Chapt. 4

Competitive adaptation: trafficking networks versus law enforcement agencies

“When law enforcers identify smuggling conspiracies for disruption, traffickers often react by changing their daily routines. When traffickers succeed in reducing the “heat “of drug enforcement by doing so, law enforcers must change their practices to keep up with their adversaries or seek new targets” (103).

Narcs and narcos learn not in isolation but from each other.

Information is the lifeblood of competitive adaptation.

Law enforcers often possess strategic intelligence about general trafficking patterns but lack tactical intelligence—names, addresses, telephone numbers, dates—about specific conspiracies (104)


Narcos have initiative information advantage because of their secretive nature, being unknown to law enforcers. Narcs enjoy a force advantage and capability advantage (105).

Traffickers often enjoy undisturbed and profitable dealings when beginning new criminal ventures (106).

Arlacchi, “drug dealers enjoy a head start over preoccupied law enforcers, and advantage that he calls the ‘time factor’” (106).

Criminal investigators will not be able to resolve their information problem simply with the passage of time but only by acquiring tactical intelligence about specific targets.

Law enforcers seek to close the gap between their understanding of smuggling methods and what trafficking groups are actually doing—between suspicion and reality (106).

“narcs are always behind”

Traffickers’ information advantage tends to decline because of competing tensions between organizational growth and the need to maintain security. In drug smuggling, the ability to achieve satisfactory profits encourages additional transactions and commercial expansion (107).

In drug trafficking, small is often beautiful.


Narcos–Doubt-edged nature of organizational memories

In general, the larger and more complex an organization’s activities, the greater its corresponding need to document at least part of its experience (110).

The organizational memories become evidence that puts the noose around his neck.

When sensitive information is stored only in the minds of select individuals, their removal from the enterprise, or their failure to recall the information correctly, hinders the group’s ability to access this knowledge and function effectively.

It such individuals become government informants, their human memories can become invaluable sources of courtroom evidence and counterdrug intelligence.

Narcs–Drug enforcement databases

Two challenges referring to collection and dissemination of sensitive records while keeping them secure from inquisitive criminals.

  1. To encourage case agents to gather and record all relevant leads during their investigative work without overloading them with cumbersome reporting requirements.
  2. Information security (113)

In hostile and dynamic trafficking systems, law enforcers depend on their ability to access information with speed and precision, a challenge made more difficult by the push for greater information security.


Compartmentation not only prevents trafficking networks from sharing knowledge about smuggling innovations, it also prevents them from communication tips about police activities.

The flatness advantage

Players who process information and make decisions faster than their opponents enjoy a formidable advantage in competitive adaptation (122).

Management levels in DEA:

Administrator, deputy administrator, assistant administrator of operations division, chief of international operations office, head of south America section, special agent in charge of Colombia country office, assistant special agent in charge of Colombia country office, group supervisor, agent

Management levels in Colombian wheel network:

Core group leaders, (exportation manager), cell manager, (assistant cell manager), cell worker (124)

The smaller size and flatter structures make smuggling enterprises share information and make decisions efficiently.

Governments: creating special review boards to quicken decision making, forming interagency enforcement networks, flattening administrative hierarchies.

In sum, law enforcers must overcome significant transaction costs to exploit their force advantage in competitive adaptation. Their smaller, flatter adversaries require much less coordination to carry out their relatively simple transactions (127).

The red take trap

Law enforcers carry out their daily activities within complex institutional frameworks that must obey constitutional law, criminal statutes, and bureaucratic regulations (128).

  1. Law enforcers must have “probable cause” that the suspect has committed a crime.
  2. Bureaucratic rules and procedures regulate other areas of counterdrug law enforcement as well.
  3. Drug traffickers lack equivalent constraints.

Purpose of Constitution, laws and regulations: to protect citizens’ political rights and civil liberties and hold authorities accountable to the rule of law (129).

  1. By slowing down police agencies, it prevents law enforcers from responding as quickly as their illicit adversaries to changes in hostile trafficking systems.
  2. By obligating undercover agents to follow certain rules, the trap limits their ability to establish credibility with criminals and use cunning, deception, and other metis-based skills against them.
  3. By increasing the transparency of criminal investigations, the red tape trap provides traffickers with plentiful opportunities to gather information about their adversaries.

Conclusion (131):

Competitive adaptation provides one way of thinking about these interactions, illustration how interdependent, imperfectly informed players gather information about their adversaries and change their practices in response to what they learn.

Responding quickly to unforeseen circumstances performs better.

Narcs challenge:

  1. To translate their force advantage into an information advantage by intercepting traffickers’ most sensitive communications and gathering real-time intelligence on impending transactions.
  2. Tall and centralized authority structures that slow decision cycles and organizational action
  3. Interagency coordination problems that further complicate, and decelerate, decision making, comprehensive legal and bureaucratic constraints to action
  4. Ambiguous incentive structures that undermine some agents’ willingness to share information

Narcos challenge:

Compartmented operations that limit information sharing across trafficking networks

The architecture of drug trafficking

Two types of drug trafficking networks:

Wheel networks, also called hub or star networks, contain a core group that manages the overall enterprise and peripheral nodes that perform specific tasks. Core groups enjoy a preponderance of “power, influence, and status within the network.” (29)

Core nodes serve as the steering mechanism for wheel networks, facilitating communication and coordination relations among peripheral groups.

Chain networks are decentralized and “self-organizing”: they contain independent nodes that perform specific tasks and transact directly with other nodes without mediation and oversight by core groups (31).


  1. Like wheel networks, interpersonal relations are often based on underlying kinship and friendship networks that crisscross nodes and networks, facilitating trust and exchange among cagey participants.
  2. Chains rely on government corruption to assist drug shipments, but they direct the bulk of their bribes to local officials rather than to national-level.


  1. Chains often lack mechanisms for sharing risks and resolving disputes among interdiction and theft.
  2. Require more time to recover from law enforcement disruptions to individual nodes.
  3. Chain networks are more resistant to head-hunting approaches to drug control (31).
Wheel networks Chain networks
Core Core-group leaders Easy to replace
Interpersonal relations Kinship and friendship Kinship and friendship
Means Bribe (national-level) Bribe (local-level)
Adv. Sharing risks and resolving disputes resistant


Transportation, storage, distribution, pickup and delivery and money laundering.

Flat networks

Smuggling enterprises are organizationally “flat”: relatively few management layers separate network leaders from cell workers.

From top to bottom, the typical wheel network includes core-group leaders, cell managers, assistant managers, and cell workers. Two: network leaders and cell managers (34).

An organized mechanism:

In addition to maintaining operational security, trafficking groups use rules to distribute resources, perform tasks, communicate information, and make decisions (36).

Colombian trafficking networks develop numerous practices and procedures to achieve their objectives, minimizing their exposure to law enforcement officials and other adversaries (38).

The trafficking networks accept new participants carefully. The involvement in drug trafficking comes gradually (41).

They bring new people into the trade, allowing groups to replace captured participants; they create social identities based on trust and accommodation among established participants; and they facilitate not just the exchange of drugs and money but the knowledge required to trade these commodities (42).

This entry was posted in Home. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s