsible for addressing issues separately terrorism and organized crime, literature and evidence showed that such do operational procedures have intersections all over their operations. In fact, the literature which this research paper shall be using — literature that is taken both from peer-reviewed journals and academic publishing books —  points towards not only on the existence of intersections between terrorism and organized crime, but also in this degree that it has done so both from a historical perspective and a modern one.

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As we have already pointed out earlier, the history of terrorism and organized crime are considered to be so separate in nature that individuals who had specialized and studied those two derivatives and be suddenly transported to the present will find it surprising that the two actually intersect. Terrorism are international movements or threats to use violence against civilians to achieve certain goals — often political in nature. The word itself, driving from the roots of terror, comes from the fact that fear is the main weapon that was used by terrorists — although conventional wisdom may come to point towards terrorist threats having weapons of destruction as their most essential tools. However, in the history of terrorism, the most essential aspect is its ability — either successful or unsuccessful — to be able to influence governments and political decision-makers. In order to be able to achieve this, terrorist activities use various means and methods. However, in today’s modern economy where the most powerful and influential decision-making tool is monetary assets and financial control, an essential aspect of terrorist activities is the financial control and financial manipulation of assets in order to be able to continuously find such terrorist goals. This is an essential aspect of terrorism which must be remembered especially when comparing it to the integration of modern organized crime to this movement. Basically, the number one highlights of terrorism both in historical and modern context, is the desire to influence public opinion and political decision-making.

Organized crime, on the other hand, being a criminal element that started in the United States only in the early 1960s, is criminal activity that has transformed from this aggregated activities and operations into an agglomeration form and focuses on highly centralized operations run by criminals for the purpose of engaging in illegal activity. Although the literature that has been used points toward many purposes of organized crime, they at least agree with each other that organized crime as the purpose of being able to raise monetary profit. In order to do this, various criminal activities such as drug trafficking, gambling, bribing, institution of violence, and even the molding of political and public opinions are use. Therefore, in understanding organized crime, the most important factor to consider is that it uses various tools in order to be able to gain monetary profit.

It is here that the research immediately identifies essential differentiating factor — as well as the common denomination — a terrorism and organized crime. One reason is money in order to affect public opinion and political decisions, while the other uses public opinion and political decisions in order to raise money. Although this may be a simplistic view of being able to differentiate and compare and contrast organisms and terrorist crime, it at least gives an essential point of view in where those two elements intersect with each other.

In a study published in 1996, researchers have tried to analyze the intersections between terrorism and organized crime to understanding the nature, methods, structural dynamics, and danger of each form of terrorism as well as each form of criminal activity. Here, the study has identified that terrorist groups are usually ideologically motivated while organized crime groups have no ideological foundation but rather have the sole purpose of being able to raise large monetary assets [1]. Also, an economics part of approaching the difference, organized crime groups usually want bigger shares of illegal markets rather than being able to have a long-running ideological system or political purpose in mind — and these activities are usually not based on market principles. Another interesting fact that their research has identified is that political terrorists brought to trial usually immediately admit their deeds and use the courtroom as a forum for political declarations in the public sphere, where in members of organized crime groups typically try to downplay the degree of operations and involvement in the crime. However, at least approaching the issue from economics, the true groups are rational actors that have intersections with regard to how they are able to find their operations through intimidation, violence, and illegal to the peace such as drug trafficking and weapons distribution in the population [2].

In another study that was published in 2004, researchers again tried to find similarities between international terrorism activities as well as organized crime because of continuous interest on the war on terror — especially their manipulations of the various financial flows and the ways that these two separate groups are able to raise financial assets [3]. In this study, researchers have identified that because these two groups, although having separate ideologies and separate and goals, must have the same market of financial distribution in order to be fully successful at least from the point of view of being able to build their financial base. In this respect, because illegal markets especially in first world countries like the United States have typical segregationist and geographic locations, activities of terrorist financing and organized crime financing usually intersect with one another in order to generate significantly larger monetary profits as compared to acting alone. Furthermore, criminal activities such as drug dealing and weapons distribution usually have high-level individuals which control them in the final decision-making process — individuals that either belong to a terrorist organization or a organized crime element. And because such illegal markets must be able to interact with one another in order to maximize the profits of certain markets, terrorism and organized crime eventually intersect at least from the perspective of financial flow and manipulation [4].

