Dirty Entanglements: Corruption, Crime, and Terrorism. Louise I. Shelley. Cambridge University Press, New York, 2014.

For readers with an uninformed U.S. centric worldview, this work provides a lot of details that highlights how corruption, crime, and terrorism (CCT) are inter-related. The author uses the concept of ‘entanglements’ as derived from quantum physics as an indicator of how complex and involved these elements are with each other. An emphasis on the transnational aspects of all three components, of the increase in the non-state characterization of these networks, is carried throughout the book.

Starting from those premises, the work itself is generally well written if sometimes repetitive as the ‘entanglements’ become entangled within themselves. That is about as good as it gets, as the big miss here is Dirty Entanglements’ U.S.-centric worldview wherein the implication is that the greater majority of the crime is out there in the world of “poorly governed” states and—although affected by it, and having its own small input—the U.S. is not really part and parcel of these entanglements. This shows in several ways.

The first indicator of this is from one of the originating points within the study, 9/11. While the greater majority of the world does not believe the official story of the World Trade Center attacks, it is ‘normalized’ here—it is implicit in that the actual background reasons for the attack, the ‘blowback’ aspects are not discussed at all. Any work that accepts, even by omission, the official account, and then ignores the background as to possibly why it happened cannot give a definitive analysis of corruption, crime, and terrorism, especially when it is used as the starting point.

Rather conveniently, the author, Louise Shelley, avoids accepting a definition of terrorism, excusing herself with “Yet limitations can be found for any definition, because there is no consensus as to when there is a legitimate use of force.” This allows Shelley to avoid concerns about U.S. involvement in actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran—for that matter, most countries selected in the work where “terrorism” is discussed alongside corruption and crime. Within that she makes a “conscious effort to focus less on Columbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, as well as Israel and its neighboring states”—an interesting omission of four of the most conflicted states with very high involvement of the U.S. within those states.

Another interesting aspect is the concern about politics and business. As the study does not look internally at the U.S., some of its statements about other countries are revealing: “limiting corruption exclusively to the state sector is difficult in most developing and communist and former communist countries as there is an absence of clear boundaries between state officeholders and private business.” Really!

Obviously one would not want to examine the entanglements in the U.S. governance structure where most politicians, most cabinet members, are quite comfortable walking through the different doors of politics, business, and the military (which encompasses both anyway) with no boundaries evident at all. The note attached to this statement gives a rather feeble example of a government health official having a pharmaceutical business to supply hospitals he controls. We’re doing okay if that is all that is involved. More concerning would be Dick Cheney’s Halliburton ties and the attack on Iraq….sorry, we weren’t going to talk about Iraq.

In essence, what is missing is any accounting of any U.S. actions around the world. It is a view that looks out from the U.S. but never within, at least not when it comes to the background reasons for global terrorism and its focus in many of the regions discussed.

Arab Spring

For example, the Arab Spring is a continual reference:

The events of the Arab Spring revealed a global governance failure in a large swath of the world from North Africa through the Middle East, in which hundreds of millions reside. The extreme violence in Libya that resulted in foreign intervention revealed the escalation of violence when corruption, crime, and terrorism combine. Just as was discussed in the introduction in regard to Syria, this dirty entanglement leads to unprecedented and often uncontrollable outcomes.

This is a stunning statement. There is no context provided for any of this other than a rather dry account of the self-immolation of the Tunisian which sparked it all. Certainly there is a large component of “global governance failure” but the implication here is that it is failure within the Arab World and none of the failure is attributable to outside actions.

The statement on Libya is a rather circular argument and is essentially not true. Libya was not a democratic country by western definitions, but it was one of the wealthiest and it did have universal education, universal health care, a reasonable level of gender equality, and oil…and an interest in establishing an African currency away from the U.S. fiat petrodollar. All good reasons for the CIA and MI6 to meddle internally with local Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. After the manipulated and illegal extension of the no fly zone, Libya was left as a ruined state. No wonder there was an escalation of corruption, crime and terrorism. As for Syria, it has been on the U.S. neoconservatives target list for a long time (see Dick Cheney, above):

Explaining the Bush administration’s subsequent decision to invade Iraq in 2003, Patrick Buchanan famously wrote in The American Conservative, “In the Perle-Feith-Wurmser strategy, Israel’s enemy remains Syria, but the road to Damascus runs through Baghdad.”


