Saturday, October 27, 2012

Destroying Drug Cartels, the Mathematical Way

Borderland Beat

By Sara Reardon
New Scientist


"Killing drug lords gets headlines, but complexity analysis suggests they are the wrong people to target to bring down a cartel."

One more gangland death

WHEN the Mexican navy announced on 9 October that Heriberto Lazcano, leader of the country's most violent criminal cartel, Los Zetas, had been killed it was hailed as a major victory in the war on drugs. But it's doubtful that Lazcano's death will be the end of Los Zetas - or reduce violence in Mexico. After all, there is already a new leader.

More useful targets might be those apparently minor players with key connections, according to a complexity analysis approach that could help Colombia - the world's largest producer of cocaine - investigate and prosecute cartel members.

Complexity analysis depicts drugs cartels as a complex network with each member as a node and their interactions as lines between them. Algorithms compute the strength and importance of the connections. At first glance, taking out a central "hub" seems like a good idea.

When Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, for example, the Medellin cartel he was in charge of fell apart. But like a hydra, chopping off the head only caused the cartel to splinter into smaller networks. By 1996, 300 "baby cartels" had sprung up in Colombia, says Michael Lawrence of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation in Canada, and they are still powerful today.

Mexican officials are currently copying the top-down approach, says Lawrence, but he doubts it will work. "Network theory tells us how tenuous the current policy is," he says.

Now Colombian prosecutors have a new tool to add to their investigation methods: network analysis. This can be an integral part of the modern war on drugs, says Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran, director of the Vortex Foundation based in Bogotá.

Vortex uses network-analysis algorithms to construct diagrams for court cases that show the interactions between cartel members, governors and law enforcers. These reveal links that are not otherwise visible, what Salcedo-Albaran calls "betweeners" - people who are not well-connected, but serve as a bridge linking two groups.

In Mexico and Colombia, these are often police or governors who are paid by the cartels.

"The betweener is the guy who connects the illegal with the legal," says Salcedo-Albaran. Because many cartels depend on their close ties with the law to operate successfully, removing the betweeners could devastate their operations.

It's a reasonable strategy, says Michael Kenney of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, although it shouldn't be the only one governments use. The ideal strategy depends on government goals. If it is the end of the drug trade they are after, removing the leaders may work.

But if the goal is to reduce violence, as incoming Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed to do, targeting kingpins like Lazcano will have the opposite effect, says Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution in Washington DC. Smaller organisations that emerge from a broken cartel tend to assert their power by torturing and killing people.

Fighting all these factions would require even more firepower. Sean Gourley, of the data analysis organisation Quid in San Francisco, used public data from nine recent insurgencies, including Colombia's drug war, to determine mathematically how these battles play out (Nature, doi.org/bv2tf5). "Unfortunately, if you put more forces on the ground, you elongate the violence," he says.

Data collected by the Transborder Institute in San Diego, California, supports this. Prior to the crackdowns that began in 2006, drug-related crimes in Mexico killed about 3700 people per year. In 2011, that number was more than 16,000.

"People keep saying that the violence [in Mexico] will get worse before it gets better, and the cartels are at the end of their lives, but those predictions have been going on for years," says Lawrence. At some point, he suggests, a more mathematical approach will win out.

Lost your cartel? Just Google it
Mexican cartels aren't subtle about their whereabouts. To intimidate their rivals and the government, they advertise their latest crimes through the media and threaten each other on blogs and websites.

But this practice has been revealing their inner workings to Viridiana Rios and Michele Coscia of Harvard University. In a paper that will be presented at the CIKM conference in Hawaii this month, the two created a program called MOGO that searches Google News for references to the different cartels, their locations and their influence between 1999 and 2011.

They used MOGO to construct a map showing where all the cartels were working at each point in time. Their map turned out to be quite accurate, correlating closely with those developed by the global intelligence firm Stratfor.

The cartels' movements reveal a lot about their business strategies, says Rios. Some, such as Los Zetas, are very aggressive, expanding quickly into new territories and competing with rivals. Older organisations such as Sinaloa prefer to strengthen their own territories rather than seek new ones. Understanding the cartels' logic might make it easier to predict their movements, Rios says.

43 comments:

  1. All b.s like always the cartel war in mexico will never end understand that as long as there making profit wit drugs they will always continue fighting.... Only wen china russia decide to eliminate usa then war in mexico will end

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    1. Hypocrite, hypocrite,hahahahaha! Exactly how will China and Russia eliminate U.S.A.? I didnt think you had an answer,hahaha your PATHETIC!

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    2. If the USA is eliminated then where will you go for your free health care etc.. Are you going to sneak into China?

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  2. Sound strategy..,but it's going to take a long time to work..

