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Marshall Center Course Highlights Combating Transnational Criminals

September 04, 2018

This report originally published at defense.gov.


Transnational criminal organizations have benefitted from globalization, said the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict.

Thomas Alexander spoke to 88 participants from 54 countries as the keynote speaker for the Program on Countering Transnational Organized Crime at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies Aug. 24. The Marshall Center is a German-American international security and defense studies institute based here.

National Security Concerns

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“Overlapping networks enable transnational criminal organizations to move illicit shipments quickly throughout the world,” Alexander said. “They also face little risk of detection, due to the sheer volume of global trade coming into container ports or the emerging trend of trafficking drug precursor chemicals directly to customers via the internet and global mail.”

Held twice a year, the CTOC course emphasizes how transnational organized crime threatens nations’ national security. Lectures and case studies examine the major methods by which transnational criminal organizations engage in illegal activities. Seminar activities focus on methods to combat this threat through the development of CTOC strategies, and whole-of-government and inter-regional solutions.

Professor Joe Vann, CTOC program director, said he and his staff focus on teaching course participants how to develop strategies to combat the activities of drug cartels, terrorists and transnational criminal organizations.

“We try to give our participants executive development skills so that when they go home they will be able to adapt and modify these skills and improve their ability to make a difference in their countries,” Vann said “We want them to become senior decision makers who can help develop and direct countering transnational organized crime strategies in their countries.”

He added, “We teach them to think critically in order to assess complex problems. These skills are required in order to develop solutions and strategies to disrupt the activities of transnational criminal organizations.”

Course Participants

Course participants included military and civilian government officials and practitioners who are engaged in policy development, law enforcement, intelligence and interdiction activities aimed at countering illicit narcotics trafficking, terrorist involvement in criminal activity and the associated elements of transnational crime and corruption.

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“The Marshall Center does a fabulous job pulling the right officials from the right countries and have them strategize together because that’s ultimately what they are going to have to do when they go back home,” Alexander said.

In 2014, the Marshall Center was designated by the Department of Defense as a center of excellence for transnational security studies due to its countering transnational organized crime program, as well as its programs on countering terrorism and cyber threats.

Developing Strategies

“In my country, I am a member of the group that is writing how to combat money laundering and finance terrorism as part of our national strategy,” said Madina Adam Sere, financial analyst with the Ministry of Finance in the Ivory Coast.

She added that they have one year to write this portion of the country’s national strategy. In two years, that strategy will be due for evaluation, she added.

“That’s why it was important that I participated in this course because now I have more knowledge on how to write this strategy and to consider more aspects of countering money laundering and finance terrorism than I had considered before,” Sere said. “This is because the lectures covered many aspects of transnational organized crime, and I was able to ask direct questions from experts in the field.”

Sere and her fellow course participants heard from faculty and invited subject matter experts who are experienced in different areas of combating transnational organized crime such as narcotics trafficking, human smuggling, weapons trafficking, cybercrime and money laundering.

Sharing Information

“I also have a lot of contacts outside of my country that I didn’t have before attending this course,” Sere said. “Now, I have people from more than 50 countries that I can ask if I need more information while I am helping to write this part of our national strategy.”

The Marshall Center’s alumni network consists of more than 13,000 security professionals from 154 nations. Sere said she feels comfortable contacting those in this network because of the Marshall Center connection.

“I am becoming more and more convinced that nowhere in the world will you have an opportunity to sit in a group of 80 to 90 people from around the world with this level of experience, and be able to share information and learn from each other,” Vann said to the participants at the beginning of the course.

Valuable Connections

“What you learn here will be very important for when you go home, but also the connections you make here will be equally important,” Vann continued. “We see that every day when someone reaches back to a participant they had opportunity to be in class with and actually solve investigations or problems.”

He added, “Don’t lose sight of that. Please appreciate it. Don’t take for granted the magic that really happens here.”

During the last week of the program, participants strategized together in their seminars to develop a CTOC strategy and present it to the plenary right before graduation. Alexander was able to review these presentations and ask questions.

In his address, Alexander listed the two key parts of strategizing as understanding the enemy and building relationships.

“Your readiness can be attributed to the Marshall Center’s hands-on approach to teaching,” he said. “The center’s talented staff realizes that when pursuing our adversaries, good CTOC strategists strive to outsmart and stay one step ahead.”

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