Transnational Crime and the 21st Century: Criminal Enterprise, Corruption, and Opportunity
Jay S. Albanese
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 158 pages.

In the early twentieth century, the U.S. government was struggling to find a way to combat Al Capone and powerful city gangs. Institutional corruption allowed the gangs to expand into complex organized crime systems that took decades to dismantle. Jay Albanese argues that transnational crime is currently at a similar nascent stage, poised to lay the groundwork for an entrenched international criminal infrastructure that could prove costly and challenging to eradicate.

Transnational Crime and the 21st Century: Criminal Enterprise, Corruption, and Opportunity is foremost a primer to the current varieties of crime that reach across national borders. But it is also an argument for a systematic approach to analyzing these crimes, highlighting the similarities of transnational crime to organized crime. Albanese is a criminologist by training, and his past books and articles have focused on criminal justice and organized crime. It is therefore unsurprising that he views transnational crime through the lens of organized crime, focusing on methods of risk assessment and opportunities for crime prevention.

Albanese makes a clear distinction between transnational crime—which are crimes that seek personal gain but transcend political borders—and international crime, which he classifies as crimes against mankind.[i] Thus, terrorism and genocide are not examined in the book. Instead, the volume examines drug trafficking, cybercrime, and the many other forms of illegal activity that occur on a global level. Albanese draws on case studies, interviews, and an extensive review of United Nations and other multinational organization reports.

Transnational Crime divides all transnational crimes into three broad groups: provision of illicit goods, provision of illicit services, and, less clearly, infiltration of business and government. Albanese makes a persuasive argument for moving from a system that classifies transnational crime by the participating criminal groups to a system that focuses on the criminal activity itself. In today’s world, a single criminal operation may involve the collusion of corporations, career criminals, and corrupt government actors from different countries and cultures. Albanese’s logic for the taxonomy he applies, however, is not always made clear. While the connection between extortion, racketeering, and money laundering is clear, it is more difficult to draw a line between human trafficking and cyber fraud, which Albanese places together in the provision of illicit services.[ii] The parallel between sexual slavery and phishing schemes feels forced.

The volume’s criminology approach describes transnational crime by identifying economic risk factors, such as availability of supply, strength and elasticity of demand, competition in the market, and strength of regulation. Such examination of the economic underpinnings of a criminal organization are familiar to anyone who has read Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics or watched an episode of “The Wire.” However, Albanese takes it a step further by suggesting that economic pressures can be used not only to regulate existing crime but also for risk assessment, identifying where organized, transnational crime may be most likely to occur. Albanese states that “local citizen, business, police and perhaps offender surveys at the local level could be used to help measure perceptions of supply, demand, regulation, and competition for particular illicit products.”[iii] This data can then be harnessed to develop a multipronged approach that addresses all four variables.

Transnational Crime targets the transnational crime novice. Most experts, and even those with a more than cursory knowledge, may find the lack of depth frustrating. With a scant 158 pages Albanese is unable to do more than sketch the parameters of each type of crime, providing a few examples and broad guidelines for addressing the problems in the future. Albanese excels at classifying criminal activity and has successfully provided a similar systematic approach in previous works to white collar and other types of organized crime. The volume works well as an atlas to orient those completely new to the field, but readers interested in the historical or geopolitical contexts of transnational crime will need to supplement their research elsewhere.

Furthermore, at times Albanese’s brevity can lead to a lack of clarity in his sources and methodology. When arguing for the need to classify crime by activity not criminal group, Albanese criticizes the President’s Commission on Organized Crime for falling into the “ethnicity trap” in the production of its final report. However, Albanese neglects to specify which president commissioned the group, and buries the date of publication (1987, more than twenty years ago) in an endnote.[iv] There are several such instances of missing context in Transnational Crime. Similarly, the solution strategies suggested are often unhelpfully vague, such as “eliminating unnecessary programs” prone to corruption or making government processes more transparent.[v]

Albanese emphasizes that transnational crime is still in its early stages and, as such, the local and global impact is unknown. Globalization has enabled transnational crime to flourish, in part, by enabling the development of complex crime organizations that can span continents and cultures. As technology continues to eliminate boundaries, transnational crime will accordingly evolve. Ultimately Albanese is lobbying for a focus on transnational crime that devotes resources to effectively reducing and preventing corruption. Albanese argues that both structural and deterrence reforms are necessary anticorruption measures. He rightly emphasizes that many governments have focused resources and strategy on enforcement, but that prevention is key to containing the problem and preventing the entrenchment of transnational criminal infrastructures.

Oxford University Press claims that this is the first book to assess transnational crime from a “criminological perspective.” Now that Albanese has laid the groundwork, it is time for a more thorough study of each criminal activity and how it is being reorganized in the globalizing world. 


[i] Jay S. Albanese, Transnational Crime and the 21st Century: Criminal Enterprise, Corruption, and Opportunity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 3.
[ii] Ibid., 3.
[iii] Ibid., 18.
[iv] Ibid., 9.
[v] Ibid., 134.