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  3. The problem with mathematical algorithms and "proofs" is that they could be contradicted by empirical data and even falsified by it. I believe it was Simon Newcomb who once wrote a mathematical proof proving heavier than air flight was impossible.
    They should go after the heads of cartels but hit the entire cartel as well especially the financial networks, banks and all. However, even this will not work unless there is something to seriously curtail the demand for drugs.

    -Junius

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    1. True! Going after one level does not prohibit going after another. A multi-pronged aproach would work well as long as they get the roaches before they scatter. Secure the border, create choke points, saturate plazas/cartels with blatant violence, strengthen the criminal justice system and most of all bring the death penalty. Shying away from it because there might be corrupt prosecutions is not smart. Creat it with strengthened protections. When a criminal can execute dozens of people and only face a few years in prison; that is a mathematical formula for continued atrocities.

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  4. Much easier and simpler solution would be legalize all narcotics. Trillions have been spent trying to eradicate them and they are cheaper and more abundant than ever before. War on drugs is like a war on economics.

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    1. Uhhh are you stupid? War on economics uhhh yeah.. rightttt

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    2. Point well made. Too bad the first reply to your comment was unintelligible.

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  5. A surging sea of poverty has a little bit to do the endless gang fonder. The drug market is about where a few want it though always more profits must rise to some noble concerned people.

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  6. Mexico will not win the war on drugs because their government refuse to corporate with the us government the reason why colombia some what succeed was because the us and the Colombians together went after the drugs cartel and corrupt officials at the same time very hard that they could not move their products and money through their networks mexico is not doing that, mexico is lazy and when they bust some unknown loser who is boss of a plaza they make it look like its a big deal when that boss will get replace in a few hours, it will take another death like kiki cameriera to die for the sinola cartel to go down

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  7. Don't know if a big deal but El Tio and El Polo just killed.

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  8. Stupid people the real problem in mexico is xtream poberty people join in cartels just to feed their families like a job as long as you have extream poverty. It will not.matter who you kill or. How many there will be millions of people willing to replace the dead ones

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  9. Authority's have been getting the upper hand last few months though....and thats always a good thing.
    Its changing for the better,cleansing of corruption is happening right now.

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  10. " Sinaloa prefer to strengthen their own territories rather than seek new ones."

    What? Sinaloa has warred over territory with every other cartel!

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  11. No plan will work in Mexico as long as they keep having the same non effective police/govermental forces. They don't have enough clean police to do any of the work. Probably 98% of all police/military and goverment forces/officials are corrupt on some level. You cannot bring down the cartels without bringing down the goverment first.

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  12. I think I saw this idea articulated on that show "Numbers" about the crime-fighting mathematician. Terrible show, but interesting idea here. Seems likely that following the money (the "betweeners") - the banks and politicians that allow for the flow and use of all these billions of dollars, does the greatest structural damage to the organizations, without necessarily creating more killings.

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  13. I worked on very secret satellite programs in the US. I am working on my FM-2 card.
    Mexico is a country loved by God and our Virgin of Guadalupe. If Pena Nieto has respect for his beloved country and his hard-working Mexican people, he will change Calderon's Mexican Marines approach of AR-15's to the Mexican admirals approach of Naval Intelligence. I love my brothers in Naval Intelligence who have the tools to use Network Analysis and technology available to put the Satanic cartels into Hell where they belong!

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  14. I don't understand why, if it is a war on drugs, there is not more focus on territory. Instead if going after trageted people why not take and hold territory. Start in Tijuana and move east along the border. Since Mexico is shaped like a funnel from north to south, just squeeze the narcos like pimples. It would not be an overnight mission but could have goals of sweeping clean territory. I know things are not that simple but bring in the flame throwers and bunker busters to crush the hold outs.
    And at the same time, let drug consumers fend for themselves. Extreme drug consumption is self-cancelling behavior. Legal or regulated drugs knock the wind out of the drug economics as they currently are.

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  15. EN COCA VICTOR PUROZ ZETAZ!!!!!!

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  16. Stop talkin trash people US. is the biggest drug consumer n thats why this BS keeps goin and more than ever US. makes money Mexican cartels make money it well never stop if u guys were makin as much money as they do ull even suck a dick so keep ur bs comments to your self. I'v seen migration officers helping cross droggs to the US. And they were "white" so keep blaming mexico for everything assholes and look a the cold reality. Thats all i got to say fuck u all

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  17. Harvard. I should be there. Math is what your living off. It is a beauty.

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  18. So men/women join these cartels out of extreme poverty according to one anonymous above?.

    There is a major counter argument to that, say for instance if a rival gang gang find out you're working for "x" they not only kill you but wipe out your entire family as well. Much better to live in poverty than to have your entire family slaughtered wouldn't it?.
    By joining these gangs you're actually endangering the lives of your entire extended family, if they can't get you they'll get some relative instead. If thats not a major deterrent for some wannabe who wants to make a quick buck I don't know what is?.

