I was really excited to hear that CNAS was gong to take a look at gangs, drug cartels and instability throughout the Western Hemisphere. I took a look at the document last night and was thoroughly disappointed. If your central thesis is “the United States is under attack, domestically and afield, by a networked
criminal insurgency that must be defeated” you better be able to substantiate that claim.
Instead, there are a lot of assertions without support, uncritical acceptance of opinion as fact and arguments hung upon structures of unexamined assumptions. I can’t speak to the parts of the document that deal with events south of the border but their description of events in the United States and characterizations of the criminal environment here must draw their entire work into question.
So, where to begin? Let’s start with the assertion that the U.S. is facing an ‘insurgency’ and is under attack. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you’ll know that I often argue that there are a lot of lessons to be learned by the military regarding COIN from experiences here in America, particularly areas where the rule of law has broken down and criminal networks have moved in to supplement an apathetic government (usually in economically devastated, socially excluded urban areas). Likewise, I remain convinced that there are lessons from the military experience in COIN that could have a positive benefit to law enforcement operations here in the U.S.
That is very different from saying that I think there’s an insurgency here. The authors even seem to realize they overstretched when they used that term by almost immediately walking it back in this way….
An insurgency is actually an attempt to weaken or
disrupt the functions of government,
Using that definition, I expect upcoming CNAS titles to include “Che and Jon Stewart: A profile of two insurgents”, or perhaps “Why citizens protesting local zoning laws are the new VeitCong”. That definition can include such a wide range of activities (both intentional and accidental) to be almost meaningless.
To demonstrate that the gang threat in the United States is growing, the authors use the fact that the FBI has an MS-13 task force. Uh…that’s been around for awhile and it might be worthwhile to look into the question of whether the FBI’s focus on MS-13 was due to any attempted assessment of the group’s threat or if it was a knee jerk response to a couple of grisly murders in the Washington D.C. area that caused a bunch of high level civil servants and politicians to begin demanding the FBI do something. I’m not saying MS-13 made up of a bunch of dangerous dudes but the fact that the FBI created a task force is indicative of nothing other than the fact that the FBI can create task forces.
But don’t worry about MS-13 because the Bloods and Crips “are far more organizationally and operationally sophisticated than international rivals like MS-13 and others.”
If the Bloods and Crips are the ‘gold standard’ for organizational and operational sophistication I think we can all relax. These groups, by and large, are disparate, engage in endless infighting and most have a great deal of difficulty in coordinating activity. The only thing that really keeps them together is the potential for huge profits from narcotics sales (thanks Uncle Sam!). They exist because of our current prohibition system. While the authors assert that criminal networks supplement their income with other crimes (like kidnapping) they are unable to prove (or really even make a decent case) that these organizations would be able to survive in anything like their current state without their narcotics income. The fact of the matter is that these other crimes are generally ancillary ones that occur because of the narcotics trade and aren’t independent of it.
I was starting to smell something fishy as I was going through this report and then I found it….my nemesis. So readers are treated to this bullshit about generational gangs again in a desperate attempt to fit the ideas of Lind and generations of warfare into the criminal world. Argh! Nothing like giving a crap theory legitimization without having it being given any scrutiny.
And, of course, we have to push all the fear buttons so the author’s make sure to say that this insurgency is linked to crime and terrorism (!) in new, dangerous ways! Oh, god…where’s my duct tape? Where’s the freakin’ duct tape?! So, without any real evidence the authors try to assert that there are these mysterious transnational criminal networks that control all the evil in the hemisphere from the mass production of narcotics all the way down to bullying your kid in the school yard. It’s all being planned, organized and controlled.
Now, let me be very, very clear. I’m not saying that transnational criminal networks don’t exist. Or that criminal groups don’t threaten the general public and some communities. I just argue that 1) this isn’t as new as is being asserted and 2) there simply isn’t enough information to support wide eyed claims of broad, highly coordinated threats. The plural of anecdote isn’t data.
I couldn’t even finish the document. Don’t waste your time.