From Pablo to Osama


Michael thinks that there are two types of knowledge—techne and metis. Techne belong to abstract technical knowledge, which is taught through formal instruction, while metis is experiential and intuitive knowledge, which is used to adapt to continually changing environments. Briefly, Techne is learned while metis is acquired. Both Narcs and terrorists run their illicit business through learning these two types of knowledge.

However, learning is not enough to run the business of drug trafficking and terrorism. Narcs and terrorists carry out their illicit business based on their elaborated routines. “Routines include rules, practices, and procedures that transform individual action into collective behavior, allowing organizations to perform work, make decisions, build cultures, communicate knowledge, and solve problems” (Kenney 2007, 4). Learning does not become organizational until knowledge is embedded in routines and stored in artifacts. Learning becomes organizational when people act in an organized way, following the routines.

Criminal organizations could be organized as their learning becomes practical knowledge. Both Narcs and terrorists learn from doing. Kenney (2007) thinks that experience automatically produces organizational wisdom and increased productivity. The process of learning is also a process of doing. The process of doing is the process of adapting to the changes.

Kenney thinks that Narcs and terrorists exist in competitive adaptation. Their activities are clandestine. For example, in Columbia, the illegal drug industry contains hundreds of intergroup networks “to protect their operations from unwanted penetration by law enforcers” (Kenney 2007, 23). The traffickers develop routines to conduct their activities in an organized way. Colombian traffickers also compartment participants into different “cells”, which maintain their clandestine communication safely and make their organizations’ survival possible in hostile law enforcement environments.

Part I. Drug trafficking (from Pablo)

Introduction to The structure of drug trafficking

Kenny divides the drug trafficking into two types—wheel and chain networks

  1. “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 nodes serve as the steering mechanism for wheel networks, facilitating communication and coordinating relations among peripheral groups. The core-group leaders concentrate decision-making authority in their hands and organizational knowledge in their heads, making themselves virtually irreplaceable—vulnerable in terms of head-hunting” (Kenny 2007, 29).
  2. “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—horizontal accountability” (Kenny 2007, 31).

Whatever how drug trafficking networks are structured, they all handle the same things. The drug trafficking involves the businesses of transportation, storage, distribution, pickup and delivery, and money laundering. “By compartmenting workers into separate cells, network managers hope to reduce the potential damage to their operation caused by the betrayal of a delinquent employee” (Kenney, 2007, 32). Both the establishments of wheel networks and chain networks are for the purpose of efficiency and safety.

Comparison of wheel networks and chain networks:


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)
Advantage. Sharing risks and resolving disputes Resistant


  1. Interpersonal relations, in both wheel networks and chain networks, are often based on underlying kinship and friendship networks that crisscross nodes and networks, facilitating trust and exchange among cagey participants.
  2. Bribe is the most important means to maintain and develop drug trafficking. Chain networks rely on government corruption to assist drug shipments, directing the bulk of their bribes to local officials, while wheel networks bribe to national-level.


  1. Chain networks often lack mechanisms for sharing risks and resolving disputes among interdiction and theft, while wheel networks could share risks, information and resolve disputes more easily and efficiently.
  2. Chain networks require more time to recover from law enforcement disruptions to individual nodes, while the disruption of individual nodes doesn’t influence the wheel networks too much as a whole.
  3. “Chain networks are more resistant to head-hunting approaches to drug control” (Kenny 2007, 31), while head-hunting is a fatal attack to wheel networks.

Characters of the structure of drug trafficking:

  1. “Flat”

Compared with the structure of law enforcement, smuggling enterprises are organizationally “flat”. Drug trafficking benefits from its flat structure, which contains only 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” (Kenney 2007, 34), Kenney emphasized that, in some cases, there are only two layers—network leaders and cell managers. “Because they operate in hostile environments, trafficking enterprises often refrain from codifying their rules in written documents” (Kenney 2007, 34). The extreme alertness is another reason to have flat structure.

  1. Highly organized:

“In addition to maintaining operational security, trafficking groups use rules to distribute resources, perform tasks, communicate information, and make decisions” (Kenney 2007, 36). Safety is guaranteed by their highly organized activities based on rules. “Colombian trafficking networks develop numerous practices and procedures to achieve their objectives, minimizing their exposure to law enforcement officials and other adversaries” (Kenney 2007, 38). The trafficking networks act very carefully in accepting new participants. “The involvement in drug trafficking comes gradually” (Kenney 2007, 41). Kenney asserts that people get started drug business gradually. Drug trafficking begins from trust.

The game of competitive adaptation

Use of techne and merit in practice

The game of competitive adaptation starts from Narcos. By gathering, interpreting, and enacting knowledge, and experience, Narcos begin their drug trafficking in an organized way. Narcs enforce law through learning Narcos, while Narcos improve their clandestine drug business through learning from acting and experiences. The war of drug is a game of competitive adaptation. Narcos and Narcs are learning from each other in practice.