    As for the authorities going after the kingpins?, I've a simple solution go after the top, middle and bottom and don't differentiate, and I agree with one poster above, it might not be a cure only a deterrent, but surely the death penalty has to be a major consideration as the body count continues to rise in scores every month. Mexico is not a country anymore its a war zone, where some of the most dispicable cruelty any human can inflict on another human being is carried out almost on a daily basis, and the world continues to look on from a distance??.

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  19. @1014

    Not a bad idea, but one must ask oneself: First, does the mex. government have the manpower to conduct such an operation? There's a lot of land to cover between Cali and Texas. Perhaps the U.S. can help in a joint effort. 2, Do our governments really want to end drug trafficking? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that a bunch of money is being made in this so called war on drugs. Prisons, DEA, Border Patrol, Homeland Security, and other state and local authrorities, all dig into our pockets in the form of tax money. If drug trafficking was stopped what would happen to these institutions?

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  20. "Stop talkin trash people US. is the biggest drug consumer n thats why this BS keeps goin and more than ever US"
    Any more Mexicans want to cry me a river about how much they hate the US and what the US done to poor Mexico?Cry,bitches cry,then whine,and whine some more."Everything is the fault of the big bad US and gringos"US stay out,they hate us.

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    1. It's true, they HATE every single one of us!

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  21. CANT WE ONCE AND FOR ALL UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS NOT ABOUT DEFEATING THE CARTELS TO STOP THE DRUGS FLOWING, BUT TO BRING THE CONTROL OF THE DRUGS UNDER THE GOVERNMENTS CLADESTINE CONTROL!

    Legalize It Now!!! ... ALL OF IT!

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  22. What strategy? Use "network analysis" to target "tweeners"? If you do that you will be killing politicians, businessmen, police, judges and other "higher-ups".

    "A more mathematical approach" - what is that?

    Nobody has the 100% answer, Unless you have a better, more specific approach you have shit.

    No one in Mexico wants to change anything significantly because too many people make too much money from drugs, violence and crime. There is no better, more profitable place in the world to be a criminal than Mexico. Example: Carlos Slim.

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  23. Whats galling they have so much money they wouldn't spend it in a thousand life times, the whole goddamn evil lot of them but yet want more?
    I can only surmise its not really about money but power?

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  24. America will wipe the floor with the arabs and muslims because they've an ideology (9/11), but yet if ever a country needs to be overrun and a whole new uncorrupt goverment put in place its Mexico.

    But I'm sorry Mexico never done anything on us?, apart from allowing their country to be so corrupted that people are slaughtered almost at will, sometimes in inexpicable ways, and America and the world look on apathetically.

    Justify your super existence America and invade Mexico now, and wipe everyone of the cowards from the drug cartels from the face of the earth, the goverment is corrupt so go for it, you can do it you know you can but diplomacy holds you back from turning Mexico into becoming a real country again!.

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    1. I'm Mexican an I agree! Its sad but true

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  25. We dnt cry dumbass i love the u.s. I leave in the u.s. My poin is that why only talk trash about mexicans or now ppl r calling them terrorist.and start looking at the big view of americans supporting cartels and then selling weapons thats why u.s. dnt do 100% evry thing thet can do to stop it cuz is a mutimillion dollor buisnes wich mexicans and american profit from it and countries from South america.the mexican goverment is so corrupt they well never
    stop this.in mexico the poor gets fucked and rich
    gets richer thats y this ppl do what they do, and now that that they got money and power they want
    stop them stop them lol good luck

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  26. Racism and insults do nothing to advance knowledge. These algorithms and relational databases will certainly not harm the war on narco-terrorism and may even increase its efficacy without increasing violence.

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  27. First of all, China's record for human rights violation is an ongoing problem. Secondly, if they knew how to turn Canadian Snow into a money opportunity they'd be buying as much snow as they can and selling it back to Canada, the USA, and other parts of the world. And if there's a penny (yuan Renminbi) to be made keep China out of Mexico. They could probably convert mariguana plants into a fuel to run cars and God knows what else.

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  28. You r right it dosnt help but all im trying to say is to understand ppl in mexico do almost nething to give there family a better life even if it means loosing there life,thats why there is so much illegal imigrants from mexico in the U.S. But some ppl jst take the fast way.the mexican goverment is the 1 to blame past president sold n stole from mexico so now u got more knowledge about how how my ppl leave in mexico thats why i left from there.even with a good education cant make it there i'v seen lawers from mexico that work as dishwashers in u.s cuz they make more money and there not afraid of getting kidnap or killed for couple of bucks. so all i want if ppl dnt know how hard is to b there dnt judge or critize pls thank you

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    1. Before you start preaching to people you should learn how to spell it might get your point across better.

