By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 18 May 2018
The UCL Organised Research Network (OCRN) is very pleased to announce our next Seminar: “Can Artificial Intelligence Help Prosecutors Tackle Crime? The case of Prometea Software in Argentina“ by Dr Luis Jorge Cevasco, Attorney General of the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The seminar will take place next Wednesday May 23, 2018 at 18:00 in the Teaching Room at 35 Tavistock Square, Jill Dando Institute, UCL, London WC1H 9EZ. As always, the event is free, open to the general public, and will end with a small networking reception with our fellow OCRN members.
Prometea is an Artificial Intelligence tool that aims to improve the work of prosecutors and law enforcement agents. Designed by a multidisciplinary team formed by legal and Artificial Intelligence experts in Argentina, the system aims to help officials in their day-to-day activities. The interaction with the user is done by voice commands (similar to Apple’s Siri) or by chat (similar to Whatsapp), so no specific training is required.
Luis Jorge Cevasco is Attorney General of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Dr Cevasco has specialized in criminal matters and has lectured on Procedural Criminal Law at Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires. Mr Cevasco has published five books on crime, chairs the Argentine Association of Prosecutors, and is interested in the use of technology for crime reduction.
By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 5 April 2018
Extortion against businesses is one of the main security challenges facing the Mexican government today. Statistics from crimes reported to the police show that extortion has increased dramatically since the country was plunged into a decade-long ‘war’ against organised crime, rising by about 81% in the past 10 years.
However, given the risk of reprisals entailed by reporting extortion incidents to the authorities, estimates from reported crimes rarely provide reliable measurements of extortion incidence.
To mitigate this shortcoming, Mexico’s national statistics agency (INEGI) conducts regular victimisation surveys that measure extortion, among other crimes. Estimates from surveys conducted with households (ENVIPE) and businesses (ENVE), suggest that extortion is, indeed, a widespread problem: it is the second most common crime against households, and the third most common crime against businesses…
Continue reading on the RUSI – ECPR SGOC Blog.
Upcoming Seminar: “Illicit Drug Markets, Organised Crime and Development: New Approaches to Supply-Side Policies”
By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 27 February 2018
The UCL Organised Research Network (OCRN) is very pleased to announce our next Seminar: “Illicit Drug Markets, Organised Crime and Development: New Approaches to Supply-Side Policies“ by Alexander Soderholm, from the London School of Economics.
The seminar will take place next Tuesday March 6, 2018 in the Teaching Room at 35 Tavistock Square, Jill Dando Institute, UCL, London WC1H 9EZ. As always, the event is free, open to the general public, and will end with a small networking reception with our fellow OCRN members.
In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly held a Special Session (UNGASS) on the ‘world drug problem’. This follows a move from a number of member states towards new strategies to managing illicit drug markets, in the wake of widespread criticism against the failed so-called global ‘War on Drugs’. This talk will explore current shifts around the international drug control regime and discuss how illicit drug markets intertwine with issues surrounding organized crime and development in the Global South, in addition to the unintended consequences drug control has had on producer and transshipment countries in the developing world. It will draw on case studies based on research in a number of countries, such as the transition from opium poppy cultivation to licit economic enterprises in northern Thailand, current shifts around coca cultivation and cocaine trafficking from South America, the recent boom in Afghan poppy cultivation and the reliance on illicit drug markets by minorities along these supply chains. The researcher draws upon work conducted for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Tehran, his own PhD project, and other projects in collaboration with a number of international and local partners.
The talk will also explore some of the novel methodologies and approaches employed to measure illicit drug markets, including the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing in measuring the cultivation and trafficking of illicit drugs. These methods will be discussed in relation to the evolving nature of cross-border illicit enterprises and the building of resilience in communities along the illicit drug supply chain.
