Crime Prevention, Intelligence Agencies

Crime Prevention, Intelligence Agencies

The relationship between law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and intelligence is straightforwardly recognized, as exemplified by the fact that the FBI is regularly involved in intelligence and counterintelligence activities. Less obvious, however, is the interaction between operations such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and crime prevention or law enforcement. Although most activities of intelligence organizations are by definition secret, it is at least possible to discern the outlines of a positive correlation between intelligence and crime prevention activities. In the case of police states and terrorist organizations, the relationship between intelligence and crime prevention—or, for covert operations in enemy countries, intelligence and the promotion of crime—is even easier to demonstrate.

Totalitarian societies and radical movements. One of the means to appreciate the interaction between intelligence and/or covert operations on the one hand, and crime prevention on the other, is to observe the example of totalitarian nations and the radical movements associated with them. In nations such as those of the Soviet bloc before the end of the Cold War, the presence of an intelligence-gathering entity such as the KGB was so pervasive that it had the side effect of virtually minimizing ordinary crime. While in the last two decades of the Soviet era, the black market became an increasingly significant facet of daily life. In the centralized command economy that prevailed at that time, it was by definition a criminal enterprise to engage in the buying and selling of goods through channels other than those overseen by state authorities. Yet, as the Soviet economy declined, the black market became virtually the only means whereby individuals could obtain basic goods, let alone luxury items. This was true even of party apparatchiks other than the highest officials, and for this reason, the black market became the beneficiary of benign neglect on the part of Soviet authorities.

With the exception of the forms of commerce encompassed by the black market, however—and most such commerce would not be deemed criminal in a liberal democracy—the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites seem to have had a much lower crime rate than the United States and Western Europe over a comparable period. The obvious explanation for this difference, particularly when European countries are compared to make up for cultural differences, is the existence of a pervasive information-gathering apparatus. With spies, cameras, bugs, and tape recorders pervasive throughout society, criminal activity was unlikely to flourish unless it enjoyed official sanction.

Promoting crime in liberal democracies. Opposite to this obvious relationship between totalitarian societies, intelligence, and crime prevention is that between totalitarian or radical movements, intelligence, and the promotion of crime in liberal democracies. The founder of the Soviet state, V. I. Lenin, is credited as saying that "The enemy will sell us the rope with which we will hang him." Lenin's statement may have been too modest: based on the apparent relationship between the Soviet Union, allied movements and nations, and illegal activity in the West during the 1970s and 1980s, it appears in some cases that, to paraphrase Lenin, the enemy actually paid for the rope himself.

Although rumors of CIA involvement in the drug trade have long been fodder for conspiracy theories of various ideological stripes, a more well-established relationship has existed between communist nations, particularly Cuba, and the traffic in illegal drugs. The same is true of the Islamic fundamentalist regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan, who controlled much of the heroin trade prior to their overthrow in 2001. Some of this activity, especially that of nongovernmental entities, falls under the category of narcoterrorism, defined by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as terrorism undertaken by groups directly or indirectly involved in producing, transporting, or distributing illegal drugs.

Whereas authoritarian and totalitarian governments deal harshly with drug traffickers inside their borders, selling drugs to Western nations serves a number of purposes. On the most basic level, it funds the activities of revolutionary armies and terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, or the Havana-aligned FARC rebels in Colombia. The drug trade also forces liberal democracies to allocate additional resources toward a "war on drugs," and, by encouraging the behaviors associated with drug use, ultimately exerts a deleterious effect on the fabric of society. In such a way, encouragement of crime in a liberal democracy is a form of covert operation on behalf of an enemy state or movement.

Intelligence and crime prevention in Democracies. Ironically, the relationship between intelligence and crime prevention in open societies is more difficult to demonstrate. In part, this is because CIA and other organizations have far less influence on daily life in the United States than do intelligence organizations within a highly controlled political system. Still, the link between hostile governments or movements on the one hand, and crime on the other, has led U.S. authorities to increasingly link crime prevention and intelligence.

This is particularly so in the post-September 2001 world, in which the relationship between Islamist fundamentalist terrorism and the heroin trade has been clearly established. Even before that time, however, the CIA and FBI were working together and expanding operations overseas, in an effort to battle narcoterrorism. According to an April 1995 report in the New York Times, both agencies, along with the federal government, had begun to treat global crime as a national security issue.

The CIA has also taken an interest in crime-prevention tactics of domestic law enforcement. This is true not just on a federal level, but even—in the case of a New York City program—on a municipal level. In November 1999, CIA director George Tenet visited police headquarters in lower Manhattan to observe the operations of Compstat, a computerized statistical program whereby the New York Police Department monitors crime block by block. According to the New York Times, the agency was considering use of such a system to monitor entire foreign nations as a means of predicting potential unrest.



Blair, Jayson. "C.I.A. Chief Slips in to Study Police Department Program." New York Times. (November 6, 1999): section B, p. 2.

Gedda, George. "CIA Probes Cuban Link to Drug Trade." Associated Press. August 16, 1999.

Johnston, David. "Strength Is Seen in a U.S. Export: Law Enforcement." New York Times. (April 17, 1995): A1.

Kushner, Harvey W. "Can Security Measures Stop Terrorism?" Security Management 40, no. 6 (June 1996): 132.


Customs Service, United States
DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration)
FBI (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation)

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

Crime Prevention, Intelligence Agencies forum