While there are similarities in the way the two function, there are also crucial differences that highlight the challenges of fighting them effectively.
Associate Professor David Bright is Director of the Flinders Illicit Networks Lab which conducts groundbreaking research using social network analysis to study organised criminal groups and terrorist groups. He is also Deputy Director of the Centre for Crime Policy and Research at Flinders University and Research Section Head for Criminology.
Associate Professor Bright began his career as a forensic psychologist before turning his attention to law enforcement interventions in the methamphetamine trade. What he found there piqued his interest in the structure of organised crime in general – specifically the networks that sustain it – and that has been his focus ever since.
“Social network analysis has been a key conceptual framework and an important methodology and analytical approach in my research,” he says. “It’s about the way people collaborate with each other in some type of an illicit activity, whether that’s drug trafficking or terrorism.”
Crime networks share many of the attributes of big business in their drive for profits.
“These networks are focused on the efficiency of their operations – how well they can do what they do and how quickly they can make money,” Associate Professor Bright says. “But they need to balance the efficiency of their operation against the overall need for security, because they’re operating in the dark, shadowy world of illicit trade. They need to make sure they make their money, but at the same time they don’t want to be detected and exposed.”
This keeps the networks much smaller than their multimillion dollar turnovers would suggest.
“Questions of trust are difficult and fraught,” Associate Professor Bright says. “The more they try to expand their networks, the more that they risk allowing someone into their organisation who is either going to inform on them, or who might be an undercover operative, or part of some rival operation. So the networks tend to be pretty small – in the dozens rather than the hundreds.”
In terrorist organisations priorities are slightly different.