Alexander Soderholm is the Policy Coordinator of the International Drug Policy Unit at the LSE. He holds an MSc in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies from the LSE, and is currently an MPhil/PhD Candidate in Social Policy at the LSE Department of Social Policy. Alexander was the Managing Editor of the 2016 report After the Drug Wars, which was endorsed by 6 Nobel Prize winners and produced by the LSE Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy, which set out a framework for the future of international drug policy based on the Sustainable Development Goals. His PhD project is titled ‘Drugs, Livelihoods, and Development: The Role of Illicit Markets in Determining Development Outcomes.
Prior to joining IDPU Alexander worked with UNODC in Tehran. He has also worked on projects in a number of developing countries, such as Thailand, India, and more recently Myanmar and Colombia on issues related to illicit drug markets and sustainable development. His research focuses on the intersection between illicit drug markets and development outcomes, specifically on questions related to harm reduction and public health, livelihoods, and security.
By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 19 January 2018
The UCL Organised Research Network (OCRN) is very pleased to announce our next Seminar: “Armed Conflict, Organised Crime and the Rise of the Commercial Insurgency“ by Shaun Ryles, formerly at UK MOD, who will share his experience tackling crime around the globe.
The seminar will take place next Wednesday 24th January 2018 in the Teaching Room at 35 Tavistock Square, Jill Dando Institute, UCL, London WC1H 9EZ. As always, the event is free, open to the general public, and will end with a small networking reception with our fellow OCRN members.
After decades of operating in the frontline of geopolitics as a military officer, Shaun has spent the last five years working in the specific diplomatic environments associated with post-conflict security sector reform initiatives. He has extensive first-hand experience in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, and holds master’s degrees in Business Administration, International Relations (Cambridge) and Strategic Management. As a fluent Spanish speaker he has spent the last few years working in Latin America, and has recently returned from a year in Mexico City where he conducted extensive research in the use of security forces to combat high intensity organised crime.
By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 14 December 2017
While the main mission of the Mexican Armed Forces (army, air force and navy) is to safeguard national security, Mexico is faced with very few direct foreign threats. Consequently, the armed forces instead focus most of their attention on internal threats: emergency response to natural disasters, and temporary operations for countering organised crime.
Successive Mexican presidents have continuously relied on the well-armed and highly respected armed forces to combat the large and powerful organised crime groups (colloquially known as “cartels”) that dominate the Latin American drug trade.
They have done it for two reasons. On the one hand, local and state police forces have been neglected for decades and have been unable to cope with the corruptive influence of criminal groups. On the other, federal police forces have been too weak and small to counter the national presence of powerful cartels. So when faced with a rising death toll and increasingly violent organised crime groups, presidents have had few alternatives but to turn to the military.
Until a decade ago, these interventions were rather sporadic. The most dramatic upsurge came about in 2006, when then-president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared an all-out war on organised crime.
While the decade-long strategy was successful in breaking apart the main organised crime groups, violence induced by splinter groups and new actors has not abated.
The strategy has plunged the country into an ongoing conflict that has cost thousands of lives. Furthermore, it has also provoked countless human rights violations by the security forces (including the military) in the form of torture, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, and has led to an explosion in criminality in both petty and serious crime, such as kidnapping and extortion.
Just watched Mirar Morir, a powerful documentary about the army’s role in the enforced disappearance of the 43 students from #Ayotzinapa. It’s available on Netflix. Mexico’s senators should be made to watch it before voting on the #LeydeSeguridadInterior.
— Duncan Tucker (@DuncanTucker) December 12, 2017
President Peña Nieto (in office since 2012) has sought to scale back the focus of the Calderón government’s war on organised crime. This led to an illusory lull in homicide trends for the first couple of years of his term, only for violence to return with a vengeance: October 2017 was Mexico’s deadliest month on record.
Around the tenth anniversary of the war on organised crime, Mexico’s secretary of defence complained about the lack of a proper legal framework for the involvement of the armed forces in “matters of internal security”, including the fight against organised crime. Such criticism was echoing a 2012 statement by a minister of the Supreme Court, who said that the constitution did not empower the army to take on roles attributed to civil law enforcement agents.
