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The Evolution of Transnational Organized Crime

Date Published
November 2, 2011

Sidebar to the article Responding to Transnational Organized Crime — Supporting Research, Improving Practice by John T. Picarelli

Many people are familiar with traditional forms of organized crime thanks to films like The Godfather and Goodfellas. In 1968, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act defined organized crime as "the unlawful activities of the members of a highly organized, disciplined association engaged in supplying illegal goods and services, including but not limited to gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, narcotics, labor racketeering, and other unlawful activities of members of such organizations." Organized crime was primarily a domestic concern, comprised of groups that rarely looked beyond their own city for profits and power.

Starting in the 1970s, but accelerating in the early 1990s, a new form of organized crime took hold. The combination of a new geopolitical climate, a globalized world economy and resulting softer borders, and a revolution in information technology available to crime groups hastened a shift. Crime groups changed from domestic organized crime groups that were regional in scope and hierarchically structured to criminal organizations that are global and transnational in nature, increasingly networked with other criminal groups, and often flatter in structure. The U.S. Department of Justice defines transnational organized crime in part as "self-perpetuating associations of individuals that operate internationally for the purpose of obtaining power, influence, monetary, and/or commercial gains, wholly or in part by illegal means, while protecting their activities through a pattern of corruption and/or violence, or while protecting their illegal activities through an international organizational structure and the exploitation of international commerce or communication mechanisms."

In short, organized crime is no longer only a domestic concern — it is an international problem. Today, crime groups manifest themselves in multiple countries simultaneously in order to leverage global criminal and licit markets. The 'Ndrangheta is an excellent example of this evolution. The original 'Ndrangheta clans arose in Calabria (the region that makes up the toe of Italy's boot) in the late 1800s. Until the 1970s, the 'Ndrangheta rarely operated outside Calabria. Yet by the 1990s, the 'Ndrangheta was looking to global criminal markets for new opportunities. For example, the 'Ndrangheta began to enter into contracts with Colombian drug trafficking organizations in the 1990s, importing cocaine for a growing European market. Currently, the 'Ndrangheta has a significant presence in more than a dozen countries, ranging as far as Australia and Canada.

National Institute of Justice, "The Evolution of Transnational Organized Crime," November 2, 2011, nij.ojp.gov:
Date Created: November 2, 2011