Terrorism and crime may overlap more than efforts to combat them

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Although efforts to fight terrorism and transnational crime separately are substantial, efforts to deal with the overlap between the two may fall short, the Congressional Research Service says.

Intelligence gathering, for example, does not seem to deal with the nexus between terrorism and crime enough, the CRS says in an Oct. 19 report (.pdf) that Secrecy News posted online. Congress, in legislation and oversight, could heighten its focus on that nexus to guide the executive branch's approach.

The report also points out that law enforcement can prosecute terrorists for crimes that don't fall under terrorism law when that's the clearer path for prosecution. But the United States and its partners don't consistently track cases where terrorism and crime overlap, so it's hard to tell how that has played out in practice. The report says Congress could assess which statutes have helped law enforcement deal with the overlap and what new legislation may be useful.

Because terrorist financing can be entwined with criminal activities, the Treasury Department has sought to exploit that overlap to weaken illicit financial networks, but the report notes it can be laborious and time-consuming to do so and may not do enough damage.

The CRS also notes that an authority that's set up to combat terrorism or crime, but not both, may drift into fighting the other as the line between them blurs--but that isn't always warranted or desirable.

For example, the Defense Department has allowed the military to participate in counternarcotics operations as part of its role in Afghanistan. As the scope of its role expands, the military might step outside its rules of engagement, and militarized anti-crime activities may contribute to human rights violations, the report says.

The report also cautions that it's unclear whether anecdotal cases of terrorist and criminal coordination constitute a meaningful trend or just isolated incidents.

For more:
- download the report, "Terrorism and Transnational Crime: Foreign Policy Issues for Congress" (.pdf)

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