President Obama issued an executive order Monday authorizing the government to freeze the assets of international thugs, drug traffickers and other criminals whose activities are increasingly seen as a threat to national security.
The new sanctions program is part of a new campaign by the administration to crack down on international criminal networks. Among the groups identified in the executive order are the Japanese Yakuza, the Camorra from Naples, Mexico’s Los Zetas, and the Brothers’ Circle, based largely in former Soviet bloc countries.
As part of a new strategy unveiled Monday, the administration said it would also redouble intelligence collection efforts to reduce “transnational organized crime” from a national security threat to a “manageable public safety problem.”
Although criminal networks, from syndicates in Russia to drug traffickers in West Africa, have long operated on a global stage, experts say those groups now often find common cause with terrorist networks and insurgencies.
Transnational organized crime, in the past, “was largely regional in scope, hierarchically structured, and had only occasional links to terrorism,” the strategy says. “Today’s criminal networks are fluid, striking new alliances with other networks around the world and engaging in a wide range of illicit activities, including cybercrime and providing support for terrorism.”
Experts say the issue of transnational organized crime has gained broader recognition in recent years. In 2000, the United Nations adopted a treaty on transnational organized crime. In 2010, a comprehensive review by the United States concluded that criminal networks overseas had expanded their size, scope and influence so that they posed a significant threat to national and international security.
The increasing ability of criminals to easily move funds, goods and other information around the world has prompted the new interest, said Richard Kauzlarich, deputy director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University.
“The criminal no longer is just someone who mugs you on a street corner but someone … who has connections throughout the world,” Kauzlarich said.
In fiscal 2010, 29 of the 63 top drug-trafficking organizations identified by the Justice Department had links to terrorist organizations, according to a “fact sheet” distributed by the White House. Other criminal networks are increasingly involved in cybercrime, costing consumers billions of dollars annually.
The president issued an executive order Monday establishing a sanctions program to freeze the assets of significant transnational criminal organizations, and to bar individuals designated under that executive order from entry to the United States. The administration said it would also work with Congress to develop legislative proposals to help authorities investigate and prosecute the activities of top transnational criminal networks.
Kauzlarich, a former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan and to Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that criminals tend to take their operations overseas for a very simple reason — better money oftentimes can be found across borders.
“These people are not fools,” he said. “Not all of them are complete and total thugs. But a lot of them are profit maximizers, and if you’re a profit maximizer, you’ve got a business model.”