The White House's new transnational crime strategy includes sanctions, intelligence sharing, cash rewards, and visa restrictions.
The Obama administration announced several new plans including executive orders, legislative proposals, and intelligence initiatives as part of its Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime . As a part of the strategy, groups designated as transnational organized crime (TOC) groups face sanctions, including blocking of their financial transactions, starting today, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said at the briefing. He named Los Zetas, Yakuza, Brother’s Circle, and Camorra as initial targets of the sanctions.
Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns referenced Hezbollah's illegal activities in Latin America as evidence that this policy can help fight terrorist organizations. He said that terrorists are increasingly turning to "relationships of convenience" and linking up with organized crime groups. Twenty-nine of the 63 top drug trafficking organizations identified by the Department of Justice had links to terrorist organizations, according to a White House Fact sheet .
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the strategy brings new tools to the table in combating the cartels in the Southwest, which have been a growing problem. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized 75 percent more currency, 31 percent more drugs, and 64 percent more weapons compared to the last two years of operations, she said. “This is important progress, and we want to continue to build on it,” she said.
The groups named today seem to be the largest and best organized, said Cohen.
The Brothers’ Circle, also known as the Moscow Center, is a multi-ethnic criminal group composed of leaders criminal organizations largely based in countries of the former Soviet Union. Many Brothers’ Circle members share a common ideology based on the “thief-in-law” tradition, which seeks to spread their brand of criminal influence around the world.
The Camorra is a very large Italian organized crime group earning roughly $25 billion each year from illicit activities. It operates internationally and engages in serious criminal activity such as counterfeiting, smuggling pirated goods, and drug trafficking.
The Yakuza of Japan, have an estimated 80,000 members. It engages in serious criminal activities, including drug, weapons, and human trafficking. The Yakuza uses front companies in construction, real estate, and finance to hide illicit proceeds (See "Eastern Inscrutability " in the May 2007 issue of Security Management).
Los Zetas, is an extremely violent transnational criminal organization based in Mexico. It transports large amounts of drugs through Mexico into the United States. Its members are responsible for murders in Mexico and the United States, including murders of U.S. law enforcement officers.
The Department of Homeland security’s part in the White House plan involves increased production and sharing of intelligence produced by fusion centers and a broadened approach to organized crime that doesn’t just target one aspect like drug trafficking, for example, but all aspects including weapons, corruption, and finances. The plan would also make unclassified information available to private sector partners to help raise awareness of organized crime. It also calls for agencies to identify foreign thieves with ties to organized crime.
The State Department also has a role. It will provide assets to enhance the ability of foreign governments to fight organized crime. And a new proclamation under the Immigration and Nationality Act will deny visas to corrupt foreign officials and TOC affiliated people. The agency has also implemented a program that will provide cash rewards for information leading to organized crime arrests or convictions. The administration said finances are a focus because it’s a vulnerable area for organized crime groups.
“Transnational criminal organizations are principally motivated by financial gain,” Cohen said. “That is a major vulnerability that the new executive order – and the broader Strategy – will allow us to exploit, striking at the heart of their economic power. “
photo from The Whitehouse photostream on flickr