Louise Shelley on Dark Commerce

ShelleyThough mankind has traded tangible goods for millennia, recent technology has changed the fundamentals of trade, in both legitimate and illegal economies. In the past three decades, the most advanced forms of illicit trade have broken with all historical precedents and, as Dark Commerce shows, now operate as if on steroids, tied to computers and social media. In this new world of illicit commerce, which benefits states and diverse participants, trade is impersonal and anonymized, and vast profits are made in short periods with limited accountability to sellers, intermediaries, and purchasers. Demonstrating that illicit trade is a business the global community cannot afford to ignore and must work together to address, Dark Commerce considers diverse ways of responding to this increasing challenge.

What led you to write this book?

My last book, Dirty Entanglements: Corruption, Crime and Terrorism, pointed to the centrality of illicit trade as a funding mechanism for terrorism and transnational crime. As I finished that work, I realized that illicit trade was at the core of many of our most critical contemporary problems—the perpetuation of conflict, environmental degradation, and the destruction of human life. I wanted readers to understand that there are many who profit from this dark commerce, not just those associated with traditional crime groups. I wrote this book as a wake up call to the existential challenges that we now face from the many diverse participants in illicit trade.

How has illicit trade changed profoundly with the advent of computers and social media?

In the last three decades, the most advanced forms of illicit trade have broken with all historical precedents. Old forms of illicit trade persist that have been in place for millennia, but the newest forms operate as if on steroids, tied to computers and social media. Illicit trade is developing rapidly in all sectors. No area of this trade has diminished in its volume or its geographic reach, as technology is a driver of the growth of illicit trade.

In this new world of illicit commerce, trade is impersonal, anonymized, and vast profits are made in relatively short periods. There is limited accountability to sellers, intermediaries, and purchasers. New technology, communications, and globalization fuel the exponential growth of many of the most dangerous forms of illegal trade—the massive sales of narcotics and child pornography online; the escalation of sex trafficking through web and social media-based advertisements; and the sale of endangered species for which revenues now total in the hundreds of millions of dollars.[1]

In the cyberworld—particularly its most hidden part, the Dark Web (entered only through special anonymizing software such as TOR)—payments no longer occur with state-backed currencies, as customers pay for their purchases in a plethora of new anonymizing cryptocurrencies of which Bitcoin is the best-known. Moreover, in this illicit world, the very commodities have changed— many can no longer be touched or exchanged through human hands. Rather, many of the most pernicious illicit traders buy commodities based only on algorithms, including malware, Trojans, botnets, and/or ransomware (denies users access to their data), marketed by malicious suppliers in both the developing and developed world.[2]

Is illicit trade less of a problem in developed countries such as in the West, or is it a problem everywhere? Many potential readers may think of illicit trade as something that is far removed from them in their everyday lives. To what extent, if at all, is this an illusion? 

Many think that the problems of illicit trade are most pronounced in the developing world, and that the developed world is largely exempt. Clearly the markets of less industrialized countries are filled with numerous types of harmful counterfeit goods such as medicines, pesticides, and electronic parts. But dangerous counterfeit medicines have penetrated the supply chain of developed countries as well. Deadly drugs such as fentanyl are readily accessible through the web and the Dark Web, and they contributed to the death of over 72,000 Americans from drug overdoses in 2017. Consumers in the developed world purchase large quantities of fish that have been caught outside of approved catches, and timber that has been cut illegally and then transformed into furniture or plywood.

The changes brought by technology are most evident in the G7 countries—the largest economies in the world—but they are by no means confined to them. Investigations of computer-facilitated crime have identified their impact in the vast preponderance of the world’s countries. For example, in one recent online ransom attack victims were identified in over 180 countries.[3]

How has illicit trade contributed to current global conflicts?

