A Thief, a Dirty Politician, and a Suicide Bomber Walk Into a Bar…

Jun 20, 2016

From: Washington Monthly

Yes, terrorists conspire with criminal networks and corrupt officials. But that doesn’t mean cracking down on crime and corruption will stop terrorism.

by Paul Pillar

It is easy to think of bad things going together, and of bad people doing multiple types of bad things. Sometimes such patterns are real and not just a matter of cognitive consistency. It is a reality with terrorism and crime, even though terrorism is inherently a political act and most crime is more about enrichment. Terrorists are heavily involved in a wide variety of crimes. You probably don’t realize just how heavily and how wide, however, unless you have read Louise Shelley’s Dirty Entanglements. The book is an encyclopedic treatment of the subject. Whatever ways terrorism and crime have ever intersected are likely to be reflected somewhere in this book. The author has scoured for examples from all over the world, from material cited in more than 1,500 endnotes. It is almost enough to make one believe that these two forms of bad behavior always go together.


Dirty Entanglements can serve also as a primer on the whole world of transnational, profit-making crime. Shelley takes the reader on a global tour of criminal operations that include not only the familiar trade in illicit drugs but also operations that deal in counterfeit goods, stolen antiquities, smuggled cigarettes, violation of intellectual property rights, and much else. While taking the tour, one can lose sight of how the connections with terrorism sometimes get thin, if they exist at all. The overall message is that this voluminous illicit activity is part of a worldwide entanglement of the three different forms of bad behavior; the detailed messages that particular terrorist operations have been facilitated by particular crimes or corrupt conduct is sometimes weaker.

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