The Guardian report on how the linkage between a range of criminal activities such as drug smuggling, illegal oil trading and human trafficking are all too often done in unison with illicit cigarette smuggling and the profits many-a-time end up funding terrorism as can be seen from the examples listed below. The criminal activities aforementioned use the same distribution networks and hence are operated together, but cigarettes remain the most profitable and least risky form of contraband. Louise Shelley who is a crime expert at Washington's George Mason University explains "No one thinks that cigarette smuggling is too serious, so law enforcement agencies don't spend resources to go after it." This helps explain why many terrorist groups exploit the illicit trade of cigarettes. This is also why many terrorist organisations can still receive funds via the illicit sale of smuggled cigarettes.
The big tobacco companies are very impressive at covering up their involvement in supplying the smugglers with illicit cigarettes so that it is very hard to draw a connection back to them. Cigarette companies know that they are under the watchful eye of government auditors and yet they manage to supply these illicit cigarettes to the black market in order to avoid taxes and make more profits. Inside reports hint that the intentional lack of proper software to perform tracking and tracing of cigarettes produced at factories under the ownership of the big tobacco companies allows them to create batches of cigarettes and supply them to the black market unrecorded. Then the big tobacco companies use a network of well connected middlemen to distribute the illicit cigarettes which makes their tracking almost impossible. Thereafter much of the profits from the sale of these illicit cigarettes are transferred or directly made by terrorist organisations.
An example of a way distributors use smuggled cigarettes to transfer funds to terrorist organisations can be found in the report: "Tobacco and Terror: How cigarette smuggling is funding our enemies abroad" presented by the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security. In it, there is the case of Mohamed Hammound who was arrested and later convicted for leading a criminal enterprise that smuggled cigarettes and channeled the profits to the terrorist group Hezbollah that the State Department estimates at $100,000.
There were other cases listed in that same report by the U.S. Committee on Homeland Security proving that the smuggled cigarette profits made by Elias Mohamed Akhadar were also transferred to Hezbollah. Then there was the case of Aref Ahmed who was convicted of using the profits from the sales of illicit cigarettes to fund the travel of seven individuals to Afghanistan to train in an Al Qaeda training camp.
But the flow of funds and support to terrorist organisations from smuggled cigarettes doesn't stop in the U.S. In North Africa the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that the illicit tobacco trade which is supplied by the big tobacco companies exceeds $1bn. Reports show how Al Qaeda and its local affiliates control the trade by managing the whole distribution network and selling the cigarettes directly to the public as well. The profits are of course retained to fund their own terrorist activities to destabilise the region and cause terror and carnage both in North Africa and abroad.
Turning to the Middle East in 2002, RJ Reynolds, owner of the Winston cigarette brand, was accused by the EU of selling its products in Iraq in breach of embargoes thus profiting from an outlawed state that was oppressing its own people while exporting terror activities. More recently, Japan Tobacco confirmed last year that it is under investigation by the EU due to claims it shipped cigarettes to a firm linked to they Syrian regime, who are currently under heavy sanctions and have strong links to global terror networks like Hezbollah and Iran.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the IRA made as much as $100m between 1999 and 2004 by smuggling cigarettes into Northern Ireland of which part of these funds were used to carry out terror activities on British soil.
In summary, while misdirecting authorities and supplying the black market with cigarettes, the big tobacco companies are aiding distribution networks and sellers to use profits made from the sale of illicit cigarettes to fund terror. Without the correct policing and tracking software to ensure the tobacco companies can not supply the black market with illicit cigarettes, the continued detrimental effects of well funded terrorist organisations will continue to threaten western society. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have deprioritised policing and cutting off the supply of illicit cigarettes for long enough. Once resources are invested in cutting off the source and supply by the big tobacco companies to their middlemen, terrorist organisations funding will decrease and hopefully so too their capabilities to inflict terror.