Illicit trade plays a significant role in global conflicts, one example being the crisis in Syria. The Syrian crisis started with a drought. The subsequent illicit trade in water rights that made agricultural life impossible resulted in millions migrating to marginal communities on the fringes of cities where they were neglected by the state. To give you an idea of scale, there were 8.9 million Syrians city dwellers before the American invasion of Iraq in 2002. By 2010, 13.8 million. Of this almost 5 million person rural exodus, approximately 1.5 million were fleeing the drought.[4] The story of the Syrian drought refugees does not end with the beginning of the Arab Spring. Rather, it is the beginning of a “domino effect.” The Syrians departure from rural areas was the first phase of a longer trajectory that then took a more tragic course. These rural to urban migrants had to then flee civil war and destruction, many becoming illegal migrants relying on smugglers. The Syrian case is one of the worst examples of the growth of regional conflicts that has characterized the post-Cold War period. Illicit trade has funded many of the most important disputes and clashes of recent decades in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Asia, and between Russia and Ukraine.[5] The illicit goods associated with conflict include not only arms, drugs, and humans, but also consumer goods, counterfeits, and natural resources such as oil, minerals, gold, and coltan—ubiquitous in mobile phones and laptops.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading this book?

Illicit trade has survived for millennia, but it has expanded in recent decades as the financial advantage grows in an ever more competitive and globalized world. The profit from this trade can be more than financial. States obtain political advantage as a result of illicit commerce, a phenomenon as old as the raids on the pirate ships of antiquity and the theft of new technologies. Yet its costs today are even higher and command greater priority from the global community.

Is there any good news in this story? Are we finding ways to combat illicit trade?

Countering illicit trade requires serious and concerted action by different sectors of society working together. We need a multilateral approach that encompasses governments, organizations, businesses, community groups, NGOs, journalists, and others working together to find effective ways to combat illicit trade. Already, exceptional individuals risk their lives for this objective, including activists and investigative journalists who counter human trafficking, the drug trade, illegal timber harvesting, and illicit financial flows. Many honest members of law enforcement are on the front lines against illicit trade, dying in the line of duty annually as they try to save human lives and protected species. New technology and data analytics tools are being developed by the government and the private sector to counter the growth of illicit trade, particularly in the cyberworld. Many individuals are involved at the local level in their communities to prevent harm to all forms of life. All these efforts must be enhanced and coordinated. Finally, citizens as consumers have an important role to play as individuals demanding more of corporations to counter the abuse of the new technology they control.

Louise I. Shelley is the Omer L. and Nancy Hirst Professor of Public Policy and University Professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, and founder and director of its Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center. Her many books include Human Trafficking and Dirty Entanglements. She lives in Washington, DC.

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[1] Larry Greenmeier, “Human Traffickers Caught on Hidden Internet,” February 8, 2015,  https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/human-traffickers-caught-on-hidden-internet/ and also the accompanying visualization that reveals the international links, Scientific American Exclusive: DARPA Memex Data Map. Accessed July 13, 2017, https://www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow/scientific-american-exclusive-darpa-memex-data-maps/; Channing May, Transnational Crime and the Developing World (Washington, D.C.: Global Financial Integrity, 2017), xi.

[2] Ransomware is extensively used in India, see CSIS, “Net Losses Estimating the Global Cost of Cybercrime: Economic Impact of Cybercrime II,” June 2014, 15, http://www.mcafee.com/us/resources/reports/rp-economic-impact-cybercrime2.pdf, accessed Jan. 23, 2017. A major analyst of the Dark Web suggests that ten percent of the content of the dark web consists of this stolen material.

[3] Investigators identified 189. Joe Mandak, “Prosecutor’s Office Paid Bitcoin Ransom in Cyberattack,” December 5, 2016. Accessed July 15, 2017,  https://phys.org/news/2016-12-prosecutor-office-paid-bitcoin-ransom.html; Complaint U.S. Government vs. flux and flux 2, filed November 28, 2016. Accessed July 15, 2017, https://www.justice.gov/opa/page/file/915216/download; “Avalanche” Network Disrupted in International Cyber Operation,” December 1, 2016.Accessed Feb. 1, 2017,https://www.europol.europa.eu/newsroom/news/%E2%80%98avalanche%E2%80%99-network-dismantled-in-international-cyber-operation This is the Avalanche case discussed in chapter five.

[4] Ibid.; Collin Kelley et. al. “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” pnas,  vol. 112 no. 11, 3241-46; http://www.pnas.org/content/112/11/3241.full, accessed March 6, 2016.

[5] Paul J. Smith, The Terrorism Ahead: Confronting Transnational Violence in the 21st Century, (London and New York: Routledge, 2015), 151-2.

