Unraveling the web: Dismantling transnational organized crime networks in the Americas - AEI

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Event Summary

On Tuesday, AEI and the Federalist Society gathered experts from business, academia, and government to examine transnational organized crime networks in the Western Hemisphere. Following an introduction by Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea, two panels explored the dynamics of these networks and offered critical perspectives on the US policy response.

Panelists discussed the role of corruption in creating an ideal environment for organized criminal activities and the resilient nature of the nexus between organized crime and terrorist groups. As US foreign policy has thus far failed to grasp and address the scale of the issue, these networks have become stronger. Among the policies proposed were reforms targeting money laundering in real estate, the misuse of legal entities for beneficiaries and ownership, and reform of governmental structures to offer a cohesive approach to the problem. However, panelists emphasized that policy must work with the private sector to guide and create lasting change. All the panelists concurred that the US was beginning important policy steps to address the issue, but they disagreed on the most significant aspects of transnational organized criminal activity in the Western Hemisphere.

— Sara Morrell and Ian Beck

Event Description

The United States and its neighbors face an ever-evolving threat of transnational organized crime. Last year, AEI released a tactical report on how US policymakers and law enforcement can target this threat. The Trump administration has been proactive in confronting threat networks close to home in the Americas. However, there is much more work to be done to dismantle criminal syndicates. How can policymakers bolster regional security cooperation, help local economies affected by these groups, and ensure US agencies have the resources they need for this fight?

Join AEI and the Federalist Society for a discussion on the Trump administration’s options in the fight against transnational organized crime in the Americas. Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing Marshall Billingslea will deliver opening remarks, followed by panel discussions.

Join the conversation on social media with @AEI on Twitter and Facebook.


12:45 PM

1:00 PM
Opening remarks:
Marshall Billingslea, US Treasury Department

1:35 PM

1:45 PM
Panel discussion I

Douglas Farah, IBI Consultants
Emanuele Ottolenghi, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Celina Realuyo, National Defense University
Roger F. Noriega, AEI

2:20 PM

2:30 PM

2:35 PM
Panel discussion II

William Brownfield, US Department of State (former)
Clay R. Fuller, AEI
Patrick Hovakimian, Department of Justice
Welby Leaman, Walmart

James Dunlop, Jones Day

3:25 PM

3:35 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Charlotte Kearney at [email protected], 202.862.5904.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries or to register a camera crew, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829

Speaker Biographies

Marshall Billingslea serves as the assistant secretary of the US Treasury Department, heading the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes. He was appointed by the president and confirmed by the United States Senate in June 2017. Before his current role, Mr. Billingslea served as a managing director of Deloitte’s Federal Business Intelligence Services group, where he provided due-diligence services for a wide range of federal clients and Fortune 500 companies. He specialized in investigating beneficial ownership structures and advising businesses on the legal and regulatory risks associated with third-party transactions, particularly in overseas markets. Mr. Billingslea has more than a decade of service in several federal government positions, including as the deputy under secretary of the Navy, NATO assistant secretary general for defense investment, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict, and deputy assistant secretary of defense for negotiations policy. Before serving in the Department of Defense, he was the senior professional staff member for national security affairs on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Mr. Billingslea holds a B.A. from Dartmouth College and an M.A. in law and diplomacy from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He has been decorated with the Cross of Terra Mariana by the president of Estonia, the Knight’s Cross by the president of Poland, and the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Czech Republic. He has been awarded the Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service by the US secretary of defense and the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award the US secretary of the Navy.

William Brownfield was previously ambassador to Chile, Venezuela, and Colombia. From 2011 through 2017, he was assistant secretary of state for drugs and law enforcement. In this role, he worked daily on the emerging challenge of transnational organized crime, developing new strategies and programs in more than 80 countries to train, equip, coordinate, cooperate, and align governments around the globe. His programs included responding to crises in Central America, creating new police forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, stopping fentanyl shipments from China, and building maritime law enforcement capability among littoral nations in the South China Sea. Amb. Brownfield retired from the State Department at the end of 2017 with the personal rank of career ambassador. He is currently a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

James Dunlop is an attorney at Jones Day. He has 25 years of experience conducting cross-border investigations; coordinating local criminal, civil, and regulatory defenses; providing Foreign Corrupt Practices Act counseling; and conducting transactional due diligence in Latin America. He has written on new anticorruption laws adopted throughout the region, serves on an anticorruption working group at the Americas Society, is fluent in Portuguese, and has lived in and traveled widely throughout the Southern Cone. Mr. Dunlop is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. He also attended Oxford University, with a concentration in Latin American politics.