Drug enforcement is not only to apprehend narcos, but, more important, is to develop material evidence for prosecution, as well. Therefore, “drug traffickers require technical and experiential knowledge to perform their activities” (Kenny 2007, 80). Kenny mentioned that much of the information contained in DEA and CNP training programs and seminars resembles techne. However, the training programs are not enough to enforce laws on drug smugglers. “Many of the skills involved in criminal investigations are best acquired through practical, on-the-job experience” (Kenny 2007, 80). The knowledge of merit is acquiring from acting.

The work of narcs is not just simply enforcing laws. “They act by knowing and know by acting, generating knowledge that allows them to practice and understand their craft, becoming full members in their respective communities of practice” (Kenny 2007, 83). The work of narcs is more about continuous learning in enforcing laws.

Kenney defined criminal investigation, which refers to exercises in organizational sensemaking through which government authorities construct plausible interpretations of their clandestine adversaries and their own efforts to destroy them” (Kenney 2007, 84). However, criminal informants are not reliable. In this sense, it illustrates that narcs are required to enforce laws flexibly and smartly, using the knowledge of both techne and merit.

Trafficking networks versus law enforcement agencies

Kenny (2007) pointed out that traffickers often react by changing their daily routines when law enforcers identify smuggling conspiracies for disruption. Traffickers reduce their drug activities once they realized dangers. Narcs need to seek new targets. Narcs and narcos learn not in isolation but from each other. “Information is the lifeblood of competitive adaptation” (Kenney 2007, 103), in the game of competitive adaptation.

Narcos take advantages in the beginning of the game

  1. Law enforcers often possess strategic intelligence about general trafficking patterns but lack tactical intelligence—names, addresses, telephone numbers, dates—about specific conspiracies (104).
  2. Narcos have initiative information advantage because of their secretive nature, being unknown to law enforcers (105).
  3. Traffickers often enjoy undisturbed and profitable dealings when beginning new criminal ventures—“time factor” (106).

How Narcs response, being always behind

  1. 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.
  2. 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).

The incentive of law enforcement is justice. Narcs take the advantage of force. The incentive of drug trafficking is money. “In drug smuggling, the ability to achieve satisfactory profits encourages additional transactions and commercial expansion” (Kenney 2007, 107). Traffickers’ information advantage tends to decline because of competing tensions between organizational growth and the need to maintain security. In this sense, the game of competitive of adaption in the war against drug is fair for both participants.


Narcos—Doubt-edged nature of organizational memories

Kenney (2007) pointed out that the larger and more complex an organization’s activities, the greater its corresponding need to document at least part of its experience. The organizational records contribute to expending the drug trafficking networks, while these memories become their criminal evidence.

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

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.

Comparison between Narcs and Narcos

Narcs Narcos
Structure Highly hierarchical Flat
Compartmentation Interagency issues Sharing knowledge
Laws and regulation bounds Yes No
Response Relatively slow Rapid response
Initiative Passive Active
  1. Compartmentation not only prevents trafficking networks from sharing knowledge about smuggling innovations, it also prevents them from communication tips about police activities.
  2. 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.

  1. Law enforcers carry out their daily activities within complex institutional frameworks that must obey constitutional law, criminal statutes, and bureaucratic regulations (128).
  2. Law enforcers must have “probable cause” that the suspect has committed a crime.
  3. Bureaucratic rules and procedures regulate other areas of counterdrug law enforcement as well.
  4. Drug traffickers lack equivalent constraints.


“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” (Kenney 2007, 131).

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 limit information sharing across trafficking networks

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

Part II. Terrorism (to Osama)

Introduction to terrorism:

Terrorism is a violent form of political action.

Training in Terrorism

Terrorists have learned their tradecraft through military-style training programs, often with the support of obliging state sponsors. Their learning of knowledge of techne is through formal instruction, which is delivered in fixed locations. The form of their learning also creates significant vulnerabilities that counterterrorists can exploit by locating and destroying training camps (Kenney, 2007).

The training also encourages would-be militants to join them through inoculating extreme thoughts in religious and ideological lessons. “Their apprenticeships also become acculturated to the norms and practices of extremist communities of practice” (Kenney 2007, 146).

The large-scale attacks are based on sufficient training of both one’s thoughts and skills, with repeated rehearsals and long-time preparation.

Structure of terrorism:

The authority of terrorism is highly centralized. “Leaders issue orders and underlings carry them out” (Kenney 2007, 149). The structure is designed to safeguard the integrity of ongoing operations and prevent low-level workers from exposing the terrorist network to unnecessary risks.

Kenney (2007) pointed that terrorist networks organize their activities by dividing adherents into separate working groups, or cells that perform different tasks. The attacks are highly organized. And carrying out complex operations requires communication between cells located in different areas. Information plays the most important role in carrying out terrorist attacks.

Terrorists are acting with intelligence rather than reckless and crazy. Terrorists recruit intelligence to plan attacks and to modify their operations to prevent state security officials from destroying them. Therefore, their activities are full of the application of the knowledge of techne and merit. Kenney (2007) thought that terrorists also adapt their activities in response to difficulties that arise when planning and executing operations. Their decisions and plans are flexible and plastic.


