ON-Lion Letter

A May report from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point, Risky Business:  The Global Threat Network and the Politics of Contraband by Scott Helfstein, makes points that run counter to previous conceptions of crime-terror connectivity and the global illicit network.  Helfstein is the director of strategic initiatives for CTC and an assistant professor at the United States Military Academy.

The four main points in Risky Business are:

1.    Rather than operating in numerous smaller networks, the criminals and terrorists in the study are largely subsumed (98%) in a single network of 2,700 individuals with 15,000 relationships.  Connectivity among actors within the illicit marketplace is relatively high.

2.    By most measures of connectivity, terrorists are more central than almost all other types of criminals, second only to narcotics smugglers.  The transnational nature of some terrorist actors allows them to link disparate criminal groups.

3.    The conventional wisdom that explains crime-terror connectivity as a product of failed or economically poor states is challenged by the study.  Generally speaking, connectivity between terrorists and criminals is highest in resource-rich countries that have little incentive to support sub-state actors and resource-poor countries that are incentivized to support criminal or terrorist groups.

4.    Despite the interest surrounding big data and data science, the results of data acquisition and utilization often falls short of their potential.  A growing number of data sources and tools offer an opportunity to conduct analyses addressing global challenges like the crime-terror “nexus," but advancing this agenda requires asking questions in unique ways and pursuing creative approaches and partnerships to aggregating and analyzing data.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports CTC.

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