Douglas Farah is president of IBI Consultants LLC and senior visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic Research at the National Defense University. Mr. Farah, who specializes in field research, works as a subject-matter expert on transnational organized crime and threat networks in Latin America, both for the US government and the private sector. He is the author of two books: “Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible” (John Wiley & Sons, 2007), which he coauthored with Stephen Braun, and “Blood from Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror” (Broadway Books, 2004). Mr. Farah has testified before the US Congress as a subject-matter expert more than a dozen times.

Clay R. Fuller is a Jeane Kirkpatrick Fellow at AEI, where he researches authoritarian governance, illicit finance, and corruption. He works to illuminate the opportunities and motivations of dictators, terrorists, and criminals who use free markets to consolidate and project power. Dr. Fuller has testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and Helsinki Commission on issues of illicit finance and illicit trade. He has published peer-reviewed journal articles and opinion pieces in outlets such as The Hill, Newsweek, and The National Interest. He has four degrees in political science, including a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina.

Patrick Hovakimian serves as associate deputy attorney general at the United States Department of Justice and as the department’s first director of counter transnational organized crime. He previously served as an assistant United States attorney for the Southern District of California. He investigates and prosecutes public corruption and white-collar crime, including wide-ranging multinational bribery and fraud conspiracies. His practice comprises both courtroom advocacy and guiding international law enforcement operations. In addition to his duties as a federal prosecutor, earlier this year the president nominated and the Senate confirmed Mr. Hovakimian to serve as a commissioner of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States. Earlier in his career, Mr. Hovakimian practiced law with Latham & Watkins LLP and served as a law clerk for the Honorable J. L. Edmondson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. He holds a B.A., summa cum laude, from Occidental College; an M.Phil. from Oxford, where he studied as a Marshall Scholar; and a J.D. from Stanford Law School, where he studied as a Truman Scholar and was an editor of the Stanford Law Review.

Welby Leaman is a senior director of global government affairs at Walmart and leads on Latin America, advocating for policy to support the societal contribution of Walmart’s stores, distribution centers, sourcing offices, and eCommerce operations in Latin America. As a trade counsel to the US House Ways and Means Committee, he led House passage of the US-Colombia trade agreement and drafted the new-economy provisions of trade promotion authority. At the US Treasury, he led issuance of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States regulations and was the lead US financial services negotiator for several trade agreements and investment treaties. Mr. Leaman has served as director for international investment at the US National Security Council, practiced law at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York and at WilmerHale in DC, and worked for several years in Peru’s government on a UN contract. He chairs the board of the Nazareth Project, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and was an Eisenhower Fellow in Brazil. He serves on advisory councils for Aspen Institute’s Socrates Program, the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, INCAE Business School, and the Rosenthal Fellowship in International Relations. He holds a B.S. in business from Messiah College and a J.D. from Yale Law.

Roger F. Noriega is a visiting fellow at AEI and coordinates AEI’s program on Latin America. He is also the founder and managing director of Visión Américas LLC, which advises US and foreign clients on international business issues. He served as the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs from July 2003 to October 2005 and as the US ambassador to the Organization of American States from August 2001 to July 2003. Amb. Noriega is also a member of the advisory board of the Canadian/American Border Trade Partnership.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and an expert at its Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance, focused on Hezbollah’s Latin America illicit threat networks and Iran’s history of sanctions evasion. He is author of “The Pasdaran: Inside Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps” (Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 2011), “Iran: The Looming Crisis” (Profile Books, 2010), and “Under a Mushroom Cloud: Europe, Iran and the Bomb” (Profile Books, 2009). Before joining FDD, Dr. Ottolenghi headed the Transatlantic Institute in Brussels and taught Israel studies at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University. He obtained a Ph.D. in political theory at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, preceded by undergraduate studies in political science at the University of Bologna.

Celina Realuyo is professor of practice at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies at the National Defense University, where she focuses on US national security, illicit networks, transnational organized crime, counterterrorism, and threat finance issues. She has two decades of international experience in the public, private, and academic sectors, including as a former US diplomat, international banker with Goldman Sachs, State Department director of counterterrorism finance programs, consultant, and professor at the National Defense, George Washington, and Joint Special Operations Universities. Ms. Realuyo is a regular commentator on global affairs for CNN en Español, Foreign Policy, Reuters, and Univision and has testified before Congress on national security, terrorism, and crime issues. She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, International Institute for Strategic Studies, and Women in International Security.

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