Okay, we can mention Syria, but not Israel or Iraq, my apologies. But not speaking of Israel, Hamas is mentioned numerous times—although not listed in the index—an entity that was originally supported by Israel as a counter to Fatah’s then militancy and designation as a terrorist organization. So speaking of Hamas, but not Israel, Shelley writes “What distinguishes Hamas from a governing political power is that it still engages in criminal acts to support terrorism, such as credit card fraud and food stamp fraud, as well as distributing and selling counterfeit goods.” She then continues to describe the charity arm of Hamas as “part of the recruitment techniques of al-Salah, which uses its charity committees, mosque classes, student unions, sports clubs, and other organizations as places for Hamas to spot susceptible youth.”

What is not mentioned is that Hamas is an insurgent force fighting against the occupation of Palestinian land. The majority of its population are refugees from the various acts of ethnic cleansing that occurred in 1948 and 1967, along with sporadic (bi-annual?) attacks on the civilians and structures of Gaza itself. It is not allowed to have a legitimate economy within its concentration camp boundaries, and thus fraud and counterfeit goods naturally become part of the process—as well as smuggling, which is obvious as the occupying power keeps the border closed, except for starvation rations—along with its ally, Egypt. “Susceptible youth” are recruited everywhere, within U.S. high schools and other organizations.


Conflict is used as a kind of rationale for terror:

Without an effective government, crime, terrorists, and insurgents thrived in the conflict environment of Iraq.

[T]the triad of crime, terrorism, and corruption…thrives on the chaos of conflict regions, poorly governed and ungovernable locales.

[Criminals and terrorists] thrive on chaos and seek to perpetuate conflict because it suits their financial and ideological interest and ensures that there is no effective state apparatus to control them. In fact, they often promote grievances because it is through the prolongation of conflict that they enhance their profits. [all italics added]

All of which are true. It demands the question, where does the violence come from? In the first case from an illegal invasion following ten years of sanctions and occasional missile attacks. Most, if not all conflict regions, have some tie into oil and other resources wanted by U.S. corporations; as well the chaos of conflict suits the ongoing ethnic cleansing and occupation of Palestine while keeping possible opponents at each other’s throats. The last statement is brilliantly correct, especially when applied to the U.S. and its military-corporate petrodollar hegemony, which it is now being seriously threatened, mostly through its own ineptitude both domestically and internationally.


Shelley does posit some general ideas for achieving solutions, “We need a whole reconceptualization….The present strategy has contributed to the failures evident in Iraq and Afghanistan,” even though the latter are not up for discussion. What is needed is to “develop an accurate conceptualization of the problem….More profound and independent analysis….that requires an educated and informed citizenry at all levels.”

Again, all that is true, but it is the vision in the mirror that needs to be examined first. In essence, what is missing is any accounting of any U.S. actions around the world. It is a view that looks out from the U.S. but never within, at least not when it comes to the background reasons for global terrorism and its focus in many of the regions discussed.

The author could consider that pretty much the whole of U.S. governance is entangled with transnational corporations that are entangled with crime syndicates and terror groups and thus—what should be obvious—are corrupt to some degree or other. The U.S. financial system is corrupt and manipulated. The U.S. military has attacked dozens of countries around the world over the past century in order to protect its corporations and latterly in an attempt to protect its fiat petrodollar. Thus it needs to protect its oil resources, especially in the countries where the Arab Spring threatened its hold on the autocracies, theocracies, and monarchies that sustain it.

Corruption, crime, and terror begin at home. With over eight hundred military bases in over one hundred and fifty countries the U.S. is the world’s prime hegemon. The role of the CIA, the NSA, and other covert forces, alongside the general military actions that ride on the false premise of the “global war on terror”need to be critically examined. The CCT that is discussed in this work as a global phenomenon cannot be properly or accurately assessed without taking into account the role of the world’s largest military-political player and the many actions it has taken to protect its imperial financial interests.

Dirty Entanglements has many truths disguised with many omissions.