Yet another study was earlier published in 2002 discussing that it is methods and not go to this which are the most important implications as the convergence and intersection of international organized crime and local terrorism [5]. This reference effectively captures the earlier hypothesis that methodologies are the most important intersections of the two groups. However, in this study, an essential highlighting fact is that terrorist activities, having ideological basis, usually have a certain kind of moral code that they follow even in the operations of raising financial assets. On the other hand, in their interactions with organized crime — interactions that have already been highlighted by the previous literature that the research has indicated — organized crime leaders do not necessarily have ideological spectrum’s to consider. Therefore, the study points out that although these two are equally important issues that must be addressed by local and international policing agencies and government, organized crime has shown significant foothold and power over terrorist financial activities because of their lack of ideological beliefs and the sole purpose of being able to raise financial assets and money for local consumption. In fact, studies have pointed out, financial assets that have been raised by terrorist activities are usually flushed right back into such terrorist actions while organized crime assets remain within certain groups and families and usually even enter back into the economy through consumer purchase and financial institutions[6].

However, such similarities and intersections are being taken advantage of by the United States government in order to be able to control these two problematic elements of society. In a study published by 2004 that discusses terrorism and organized crime and their financial intersections, researchers have identified that in order for government officials to take advantage of the situation, the traditional “follow the money” mantra must be followed by investigators [7]. Because of the fact that terrorism and organized crime activities usually intersect in financial operations because of their financial abilities, local policing agencies and international government units may be able to track criminal operations from both sides of the fence if they follow terrorists and criminal organizations with respect to their purchases and business relations and partners. The intersection of financial activities of terrorist organizations and criminal organizations have been so lucrative that it has become irresistible for either group to register trade with one another which also serves as the downfall in actual operational procedures, as had been proven by cases during the tracking of local Chicago Mafia field the financing and distribution of local arms that are important in the United States that were eventually found to be used in terrorist activities both in the country and abroad [8].

Further literature on the topic suggests that there are other interplays and relationships between traditional organized crime and terrorism, and that some organized crime actions are now being considered as terrorist threats in terrorist activities because their definition area borders are crossing boundaries into traditional terrorist classification [9]. However, further links other than monetary distribution and financial operations are still vague at best because of the fact that researchers have known direct data accessible either from terrorist activities or organized crime activities and deduce such principal agent operations only through court cases and actual confessions and data gathered from interviews which are at best subjective in nature.


Albanese, J. S. “Organized crime in our times.” No.: ISBN 1-59345-958-0 (2004): 351.

Bovenkerk, F., and B. A. Chakra. “Terrorism and organized crime.” In UN Forum on crime and society, 1:3-16, 2004.

Makarenko, T. “The Crime-Terror Continuum: Tracing the Interplay between Transnational Organised Crime and Terrorism.” Global Crime 6, no. 1 (2004): 129-145.

Sanderson, T. M. “Transnational Terror and Organized Crime.” SAIS Review 24, no. 1 (2004).

Schmid, A. P. “The links between transnational organized crime and terrorist crimes.” No.: 2, no. 4 (1996): 43.

Shelley, L. I., and J. T. Picarelli. “Methods not motives: Implications of the convergence of international organized crime and terrorism.” Police Practice and Research 3, no. 4 (2002): 305-318.

[1] A. P. Schmid, “The links between transnational organized crime and terrorist crimes,” No.: 2, no. 4 (1996): 43
[2] Ibid.
[3] T. M. Sanderson, “Transnational Terror and Organized Crime,” SAIS Review 24, no. 1 (2004)
[4] Ibid.
[5] L. I. Shelley and J. T. Picarelli, “Methods not motives: Implications of the convergence of international organized crime and terrorism,” Police Practice and Research 3, no. 4 (2002): 305-318
[6] Ibid.
[7] F. Bovenkerk and B. A. Chakra, “Terrorism and organized crime,” in UN Forum on crime and society, vol. 1, 2004, 3-16
[8] J. S. Albanese, “Organized crime in our times,” No.: ISBN 1-59345-958-0 (2004): 351
[9] T. Makarenko, “The Crime-Terror Continuum: Tracing the Interplay between Transnational Organised Crime and Terrorism,” Global Crime 6, no. 1 (2004): 129-145

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