Remarks at a UN Security Council Open Debate on the Linkages between International Terrorism and Organized Crime

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
July 9, 2019


Thank you, Mr. President and congratulations to Peru on assuming the Presidency of the Council for the month of July. Congratulations also to Kuwait for a superb job during its Presidency in June. Let me add my warm welcome back to New York to Ambassador de Rivière. Nicolas, it is truly excellent to have you with us in the Council and we wish you every success during your time in New York. Ambassador Ma your distinguished service at the UN, your partnership and constructive approach on so many issues, and your important voice on this Council will all be missed. We wish you every success in your future endeavors. Mr. President, let me thank today’s briefers and move into my remarks.

Terrorist and organized criminal groups interact and cooperate in various ways. They sometimes coexist in the same territory, they develop ad hoc alliances based on a common interest, or even cooperate and merge as entities. But most interactions between terrorist and organized criminal groups are ad hoc and opportunistic. Criminal relationships of convenience define these ties much more frequently than do shared ideologies.

As we have heard, conditions in some parts of the world, including ungoverned and under-governed territories, and areas near porous borders, combined with weak law enforcement, provide opportunities for terrorist and transnational criminal groups to work together. As Mrs. Makarenko said, it is there that they collude, collide and conspire. Collectively, we do have a number of tools to strengthen border security and counter such activity.

Strong border security can prevent these groups from taking advantage of trafficking routes, human flows, and networks in regions with under-policed or porous borders. Cooperation, coordination, and intelligence sharing between border security agencies is essential.

That’s one reason it is important to collect and analyze advance passenger information (API) and passenger name records (PNR). API/PNR data can help investigators identify connections between individuals associated with terrorist and organized criminal groups.

Mr. President, our existing treaties, including the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and international counterterrorism instruments and protocols, provide a useful framework to facilitate law enforcement cooperation. In the United States, we have used the UNTOC as a legal basis over six-hundred and fifty times since 2005 to provide or request mutual legal assistance, extradition, and other forms of international legal cooperation with 99 countries. Including for crimes like migrant smuggling and money laundering that could directly or indirectly support terrorism.

Linkages between terrorist and organized criminal groups vary by region, as we heard from a number of other speakers. Revenues generated through various forms of illicit trafficking, including of arms, have been used for terrorism. ISIS, for example, has benefited from the illicit and unregulated purchase of arms. Groups like Al Qa’ida also engage in a variety of crimes to finance their activities, ranging from narcotics trafficking to credit card theft. Kidnapping for ransom and extortion are also a profitable sources of funds for terrorist groups, including ISIS.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban profit from narcotics trafficking and extortion. Illicit activities support the Taliban’s insurgency and prolong the suffering of the Afghan people.

Mr. President, in addition to law enforcement efforts to counter criminal and terrorist linkages, it is equally important to engage local communities and non-government actors, including youth, cultural and educational leaders to concurrently address the underlying conditions conducive to the spread of violent extremism or transnational organized crime.

We should also develop comprehensive and integrated strategies to counter the potential linkages between terrorism and organized crime. The UN can strengthen its role to address evolving challenges by enhancing its cooperation with regional and sub-regional organizations, as well as international forums like the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF).

The GCTF is leading several efforts to address the linkages between transnational organized crime and terrorism and to bridge the gap between traditional criminal investigators and those who handle terrorism cases. This is especially important, as many homegrown terrorists tend to have prior criminal backgrounds.

Mr. President, the United States looks forward to continuing to work with the United Nations; organizations such as FATF, the G-7, and the GCTF; and the EU and partner countries around the world to address both transnational organized crime and terrorism. I thank you.