The Internal Security Law
To fill this legal vacuum, legislators proposed an Internal Security Law, approved on November 30 by the Chamber of Deputies (Mexico’s lower house of congress), with support from the governing PRI party and a few PAN deputies (the largest opposition party). The bill set to now be debated (and probably approved) by the Senate seeks to regulate the involvement of the armed forces in “threats to internal security”. Such interventions would have to be requested by state governments, or could be initiated by the president if the threats are deemed to be urgent.
Proponents of the law note that such “actions of internal security” are never supposed to substitute local law enforcement; are bound to respect human rights; are to be deployed only against specific threats for a limited time (though subject to extensions); are explicitly forbidden to be used against peaceful social and political protests; and should involve the military only if the Federal Police cannot deal with the threat.
Nevertheless, the proposed law has been met with wide opposition from civil society organisations, academics, and international organisations such as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.
Critics claim that given the country’s poor track record in punishing human rights abuses by the military, institutionalising their role in law enforcement could lead to more abuse. Furthermore, they argue that the vague definition of “threats to internal security” gives too much discretion to the president, prompting fears that the military might be deployed as a tool of political repression. They also complain that the law rolls back accountability and transparency, as all information related to such interventions would be automatically classified as state secrets.
It’s about trust
It is true that there is a legal void regarding the involvement of the armed forces in internal threats. Such participation of the military in civilian life is not exclusive to Mexico. Liberal democracies increasingly resort to the military in support of internal security missions, including in the UK and France, for example. The question is how, and to what extent.
The proposed law does attempt to regulate such involvement in principle, however it does little more than state in law what already takes place in practice. Not surprisingly, this raises legitimate fears that it will only lead to a perpetuation of the status quo at the expense of developing capable local civil law enforcement institutions.
A truly beneficial law on internal security, if any, would go to greater lengths to curb the executive’s use of the armed forces to deal with internal security problems, for example by mandating stricter mechanisms for oversight (including legislative and judicial control) and by defaulting the interventions at their most restrictive setting, rather than leaving their terms to executive discretion.
The views expressed in this blog post are the authors own and do not necessarily represent the views of UCL, the Department of Security and Crime Science or the UCL Organised Crime Research Network.
By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 5 December 2017
We are delighted to announce our second seminar in our Seminar Series for the 2017 – 2018 academic year: ‘The War on Organised Crime: The African case’ by Dr. Sasha Jespesrson. Join us on Wednesday December 6 2017 at 17:00 at the Teaching Room of the UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science in 35 Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9EZ.
As always, there will be informal networking over drinks and nibbles after the seminar.
Sasha Jesperson is the Director of the Centre for the Study of Modern Slavery at St Mary’s University Twickenham. Before coming to St Mary’s, Sasha was leading research on organised crime at the Royal United Services Institute, working closely with government departments to ensure that research is useful for strengthening policymaking on organised crime. Her research background is on organised crime and particularly the role of development is preventing and responding to criminal activity.
Sasha completed her PhD at the London School of Economics. Her research examined international initiatives to address organised crime through peace building missions under the framework of the security-development nexus, comparing examples from Sierra Leone and Bosnia. Sasha also completed an MSc in Human Rights at the London School of Economics and worked for Amnesty International for three years, primarily focusing on human rights in conflict and post-conflict contexts.
By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 17 October 2017
We are happy to announce our first seminar of the 2017-2018 academic year: “Migrating ‘Ndrangheta. The mobility of Italy’s most powerful mafia” by Dr Anna Sergi. Join us on Tuesday 31st of October 2017 at 17:00 at the Teaching Room of the UCL Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science in 35 Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9EZ.
As always, there will be drinks and nibbles after the seminar.
