Terrorism and Drug Trafficking Capstone Project

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In particular, heroin from Mexico poses a formidable threat throughout Pennsylvania and Delaware, as evidenced by the increasing availability of high purity, low priced heroin and the resulting escalation in abuse, drug treatment admissions, and overdose deaths. This threat is exacerbated by the widely-reported trend of prescription drugs abusers migrating to heroin, seeking a cheaper and more available high. The DEA Philadelphia Division routinely assesses and ranks the drug threats to Philadelphia and the Delaware area as determined by availability, threat to public health, community impact, attendant crime, enforcement activity, seizures, drug abuse and treatment statistics, as well as propensity for abuse. Analysis of these factors, supplemented by investigative reporting, human intelligence, liaison, and open source data, allows for a comprehensive overview of each drug area, culminating in the ranking of drug threats throughout the Philadelphia and Delaware area. Based on the aforementioned analysis, for each the past five years, heroin has ranked as the primary drug threat to the Philadelphia area and the State of Delaware. In addition, in each reporting area (Allentown, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, as well as Wilmington, Delaware), heroin has ranked as either the primary or secondary drug threat in each of the last five years.

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Capstone Project on Terrorism and Drug Trafficking Assignment

This study used a novel theoretical framework since a viable theoretical framework for studying cross-border drug trafficking is not yet available (Campbell, 2009). Therefore, the theoretical frame was that the same financial incentives that are driving the heroin trade between Mexico and the United States by traditional drug trafficking organizations are also increasingly being used by terrorist organizations to fund attacks against the U.S. At home and abroad. In this regard, Campbell emphasizes that, "Cross-border drug trafficking cannot be fully understood without reference to international crime networks and global social and economic power structures" (2009, p. 38). Further, there remains a lack of a formal and standardized model concerning the primary factors contributing to violence in illicit drug markets in general and for Mexico in particular (Kilmer & Caulkins, 2010).

What is known for certain is that, "The commercial and organized character of illicit drug trafficking is given by the law of offer and request by the fact that acquiring as much profit as possible is the sole purpose of illegal drug trafficking networks" (Alecu, 2012, p. 283). In addition, law enforcement authorities have learned the hard way that drug trafficking organizations typically operate in a fashion that defeats the best abilities of the United States and its allies in combating the drug war (Campbell, 2009). In fact, it is the demand for drugs from developed nations such as the United States that fuels the enormous global drug markets (Campbell, 2009).

In addition, the violence that has erupted in some developing nations such as Mexico has been due to high levels of illicit drug production (Campbell, 2009). From this perspective, the developed nations of the world possess the capability to reduce drug consumption to some extent through pressure on developing nations (Campbell, 2009). As Campbell puts it, "Whether or not the United States is still the dominant world power, it is clearly in a superordinate relationship with Mexico and has been since taking half of the country in the Mexican War, even though this relationship is one of dominance without [cultural] hegemony" (2009, p. 38). It is within this convoluted and increasingly dangerous context that cross-border drug trafficking is taking place in the North American marketplace (Campbell, 2009).

Goal and Objectives

The overarching goal of this study was to deliver a critical and systematic review of the literature concerning drug trafficking and terrorism in general and its implications for U.S.-Mexico security relations to develop timely and informed answers to the following research questions which represented secondary objectives:

1. How serious is the trade in illicit drugs between Mexico and the United States today and what have been recent trends?

2. How does drug trafficking fund terrorist organizations in general and trade between Mexico and the U.S. In particular?

3. What interdictions have proven most effective in stemming the flow of drugs into the United States from Mexico?

4. What have been the implications of drug trafficking with Mexico on American communities in Pennsylvania and Delaware?

5. What further steps need to be implemented to reverse the tide of drugs and violence that continues to threaten Mexican-U.S. security relations?

Literature Review

Critical Assets Identification

The general objective of terrorist organizations is to compel other people to do their will, intimate other people, or to destabilize or otherwise destroy the support structures of a nation or an organization (Smith & McCusker, 2010). The motivations or rationales that are used by terrorist organizations vary, but typically include support for a specific religion, advancement of international recognition, to change a specific practice or policy (e.g., product testing on animals), political self-determination for minorities, or to accomplish a political ideology (Smith & McCusker, 2010).

To date, the primary responses to terrorist activities have included financial transaction monitoring and reporting (Smith & McCusker, 2010). This response is effective in two different ways: (1) by placing impediments in the path of those who seek to accrue and to move funds using the regulated financial sector and; (2) by enabling law enforcement and intelligence agencies to follow the financial trail of transactions left by those who make use of the regulated financial sector, so as to detect and to prevent possible attacks (Smith & McCusker, 2010, p. 2). In addition, there have been several other trends that have taken place in the international community in recent years that have affected responses to global terrorism. For instance, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, there has been a significant decrease in state-funded terrorist activities and an increase in international condemnation (Levitt & Jacobson 2008). Consequently, many terrorist organizations have been forced to become self-supporting financially through drug trafficking (Levitt & Jacobson 2008).

Likewise, there has been a noticeable increase in so-called "homegrown" terrorism, especially in countries located outside of the primary conflict zones (Gartenstein-Ross & Grossman, 2009). Some analysts have maintained that these homegrown terrorist organizations are increasingly contacting international terrorist organizations for training and funding (Smith & McCusker, 2010). For instance, Smith and McCusker report that, "In the European Union (EU), the number of persons associated with home-grown extremist Muslim terrorist groups increased in 2008 owing to developments in conflict zones and politically unstable countries, such as North Africa, the Sahel region, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India" (2010, p. 3). Moreover, there is growing concern over the increasing radicalization of Islamic communities in the Middle East and elsewhere (Smith & McCusker, 2010). Today's situation is a far cry from just a few decades ago when Osama bin Laden was not even a blip on the Drug Enforcement Agency's (DEA) radar. Indeed, the head of the DEA's international programs, John Warner, reported in 1984 that "among the transnational terrorist groups, the two Armenian ones stood out as the most ruthless and dangerous of all" (cited in Marshall, 2012, p. 155).

The recent budget for drug trafficking interdiction in the Western Hemisphere by country is set forth in Table 1 and depicted graphically in Figure 1 below.

Table 1

Recent drug trafficking interdiction budget


FY 2005


FY 2006


Western Hemisphere













Latin America Regional



Southern Cone



Caribbean and Central America (Transit Zone)



Subtotal Western Hemisphere



Source: U.S. Department of State (2006) International Narcotics Control Strategy Report at http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2006/vol1/html/62104.htm

Figure 1. Recent drug interdiction budget

Source: Based on tabular data in U.S. Department of State (2006) International Narcotics Control Strategy Report at http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2006/vol1/html/62104.htm

In addition, there is an increasing number of urban areas in the United States that participate in the nationwide High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, an undertaking run by the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy (Fifer & Sturgeon, 2013). The purpose of the program is to reduce drug trafficking and production in the United States by:

Facilitating cooperation among Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to share information and implement coordinated enforcement activities;

Enhancing law enforcement intelligence sharing among Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies;

Providing reliable law enforcement intelligence to law enforcement agencies to facilitate the design of effective enforcement strategies and operations; and Supporting coordinated law enforcement strategies that make the most of available resources to reduce the supply of illegal drugs in designated areas of the United States and in the nation as a whole (HIDTA program, 2014).

At present, there are 28 HIDTAs, a total that includes about 16% of all U.S. counties and approximately 60% of the American population (HIDTA program, 2014). Forty-six states as well as in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia have HIDTA-designated counties (HIDTA program, 2014). Locally, HIDTAs are overseen by executive boards that are comprised of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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