Ai Weiwei exhibition at Blenheim Palace: Our UK publicity assistant investigates!

Visitors can expect to experience something different this autumn at Blenheim Palace. Tradition meets modernity as the 18th century baroque architecture of Blenheim, the birthplace of wartime British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, is host to an exhibition of the artwork of Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei.Ai weiwei sign

This exciting exhibition is especially relevant to Princeton University Press for two reasons: not only is Blenheim Palace a stone’s throw from Princeton University Press’s European office in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, but Princeton University Press published Ai Weiwei’s ‘Little Black Book’, Weiwei-isms, last year.

Weiwei-isms is a collection of quotes demonstrating Ai Weiwei’s thoughts on key aspects of his art, politics and life, carefully selected by Larry Warsh from articles, tweets and interviews.

“Everything is art. Everything is politics.” — Weiwei-isms

Like Weiwei-isms, the exhibition at Blenheim Palace clearly demonstrates Ai Weiwei’s commitment to art as a powerful political statement, as a means of reacting against injustice, and inspiring others to do the same.

Blenheim chandelier“I want people to see their own power.” — Weiwei-isms

This certainly becomes clear as you enter the exhibition. You are given a leaflet which serves as a guide to Ai’s artwork, dispersed throughout the rooms of the palace. Despite this, none of the artwork is signposted and it becomes the visitor’s responsibility to seek it out and take meaning and inspiration from what they see.

The collection brings together pieces created by the artist over the past 30 years. It is especially impressive given that it was curated remotely, Ai Weiwei having been under house arrest since 2011. The old and new are often brought together, with artefacts from the past being reimagined in novel ways. Take, for example, the Han Dynasty vases transformed beyond recognition by car paint or by being ‘rebranded’ with the Coca Cola logo.

Blenheim zodiacHis ‘Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads’ (2010), previously displayed at a year-long exhibition at Princeton University, is also at Blenheim. This work is an ironic interpretation of the bronze zodiac head statues that were looted from the Emperor’s summer palace (Yuan Ming Yuan) in Beijing in 1860.

Other highlights include ‘He Xie’ (2012), a work comprised of 2,300 porcelain crabs on the floor of the Red Drawing Room (‘He Xie’, meaning ‘river crabs’, puns on the Chinese phrase for ‘harmony’).

While some pieces are the first thing you see when you walk into a room, other pieces are integrated more subtly into the sumptuous interiors of Blenheim Palace. The Wave Plate (2014) is seamlessly integrated into the lavish table decoration as the centrepiece in the Salon, and a pair of handcuffs made of Huali wood (2012) – a reminder of Ai Weiwei’s current situation – placed suggestively on the bed in Churchill’s birth room might escape your attention due to the large number of visitors moving from room to room, all engrossed in the same treasure hunt as you.

Blenheim crabsAll in all, the collaboration between Blenheim Palace and Ai Weiwei really does merit a visit. Ai Weiwei’s work is all the more interesting and thought-provoking for being situated in the context of Blenheim Palace and its grounds.

The exhibition at Blenheim Palace highlights the ‘clash’ of the old and new, which is indeed something that is key to much of Ai Weiwei’s work.

“If a nation cannot face its past, it has no future.” — Weiwei-isms

In years to come, the Ai Weiwei exhibition at Blenheim Palace is sure to become part of the artist’s legacy and a poignant reminder of his struggle for justice and truth.

“The art always wins. Anything can happen to me, but the art will stay.” — Weiwei-isms

The exhibition runs until 14th December.

Princeton University Press will be at #ASA14…

sociology

Photo credit Eric Schwartz

And these are just a few of the awesome books you might see at our booth. Stop by and say hi to our sociology editor Eric Schwartz!

Also, during the meeting, there will be a bookstore signing at Green Arcade Books for Amin Ghaziani’s book There Goes the Gayborhood? We hope yo will make some time to support a local bookstore and support one of your colleagues in one fell swoop. The event starts August 17th at 6 PM. Details here: http://www.thegreenarcade.com/assets/index/GayborhoodPoster.pdf

Sexuality and the City–presenting the book trailer for There Goes the Gayborhood? by Amin Ghaziani

In There Goes the Gayborhood?, sociologist Amin Ghaziani shows why the rumors of the demise of gay neighborhoods like Boystown, Chelsea, the Castro District, and Dupont Circle are premature. Publishers Weekly says his “findings are not to be missed,” while Library Journal says the book represents, “a fascinating, rich view that is supported by up-to-date statistics.” This video gives a quick overview of what the book covers.

