Convergence of Terrorism & Transnational Criminal Organizations

This module provides a roadmap to understanding the intersection of terrorist groups and criminal networks showing a high-level overview of the evolution of cooperation, the resources also detail drivers and enablers of cooperation.

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Resource List

These resources provide a baseline of understanding, but as the strategic environment continues to evolve, new data will become available.


  • Council on Foreign Relations: The Council on Foreign Relations frequently publishes reports related to criminal networks, transnational crime, and the intersection of terrorist groups and criminal networks. See its main page:
  • E-International Relations: E-International Relations is the world’s leading open access website for students and scholars of international politics. Its articles provide interesting ideas, debates, and policy issues in international politics and often highlight this topic. Articles can be found at:
  • George Mason University, Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC): The first center in the United States devoted to understanding the links among terrorism, transnational crime and corruption, and to teach, research, train and help formulate policy in this area, TraCCC provides information and academic articles on corruption, crime-terror nexus, transnational organized crime, and terrorism.
  • RAND Corporation, Crime and Terrorism: The RAND Corporation routinely publishes reports on both transnational crime and terrorism, and in many cases their intersection. Information and links to publications by topic area can be found at:

Recent Publications and Journal Articles:

  • Convergence: Illicit Networks and National Security in the Age of Globalization: Published for the Center for Complex Operations (CCO) Institute for National Strategic Studies by the National Defense University Press, this book delves into multifaceted transnational crime and illicit networks. It includes chapters authored by many senior experts both within and outside the U.S. Government, and it covers the environment in which terrorist and organized criminal groups are able to operate and cooperate, the methods utilized, the impact of coordination on counties’ stability, and how states can and should work against these groups and their combined efforts.
  • Links Between Terrorism, Organized Crime and Crime: The Case of the Sahel Region: This article proposes that the increased interaction between organized criminal organizations and terrorist organizations falls into three categories: coexistence, where they occupy the same geographic space by coincidence; cooperation, where the organizations decide to at least temporarily work together to serve their mutual aims; and convergence, where the organizations begin to use methods that are more commonly used by the other (i.e., terrorist organizations begin selling drugs to fundraise).
    • Citation: Alda, Erik, and Joseph Sala. “Links Between Terrorism, Organized Crime and Crime: The Case of the Sahel Region.” Stability: International Journal of Security and Development 3, no. 1 (2014).
  • Transnational Terrorism: This chapter from the International Relations e-textbook discusses transnational terrorism and the methods, motivations, and structures that increasingly make terrorist organizations transnational. The chapter lays out the connections between transnational terrorism and organized crime as being the methods of fundraising and acquiring equipment. The author states that criminal groups will provide terrorist organizations with whatever materiel support they need as long as they have the funds, and terrorist organizations will allow criminal activities to take place within their area of control when it serves their interests.
  • Transnational terror and organized crime; blurring the lines: This article highlights the similarities between terrorist organizations and organized criminal groups’ organizational and operational characteristics. It lists global political pressure, globalization, increased speed of travel and communication, increased access to information, and growth of weak and failing states as elements that enable or encourage terrorist organizations to utilize criminal activity as a revenue source or to work with organized crime groups. The ease of obtaining light arms also enables the convergence between the two types of groups as the light arms can be used as a fundraising means or operationally. The article also noted that cultural, operational, and practical differences do exist that block the two types of groups from fully converging. Terrorist organizations often are based on ideological, religious, or political motivations, whereas organized criminal groups’ motivation is to make money. The article concludes with a discussion on what is being done to understand and prevent the convergence.

Other Resources:

  • Europe’s Crime-Terror Nexus: Links between terrorist and organized crime groups in the European Union: This study, developed for the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, lays out the links between organized crime and terrorist organizations within the European Union’s boundaries. It provides a theoretical framework for the relationship between the two types of organizations, as well as giving several case studies of actual linkages. The report concluded that this coordination between organized crime and terrorism generally existed in areas of instability. Charts provide lists of alliances between organized crime groups and terrorist organizations worldwide.
  • Methods and motives: Exploring Links between Transnational Organized Crime & International Terrorism: This report’s main argument is that the idea that terrorist organizations and organized crime groups can merge their methods but not their motivations is too restrictive. It asserts that terrorists might adapt criminal activities to meet their needs and that it often leads to stronger connections, but this last assessment was not shared by law enforcement and the Intelligence Community at the time of writing. The process of convergence goes from borrowing each other’s activities to working together to sharing goals, becoming a symbiotic relationship.
    • Citation: Shelley, Louise I., John T. Picarelli, Allison Irby, Douglas M. Hart, Patricia A. Craig- Hart, Dr. Phil Williams, Steven Simon, Nabi Abdullaev, Bartosz Stanislawski, and Laura Covill. “Methods and motives: Exploring Links between Transnational Organized Crime & International Terrorism.” Report funded by the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice, June 23, 2005.
  • Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: A document released by the Obama administration on 25 July 2011, the document outlines priority actions including enhanced intelligence and information sharing, protecting the financial systems and markets against transnational organized crime, strengthening investigations and prosecutions, disrupting drug trafficking, and building international capacity/cooperation to disrupt transnational organized crime.

These materials were developed as an initiative of the Advanced Thinking in Homeland Security (HSx) curriculum at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

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