Other globally trafficked illicit goods can also be found constantly moving on these routes: stolen and counterfeit intellectual property, illegal migrants, human slaves, laundered cash, sophisticated armaments. Meanwhile, in laboratories in North Korea, Iran and Syria, sophisticated weapons of mass destruction are in production or being researched. When global trafficking routes and weapons of mass destruction merge, the result will be catastrophic.
A special case of this kind of convergence is emerging in the cyberworld, where the greatest mismatch between the level of threat to our country (high) and our level of preparation (low) is evident. High-threat packages move through the world’s servers, fiber-optic cables and routers in the service of nations, anarchic organizations and garden-variety hackers. Trillions of dollars’ worth of cybercrime occurs each year; if the cyber-capability and the resultant cash converge with terrorist groups or pariah states such as Iran and North Korea, the potential for catastrophe is high.
So, what can be done? First and foremost, the United States and the international community must recognize the threat this kind of deviant globalization poses. Convergence of these mobile illicit activities can rapidly undermine global security norms. Too often the focus is on single-point threats — drugs, money laundering, human trafficking, weapons trading, production of weapons of mass destruction — while the true threat lies in their convergence. The Obama administration’s Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime, published in 2011, is a step in the right direction.
Second, we must recognize that it takes a network to confront another network. Networks of criminal and terrorist activities are converging. The United States needs to build its own network solutions. This means combining international, interagency, and private and public mechanisms for cooperation — or open-source security — across the spectrum of threat. Cyberthreats cannot be dealt with in isolation; combating them requires full cooperation of the private sector; linkages among the Defense, State, Commerce, Homeland Security and Justice departments; and international partners, beginning with NATO.
Third, we must follow the money. Huge sums of cash from these trafficking activities finance terrorists and insurgents such as the Taliban, as well as corruption. The money is used to undermine fragile democracies. Efforts to upend threat financing must be fused with international initiatives, move across U.S. agency lines and have the cooperation of the private-sector institutions involved.