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
- 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
- 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
- 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.