From Pablo to Osama: Trafficking and Terrorist Networks, Government Bureaucracies, and Competitive Adaptation
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From Pablo to Osama is a comparative study of Colombian drug-smuggling enterprises, terrorist networks (including al Qaeda), and the law enforcement agencies that seek to dismantle them. Drawing on a wealth of research materials, including interviews with former drug traffickers and other hard-to-reach informants, Michael Kenney explores how drug traffickers, terrorists, and government officials gather, analyze, and apply knowledge and experience. The analysis reveals that the resilience of the Colombian drug trade and Islamist extremism in wars on drugs and terrorism stems partly from the ability of illicit enterprises to change their activities in response to practical experience and technical information, store this knowledge in practices and procedures, and select and retain routines that produce satisfactory results. Traffickers and terrorists “learn,” building skills, improving practices, and becoming increasingly difficult for state authorities to eliminate. The book concludes by exploring theoretical and policy implications, suggesting that success in wars on drugs and terrorism depends less on fighting illicit networks with government intelligence and more on conquering competency traps—traps that compel policy makers to exploit militarized enforcement strategies repeatedly without questioning whether these programs are capable of producing the intended results.
interruption or surprise that often kick-starts the learning process. In effect, they have learned how to learn, institutionalizing adaptation into their standard operating procedures.58 These groups often remain beyond the reach of police authorities because they change their practices before law enforcers can How Narcos Learn j 73 discover their operational signatures, allowing them to survive hostile trafﬁcking systems for extended periods. Money Laundering In the late 1970s and early
social interpretations that highlight the perceived dangers drug trafﬁcking poses in the United States, and the importance of defeating the criminals who conduct it.11 Within this interpretive frame, ofﬁcials discuss problems with ongoing investigations, coordinate their operations with agents from different ofﬁces, and negotiate shared understandings of targeted groups. Their interpretations tend to be tactical and operational in nature, focusing on the illicit enterprise’s
violators.23 Several months later a dea laptop computer containing more than four thousand pages of case ﬁles, including detailed information on conﬁdential informants, was misplaced, ironically, by an auditor performing a review of the agency’s payments to informants for the Department of Justice’s Ofﬁce of Inspector General.24 The trade-off between information security and accessibility suggests that as the dea and other law enforcement agencies institute more stringent classiﬁcation procedures
decision-making hierarchies also limit opportunities for distorting information because there are fewer managers who, whether because of human fallibility or self-interest, manipulate, misplace, or withhold information from superiors and subordinates, or leak it to external competitors. Whether they contain three or four levels of management, Colombian trafﬁcking networks enjoy a ﬂatness advantage over their state adversaries. Leaders’ decisions are communicated quickly to cell managers, and
counterterrorism bureaucracies hinders their ability to learn in complex adaptive systems. Like other bureaucratic players in the war on terror, the Department of Homeland Security contains numerous divisions, agencies, and ofﬁces with centralized decision making, multiple management levels, and ungainly operating procedures, through which information, the lifeblood of organizational learning, must ﬂow. Designed to ensure government accountability and transparency in liberal democratic states,