The clans of the ‘Ndrangheta, from the Southern Italian region of Calabria, have become the wealthiest and most powerful Italian mafia groups, allegedly present in over 25 countries around the world, undisputed oligarchs of the cocaine market and reliable criminal partners for other criminal groups around the world. Their presence in Europe, Canada, USA and Australia mainly has been certainly facilitated by the mass migration from Calabria in the past century while current criminal relationships are rekindled thanks to the availability of faster communication and means of travels. Moreover, the Calabrian region is exceptionally challenged in its development and in the implementation of innovation strategies, which is cause and effect of the mafia presence.
The ‘Ndrangheta clans are poly-crime criminal networks and they engage in a variety of criminal and semi-legal activities, from illegal waste dumping to online gambling, from EU fraud to the flower industry, from money laundering to renewable energies. The purpose of this talk is to present the ‘Ndrangheta clans in today’s forms, by looking at examples from Europe, Australia, Canada, and USA specifically focusing at the way the clans exploit local economy to pursue their global criminal activities.
Lecturer in Criminology and Deputy Director Centre for Criminology, Department of Sociology, University of Essex, UK
Dr Anna Sergi holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Essex, UK, an LLM in Criminal Law, Criminology and Criminal Justice from King’s College, London and a specialist law degree from the University of Bologna, Italy. As a lecturer in Criminology at the University of Essex, she specialises in organised crime and mafia studies, from different perspectives, privileging comparative research approaches in policing and criminal justice methods. She has been a visiting fellow in different institutions, including New York University, Flinders University, University of Melbourne, the Australian Institute of Criminology and the University of Montreal.
Dr Sergi has published articles in international peer-reviewed journals and two books, one about the ‘Ndrangheta and the glocal dimensions of Calabrian mafia clans, and another on the policing of organised crime and mafias in Italy, UK, USA and Australia. Currently, she is working on project on mafia mobility across Europe, Canada and Australia, funded by the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust in the UK.
Upcoming Seminar: The future of US Security, Intelligence and Defence: an evening with former White House Trump Advisor, Craig Deare
By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 15 May 2017
We are happy to announce our upcoming seminar “The future of US Security, Intelligence and Defence: an evening with former White House Trump Advisor, Craig Deare“. Join us on Thursday 18th May, 2017 from 17:30 -19:30 at UCL’s Christopher Ingold Building XLG2 Auditorium, Gordon Street, WC1H 0AJ.
We will be joined by Craig Deare, who served as the White House National Security Council (NSC) Advisor to President Donald Trump until recently.
Mr Deare, PhD, has an extensive background in the fields of intelligence, armed forces, and countering organised crime and terrorism.
Recently he published “The tale of two eagles: the U.S.-Mexico bilateral defense relationship in the post Cold War”. This book is a must in the field to understanding the challenges of the intelligence agencies and the role of cooperation when tackling transnational crime.
Spaces are limited, please confirm attendance as soon as possible by registering here.
By Patricio Estevez-Soto, on 11 May 2017
This week, a great deal of media outlets reported that Mexico was the second deadliest conflict zone in the world, just below Syria’s civil war, and ahead of war-torn countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.
The news reports drew on a newly-launched edition of the Armed Conflict Survey (ACD) published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a London-based think tank. The survey analyses different dimensions of on-going armed conflicts around the world, including figures on fatalities, refugees and internally displaced persons.
In a press release issued to promote the launch of the ACD, IISS makes the claim that the second deadliest conflict in the world is Mexico’s struggle against organised crime, which they claim caused 23,000 deaths in 2016. The most lethal conflict, Syria’s civil war, caused 50,000 deaths, while Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen follow Mexico. The only other countries in Latin America considered by the survey were El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala—the so-called “Northern Triangle”.
That Mexico, the 11th largest economy in the world by purchasing power parity, could be placed in the same list as countries ravaged by international conflicts involving heavy artillery caused a media frenzy, including a retweet by President Donald Trump, as well as a rebuke from the Mexican government.
The survey conclusions are deeply misleading for two main reasons.