You can sample a free chapter here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i10211.pdf

Jacqueline Bhaba on Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age [VIDEO]

Why have our governments and societies been unable to effectively address the human rights and legal problems around the growing number of children who cross borders alone every year? How do we (and how should we) apply laws and policies designed for adult migrants to children and adolescents?

Distinguished human rights and legal scholar Jacqueline Bhabha has been studying complex ethical and legal questions such as these around immigration and children’s rights for over a decade and the results of her research may surprise you. Faculti Media recently posted this video of Bhabha discussing her work and her new book Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age:

New documentary Ivory Tower explores the challenges of higher education in the 21st century

Watch this:

Then read this:

Delbanco_College

Andrew Delbanco recently attended Sundance Film Festival where he participated in a screening of Ivory Tower, a new documentary on the spiraling costs of higher education and the impact this has on students and their families. The director of the documentary is Andrew Rossi, who rose to prominence thanks to his earlier work Page One: Inside the New York Times. Delbanco is featured quite a bit in the movie which hopefully will have a greater distribution soon. In the meantime, to bone up on the challenges universities and colleges face, please check out College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be.

Ai Weiwei releases “How to Scientifically Remove a Shiny Screw with Chinese Characteristics from a Moving Vehicle in Eighteen Turns”

We have just seen early copies of Weiwei-isms. It is a terrific little book and would make a great stocking stuffer for fans of Ai Weiwei or those who appreciate bons mots on art, human rights, the digital revolution, and countless other subjects.

Death and Redemption by Steven Barnes on Russian History Blog

The Gulag—the Soviet Union’s vast system of forced-labor camps, internal exile, and prisons—has long been referenced as a gruesome symbol of tyranny in the Stalin era. But why did Soviet authorities act as they did? Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society by Steven A. Barnes, director of the Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Mason University, takes a fascinating look at the role of the Gulag, contrasting it with Nazi concentration camps and exploring how it operated primarily as a brutal penal institution and instrument of ‘reeducation’, and not one of genocide. This week the book is the subject of an ongoing blog conversation at the Russian History Blog. A number of Gulag specialists will be discussing the book over the next seven to ten days. Catch the first installments here.

Check out Michael Ross discuss THE OIL CURSE at Zócalo Pulbic Square

UCLA political scienctist Michael L. Ross appeared recently in Los Angeles at the terrific public program venue Zócalo Public Square to talk about his important and timely new book THE OIL CURSE: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations. You can watch 3:00 minutes of his talk here and the rest of it at the  Zócalo website. Enjoy!

David Scheffer in the UK

David Scheffer author of ‘All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals’ was in London this week and spoke at Chatham House. An audio recording of his talk is now available on their website. His trip coincided with the conviction on Wednesday 14th March of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in what was the first verdict delivered by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (please scroll down to 0824 for the clip) he was interviewed about this and the relationship of the United States to the court.

David Scheffer in Europe

David Scheffer, author of the recently published ‘All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals’ will be touring Europe from 12 – 24 March, speaking in London, The Hague, Berlin, Cologne, Vienna, Budapest, Sarajevo and Brussels.  While in London he will be talking at the Society for Oriental and African Studies on 12th March and at Chatham House on 13 March.  Both these events are free and open to the public so please follow the links if you would like to sign up. For more detailed information on any of the other events in Europe please contact Caroline Priday cpriday@pupress.co.uk or @crpriday

Author Michael Ross discusses THE OIL CURSE tomorrow afternoon at The World Bank in Washington, DC

If you happen to be in the Washington, DC, area tomorrow afternoon and have no plans for lunch, please come out to The World Bank and hear UCLA political scientist discuss his sobering new book THE OIL CURSE: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations.  Michael will be in discussion with The World Bank’s Robert Lesnick.  The event kicks off at 12:30 PM at the following address:

Auditorium J1-050
World Bank J Building
18th Street and Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC