Over the last three decades there has been a relatively rapid diffusion of power once held only by traditional nation-states. The collapse of the cold war bi-polar world was the beginning of this process. The rapid proliferation of the internet hastened the process. Communication, information, and influence have, to a large extent, been re-distributed to actors who were once either irrelevant or merely dwelled on the margins. Criminal organizations, insurrectionary groups, and terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIL / ISIS who were once on the fringes now capitalize on this diffusion. We witness the ability to communicate with and mobilize people via the Internet and we witness the effects this can have within our own culture and politics as well as within and between like-minded criminals. Criminal organizations, like terrorist organizations have migrated from traditional hierarchical top-down structures and now “outsource” to tap expertise in critical functional areas. These non-state actors now operate with relative impunity and across borders, unencumbered by legal treaties, laws, and nation-state boundaries. It is the simultaneous exploitation of the diffusion of power and “projectization” of these groups’ operations that makes each so very difficult to define, infiltrate, and disrupt. Traditional government organizations and militaries, however, retain this hierarchical top-down structure and remain organized and resourced to combat their antagonists using this outdated and incongruent structure. Organized criminals (and I expressly include terrorism as a sub-set of organized criminals) have always adapted first and best to new technologies and markets. Similarly, they have adapted to the Internet-driven world of communication and information. Law enforcement and state-actors usually play follow-up and, by their nature, tend to be reactive. It is no easy fix. It requires resources, progressive thinking, and a complete re-think of organizational structure. Until then, the effectiveness against 21st century organized criminals, especially terrorist, will remain short-term at best.
Andrew J. Malanga, Hong Kong, 2014