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  29. You finished off by saying "They could probably convert mariguana plants into a fuel to run cars and God knows what else."

    I think you've got something there! With all the cars on the road 'all over the world' there would be enough Mariguana Fumes To Get Everybody High thereby bypassing Mexican Drug Cartels Who have been & continue to be so 'dangerously desperate' To Get Rich off of Drug Sales!

    Just in passing, speaking of mariguana plants, ¿does anybody know if there are any other possibilities that would benefit mankind in regards that to that plant? As mentioned 'ABOVE', can that plant be used as a fuel of some kind? Any ideas on this?

    Sr. Scooter

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  30. yes, yes yes, probably the cannabis plant is one of the most versitile plants known to mankind for at least 3 thousand years and im sure more. getting high off the thc from the sativa/indica/ruderalis is about .0005 of the benefits humans can use from this plant. anywhere from cooking oils/industrial lubricants/ the hemp plant can feed livestock, you can make clothes from its fibers that make a far stronger fabric than cotton, you can yeild much more hemp per acre than corn/ cotton/ or soybean. it it really is a miracle plant with many varieties that are very good for modern industrial and medicinal use. for anyone that thinks cannabis is just a drug and it has no benefits, obviously you never have experienced when someone has a wasting disiease and the thc can help people to normalize their lives in a less toxic way. do some research and learn the truth. i think the reason mexico has fields and fiels of hemp is because the us needed rope for their fleets and hemp rope is much stronger than cotton rope, it is very resistant to molds. im not saying it doesnt succumb to mold but it's pretty hardy. lets put it this way its positives outweigh its negatives. and the cartels that sell marijuana dont really sell good mj just your basic run of the mill dirt weed, i dont even know why they bother selling mj, too bulky, it really doesnt have that good of a cost ratio to make it worth it in my eyes. most white people i know dont smoke the street shit anymore, its mostly for the hispanic and black customers. IMO they should just send some heads to morocco to learn to make hash or just watch a video to make hash, basically its just getting the thc from the plant and just selling kilos of that, its smarter, and it sells for more per ratio than bulk mj brings.

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  31. "October 29, 2012 7:04 AM
    I'm Mexican an I agree! Its sad but true"
    I hope your not talking about Mexicans hating the US and gringos?If you are,then bro that is sad?
    Things that get said on here about Mexico is not about racial things,not from me anyway,it is about the violence and the government and decent people,things like that!But it always ends up on some race shit by someone?You cannot discuss it rationally without getting called names?Especially if you are not Mexican and you are"gringo"?
    Cuidar hermano

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  32. Damn bro ur good ppl

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  33. I always find the comments more entertaining than the articles on BB. Why? Because the same crap comments get repeated over and over, while BB tries to inform you about something new.

    The facts are simple: Mexico is a mess, it has always been a mess in one form or another, and will continue to be a mess. The USA cannot clean this problem up and we certainly haven't cleaned up the Middle East as some above claimed.

    If you want to clean up Mexico, you have to change their history and the patterns that have been in place for over a hundred years. Without that, you cannot change Mexico. Sorry, the rest is wishful thinking.

    The only option at this point to either placate the cartels or eliminate every single one of them by force and quickly. The former is probably the smart move.

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  34. We use a template called "atmospherics" to build line and block charts and identify drug cartels and their members. Oh so simple. The DEA cannot stop Medical Marijuana outlets in California or Colorado due to jury nullification. Not enough straight people left to seat a jury. Most voters support medical marijuana. Further, the FED hasn't the manpower to move into to close down the outlets. More med marijuana that 7-11's in California, and it is now the biggest cash crop. It will lift the state out of bankruptcy. The reason the cartels have to go is they are cutting into US drug profits. If the US and Mexico can get China in the supply chain, get them all stoned and strung out, it will slow their GNP and exports and give the rest of the world a chance to catch up with their growth. Say yes to supplying drugs to China!

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  35. Our own legal system is what allows the cartels to thrive in this country. Regulations and politics inhibit the abilities of law enforcement so much that organized crime is almost always a step ahead. It will literally take a legitimate declaration of war by the government on the cartels to allow law enforcement to destroy an entire drug cartel with no mercy. Second option: we could stop living in a fairy tale where drugs don’t exist and work with the guy at the top of the cartel. If we can make deals with a dictator of an entire country, I am sure we can convince a drug lord to regulate shipments and keep things relatively peaceful. Some of you may be saying ‘Why not just get rid of him?’ Well, isn’t it better to have some control, and a connection to those in charge, than none at all???

    Alas, our politicians would never agree to practicality, so we'll just keep wasting money on a futile drug war and an over extended prison system.

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