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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

International Organized Crime

Transnational criminal syndicates and networks – for example, the Russian and Balkan mafias, the Asian Triads, the Latin drug cartels, West African syndicates -- undermine the stability and security of all nations through their illicit enterprises including the transshipment of drugs, arms, illegal contraband, trafficked women and children, laundered money, financial fraud, counterfeiting, and cybercrime. Behind the supply of illicit goods and services is often a web of international organized crime. Although a criminal syndicate or network may specialize in one aspect of criminal behavior, they are often involved in related crimes. For example, an arms trafficker may be paid in diamonds/previous gems, drugs, or commodities/natural resources (e.g., oil) which are in turn sold and the proceeds laundered and possibly channeled legitimately into the international financial system. The interwoven strands of such illicit and criminal transactions make it almost impossible to separate one from the other. International criminals have tremendous financial resources and spare no expense to corrupt government and law enforcement officials. They also have extensive worldwide networks to support their operations and are inherently nimble, adapting quickly to change. Another significant development is the growing involvement of insurgent, paramilitary, and extremist groups in criminal activities associated with traditional organized criminal groups to finance their acquisition of arms, supplies, and logistics. In the nexus of the crime-insurgency/terror continuum, there is often an underlying criminal infrastructure or nodes that helps facilitate and bankroll their illicit objectives.


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