NPS-CHDS research, Blue Campaign target human trafficking

Students and alumni at the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security have been at the forefront of analyzing human trafficking and its implications for terrorism and homeland security.

The Department of Homeland Security launched its Blue Campaign on Thursday, highlighting a unified government effort to combat human trafficking that comprises multiple levels of government along with law enforcement, government, non-governmental and private organizations.

“The Blue Campaign strives to protect the basic right of freedom and to bring those who exploit human lives to justice,” the campaign website states. The issue is commonly associated with prostitution but also plagues labor-intensive industries overseas as well. Along with the human toll, there are concern criminal groups can use proceeds for violent acts or transport terrorists.

Human trafficking has been researched from varied perspectives by CHDS participants. In his master’s degree thesis, Major Thanh N. Vo of the Oregon Army National Guard found human trafficking to be the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, according to the Health and Human Services.

His thesis, “Business of Security: Applying an Economic Model to Human Trafficking in Oregon,” suggests a three-pronged effort to reduce demand by targeting sex buyers for harsher penalties such as mandatory sex offender registration and campaigns that expose “Johns” publicly.

Master’s degree alumnus Joseph Lanzante of U.C. Customs and Border Protection wrote on the link between trafficking and terrorist groups in his thesis, “Relationship between Criminal and Terrorist Organizations and Human Smuggling.” His work focused on how street gangs, transnational cartels and terrorists could work together using their criminal expertise and common interests in document forgery, transportation and bribery. Among the examples he cites is a case in which a Hezbollah operative worked with a North Carolina cigarette smuggling ring to raise millions for the group. The 2009 thesis called for greater information sharing and collaboration with international partners

In another thesis, “Prostitution as a Possible Funding Mechanism,” alumnus Richard DiGiacomo, Attorney Advisor with the Transportation Security Administration, explored whether prostitution were likely to be among the revenue tools of terrorist groups. He cited a group Ansar Al-fath in France that financed its activities in part through prostitution and another case in India in which the planner of the 1993 attacks in Mumbai was associated with human trafficking.

“If a terrorist is not already using prostitution as a funding source or at least studying the possibility of using prostitution to raise money, then they may be the only ones not taking advantage of this enterprise,” DiGiacomo wrote. “Thus, having concluded that prostitution could reasonably and logically be a funding source for terrorism, then what are the best ways to increase the cost of engaging in prostitution, thereby reducing the funds that go along with the business?”

Todd Bensman, formerly with the Texas Department of Public Safety, studied how long-distance human smuggling from far-flung corners of the globe and forged document hots spots enable traffickers to deposit would-be terrorists at the U.S. southern border in his thesis “Ultra-Marathoners of Human Smuggling: Defending Forward Against Dark Networks That Can Transport Terrorists Across American Land Borders.”  The research traced how “special interest aliens” from 35 countries in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa, where terrorist groups operate and pose a potentially exportable product, can make it to the American land border despite law enforcement efforts to stop them.

“These human smuggling operations move people across continents and oceans and countries and border after border. That’s why I call them ‘ultra-marathoners’” Bensman said. “If you were ISIS and wanted to get here these are the organizations that enable it. This is the terror travel highway.”

As part of the campaign to raise awareness, the Blue Campaign is hosting a Facebook Live panel discussion at 1 p.m. EST, Wednesday, January 17, to discuss how the private and public sectors are working to help stop human trafficking. Click “going” on the event page for updates, and tune in to Blue Campaign’s Facebook page for the live broadcast.

DHS is also urging stakeholders to support the Blue Campaign to share and share a message on the social media app Thunderclap, a platform that allows a single message to be simultaneously mass-shared on social media. Thunderclap will automatically post these messages Twitter at 3 p.m. Wednesday, January 31.