“They provide basic military training to recruits; they select promising candidates for advanced and specialized instruction; and they provide members with specific tasks and responsibilities based on their level of training and expertise” (Kenney 2007, 166). Kenney highly generalized the operation within terrorists. Terrorists recruit informal apprentices and train them both physically and ideologically to transform them into formal terrorists. “Al Qaeda today is more of an ideology than an organization” (Kenney 2007, 168).

The game of competitive adaptation

Comparison between terrorists and counterterrorists


Terrorists Counterterrorists
Structure Complex Flatter
Compartmentation Interagency issues Information advange
Legal and bureaucratic constraints A lot Fewer
Learning and adapting ability Strong Strong
Initiative Active Passive

Terrorist networks have flatter authority structures, quicker decision cycles, and fewer legal and bureaucratic constraints. “Organizations learn from experience, adjusting their practices in response to feedback about the actions they took, or failed to take, when confronted with similar problems in the past” (179).

Compared with terrorists’ flat structure, bureaucratic organizations are facing complex interagency issues. As Kenny’s setting the relationship between FBI and CIA as an example:

Diverse ways of thinking and doing counterterrorism lead to conflict among intelligence analysts and law enforcers as they seek to coordinate their activities.

Whether to devote limited resources to building a prosecutable case against a specific target or whether to eliminate the target altogether. (183)

Part III. Conclusion: beyond the wars on drugs and terrorism

Drug-trafficking and terrorist networks conduct their criminal acts in various shapes, sizes, and ideology which is shaped brainwashing, from transnational wheel networks which is directed by core groups, to conduct their illicit operations through decentralized chain-nodes, which reduce risks to a large extent. “Drug-trafficking and terrorist networks both contain relatively flat authority structures” (203), which make their rapid decision making and quick information flows possible. By contrary, Narcs and counterterrorists have relatively slow operating mechanism and limited information. “Illicit actors often survive simply because they are less well known to law enforcers and counterterrorists who apply limited resources to groups and networks they have already identified for disruption” (206). In addition, Narcs and conterterrorists are bounded by laws and regulations in executing forces while slowed down by interagency issues. As far the game of competitive adaptation, they are learning techne and merit from acting and experiences. High technology is used in attacking criminals by justice while is also applied to recruiting apprentice for criminals.

Part IV Evaluation:

Kenney makes his observations through two perspectives—the war of drug and the war against terrorism. To make the comparison between Narcs and Narcos, and between terrorists and conterterrorists, Kenney provides two brief frames of what going on and how the forces and criminals work in the dark world of drug and terrorism, which seem very far from our life, closely, to the readers. Kenney’s use of comparison in his book brings a series of easy-understanding and interesting stories to me. However, there are also limitations of the analysis provided by the author. After reading the book, I had a basic understanding of the functioning mechanism of drug trafficking and terrorism, knowing the competitive adaptation between law enforcers and criminals. However, I didn’t have further understanding of the functioning mechanism of the government. Compared with criminals, government has too many disadvantages, including complex hierarchies, hysteretic information and interagency issues. The author focuses too little on the analysis of governmental issues, except for introducing the complex structure and interagency controversial understandings in working. I also want to know more about the author’s concrete thoughts of the possible and practical solutions to make a flatter structure and efficient mechanism in government.

Part V Lesson for Public Administration

Public administration has the similar function of Narcs in drug war and conterterrorists in the war against terrorism. Public administration is providing services to the public, including protecting their physical safety and guiding the public’s conception of justice. Compared with the structure of Narcs and conterterrorists, public administration also has the issues of slow response to the public, hysteretic information (which is reflected in government is always responding after incidents), complex hierarchies and redundant coordination mechanisms and complex intergovernmental and interagency relationship. As Kenney observes, “Government agencies continue to be hampered by tall and centralized management hierarchies, cumbersome bureaucratic procedures, and numerous legal constraints (Kenney 2007, 214).

Kenney thought that “government should move beyond a militarized counterterrorism strategy that concentrates on reducing the capabilities of terrorist networks and devote greater political, cultural, and economic resources to addressing the root conditions of terrorism” (224). It is also important for public administration to address what the public needs and sculpture their minds from the roots rather than solving the unexpected problems inefficiently. The mission of public administration should focus more on making precautions looking forward instead of dealing with public issues looking back.

In “The Principles of Scientific Management”, Taylor emphasized the most important thing in administration is efficiency. Public management needs a flatter structure to response to the public quickly, reducing and eliminating intergovernmental issues to providing public services efficiently. Moreover, in the war against terrorism, Kenney (2007) indicates that “Politicians should shun the temptation to manipulate the public’s fears of terrorism for their own benefit, and policymakers should strive to create counterterrorism agencies whose legitimacy depends on creating realistic expectations of our government’s ability to stop it” (226). In this sense, public administration plays the role of sculpturing the public’s ideology and thoughts. A healthy public ideology is necessary for a good form of government and perpetually maintained. Public administration should focus more on its idealistic cultivation to the public, providing efficient public services.


Kenney, Michael. From Pablo to Osama: Trafficking and Terrorist Networks, Government Bureaucracies, and Competitive Adaptation. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007

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