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Methods and motives: Exploring links between transnational organized crime and international terrorism


The nexus with transnational organized crime is increasingly a focus for security planners in their analyses of terror groups. Their approach is best described by the phrase “methods, not motives.” While the motives of terrorists and organized criminals remain divergent most often, our research indicates this is not always the case. For that reason, this report argues that such a general approach has become too restrictive and can be misleading since the interaction between terrorism and organized crime is growing deeper and more complex all the time. In short, the lines of separation are no longer unequivocal.

The report analyzes the relationship between international organized crime and terrorism in a systematic way in order to highlight the shortcomings of the “methods, not motives” argument. In so doing, the report considers the factors that most closely correspond to crime-terror interaction and identifies those regions of developed and developing states most likely to foster such interactions. Likewise, the paper will suggest an evolutionary spectrum of crime-terror interactions that serves as a common basis for discussion of such often used terms as “nexus.”

The centerpiece of the report is a groundbreaking methodology for analysts and investigators to overcome this growing complexity, identify crime-terror interactions more quickly and to assess their importance with confidence. The approach is derived from a standard intelligence analytical framework, and has already proven its utility in law enforcement investigations.

The report is the product of a recently concluded and peer-reviewed 18-month NIJ sponsored research project, and includes empirical evidence drawn from numerous case studies developed in the course of the research program.

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Additional information

This project was supported by Grant No. 2003-IJ-CX-1019 awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice.

Research assistance on this project was provided by Allison Irby, Douglas M. Hart, Patricia A. Craig-Hart, Dr. Phil Williams, Steven Simon, Nabi Abdullaev, and Bartosz Stanislawski. Drafting and editing help was provided by Laura Covill.

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Shelley, L.I., Picarelli, J.T. Methods and motives: Exploring links between transnational organized crime and international terrorism. Trends Organ Crim 9, 52–67 (2005).

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  • Watch Point
  • Organize Crime
  • Terrorist Group
  • Shadow Economy
  • Organize Criminal