“Over the past decade, the United States has witnessed an increase of drugs, weapons, migrants, unaccompanied children and people with ties to terrorism into our country,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Whitlock, the deputy director of the Politico-Military Affairs for the western hemisphere.
Recently, leaders from across government, the Armed Forces and law enforcement came together at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition transnational organized crime panel to discuss these increases and the challenges the nation faces as a result.
“I think these increases are in direct correlation to international drug traffickers and criminal networks observing and emulating one another’s methods so they can adopt new and more effective practices,” said Whitlock. “This symbiotic relationship has created transnational organized crime and other illicit networks that can actually pose a threat to the United States’ national security interests as well as those of our allies and partners.”
Transnational organized crime (TOC) networks conduct illicit activities, such as trafficking of drugs, people and weapons, piracy and cyber-crime that not only poses a threat to our national security, but also undermines the stability of the nations they operate in.
Combating these networks is a key goal of Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft’s Western Hemisphere Strategy. In the strategy, Zukunft lays forward a plan outlining a unity of effort amongst governmental agencies to defeat these networks and ensure maritime security in our hemisphere.
“With criminal networks spreading across the world, the U.S. does not have the sole ability or authority to go after them so we have to build coalitions both with other governments as well as private sector academia,” said Patrick Dutton, the National Security Council director for transnational organized crime. “Part of that is being able to find stakeholders in other countries and regions in the world that we can get either information from or use to convey messages.”
Current World Illicit Trafficking
In 2011, President Obama called for the establishment an interagency Threat Mitigation Working Group to identify the TOC networks that present a sufficiently high national security threat. The working group is composed of agencies, such as the Coast Guard, Navy and Army, who work together to effectively protect our borders, people, economy and financial system from the threats posed by the most dangerous and sophisticated of these transnational criminal networks.
The group focuses on defining what criteria to use in determining the level of risk for each TOC, such as if the TOC is believed to have access to sensitive technologies like weapons of mass destruction or terrorist links. The group also develops action plans to minimize the threat of TOCs and assesses the success of the action plans.
“When I tell you it’s a complex thing we’re trying to accomplish, that’s probably the biggest understatement I’ve made all year,” said Coast Guard Capt. Peter Hatch, the deputy director of the Department of Homeland Security Joint Task Force. “The things that we’re trying to accomplish when you think about crime and what our national desired outcomes are going to be for the different criminal networks we’re up against, it’s not going to be uniform. Sometimes we’re going to arrest Pablo Escobar and that’s going to be the thing that takes down the criminal network. Sometimes we’re going to build a school in Tapachula and that’s what’s going to diminish or prevent the reconstitution of the criminal network. Every criminal network is going to be treated differently.”
To combat the root of the problem and provide stability in the region a TOC is based, the group must study and research each TOC to determine not only what they are transporting, but also what impact and influence they have in that region.
The group also investigates how the criminal network will impact national security. For instance, how a heroin smuggling ring will affect national security compared to a marijuana smuggling ring.
To accomplish this task, the working group relies on analytical support and information sharing to build a strong network to combat TOC networks.
“It takes a network to defeat a network,” said Navy Rear Adm. Brian Brakke, the deputy director for Operations and Intelligence Integration, Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.
Working with domestic and international partners, the Coast Guard will aggressively pursue and target TOC networks.
The Coast Guard maintains unique capabilities and authorities to detect and engage TOC networks in areas where they are not only unchallenged by other partners, but where they are also most vulnerable to disruption.
As the only military law enforcement organization that is a member of the national intelligence community, the Coast Guard bridges traditional authority gaps between military and law enforcement organizations, and maintains persistent presence in areas where other partners are unable to operate.
Written by Connie Terrell
Photos and source material courtesy Department of Defense and U.S. Coast Guard.