Others have speculated on the likelihood of terrorist groups transforming into mere organized crime syndicates as they struggle to raise money (Steven and Wretchard for two, although I can't find the links), and now it looks like there's evidence that it's happening.

Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network has become deeply involved in international drug trafficking, using the money to buy arms and, possibly, radioactive material for use in a so-called "dirty" nuclear bomb, senior U.S. officials say.

The seizure earlier this month of boats carrying heroin and hashish, and operated by al Qaeda-linked persons, has brought to light an al Qaeda drug operation that has grown tremendously since the September 11 attacks, the sources say.

"Bin Laden does not mind trafficking in drugs, even though it's against the teaching of Islam, because it's being used to kill Westerners," said a defense official who asked not to be named. "He has allies and associates who are not members per se, but who move products for him and take drugs and buy arms and give the arms to al Qaeda."

I'm not pro-drug -- and drug legalization and regulation are complicated issues in their own right -- but if terrorists start turning more of their energy towards drugs then that means they'll spend less time trying to blow things up, right? On the other hand they'll have more money to play with, which would increase their terror capabilities.

Personally, I expect the former. As terrorists get involved more heavily is standard organized crime they'll gain a huge incentive to avoid attention and not rock the boat. They may want money now to fund attacks, but eventually they'll just start wanting money for itself, to support burgeoning hedonistic lifestyles like all drug lords the world over. They'll start fighting amongst themselves for money, territory, and power, and just like the Mafia they'll do everything possible to escape the attention of law enforcement -- getting raided, arrested, or caught with bombs is bad for business.

Additionally, the drug-running industry is pretty crowded already, and if terrorist groups start stepping on toes the lesser criminals may start giving us some useful tips they may not have bothered with before. Greed corrupts the best of us, and I have no doubt that greed will foster competition and conflict between terrorist/criminal groups who once cooperated due to a common enemy or a shared ideology.



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