1. It compares countries with very different population sizes
When mortality or homicides are compared cross-nationally it is necessary to adjust figures by population size. For example, a hypothetical country A had 100 homicides for a population of 1 million people, while country B had 500 homicides for a population of 10 million people. In absolute terms, country B had 5 times more homicides than country A. However, once population sizes are taken into account, country A had 10 homicides per 100,000 people, while country B had 5 per 100,000 people. Thus country A can be thought of as twice as lethal than country B.
Bringing this hypothetical scenario to reality, consider the example put forth by Alejandro Hope, a security analyst in an interview with a Mexican TV network:
United States has a more than twice the number of homicides than Honduras, yet no one in their right mind would argue that the United States is twice as dangerous as Honduras.
For this reason, cross-national comparisons of homicide figures are almost always done in rates for 100,000 people, as this comparison of homicides in Latin America, or the international homicide observatory set up by the Igarapé Institute. Once the different population sizes are taken into account (USA: 321 million; Honduras: 8 million), it is evident that the United States’ roughly 12,000 homicides represent a far smaller rate per 100,000 people (3.9) than Honduras’s 6,000 homicides (84.6 per 100,000 people).
Antonio Sampaio, a security researcher at IISS, said to Reuters that the ACD did not use rates for the cross-national comparisons because many of the countries in the study do not have good quality population statistics.
However, this obstacle is hardly enough justification when comparing countries with populations so dissimilar in size as Mexico, Syria and Iraq. Mexico’s population (127 million) is one order of magnitude bigger than all of the countries in ACD’s list of the top 5 deadliest conflicts. To put that into perspective, Mexico’s population is larger than the population of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen combined (114.2 million). It is true that precise estimates of a country’s population are not always available, and that accurate statistics in fragile, conflict-torn countries are hard to come by, but the difference between the populations of the countries in the survey is too large to be ignored.
Thus, even if relying on (approximate) population estimates from the earliest available year, it is necessary to adjust the fatalities listed by the ACD by population. The plot below compares the rates per 100,000 people in the countries listed by IISS as the top 5 deadliest conflict zones, plus the countries in the Northern Triangle, using fatalities reported by the survey and population estimates from Google Search. Taking rates into account, México is not even close to being the “world’s second deadliest conflict zone,” as its rate is less than half of that of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the countries in the Northern Triangle.
2. Not all homicides in Mexico can be attributed to organised crime violence
The other questionable assumption in the survey is that all of the 23,000 fatalities in Mexico are attributable to organised crime violence. The press release issued by IISS does not specify the data source used to estimate that figure, though an IISS blog post mentions that these correspond to intentional homicides. In response to an email, Sampaio confirmed that the figure is the total number of victims of intentional homicide as reported by Mexico’s National System of Public Security, which is based on data compiled by state prosecutors.
Precise estimates are not available, though Tom Long, Lecturer of International Relations at the University of Reading, stated to The Guardian that “probably half of Mexican homicides are not related to drug trafficking”. For example, if we took only those homicide reports involving firearms as being more likely to be related to organised crime violence, they amount to 60% of the total (around 13,000 homicide reports), a much lower figure as that cited by the survey.
— Tom Long (@tomlongphd) 10 May 2017
It is true that Mexico has a problem of organised crime violence. And it is also true that homicides in Mexico increased in 2016, and it is likely that a sizable proportion of these homicides were related to organised crime.
However, assuming that all homicide fatalities in Mexico are related to organised crime is fallacious, even if a more precise measurement is not available. Furthermore, the qualitative nature of homicidal violence in Mexico is vastly different from the calamitous atrocities happening in Syria, Irak, Afghanistan, or Yemen.
There is much to study about Mexico’s organised crime phenomenon, but equating it to civil wars, and muddying public perception, does more harm than good.
- Media outlets: La Jornada, Vanguardia, Huffington Post México, Proceso, El Universal, CNN en Español, CNN, Fox News, Bloomberg, The Sun, Phoenix Business Journal, Reuters among other outlets.↩
- Northern Triangle: I only had access to the aggregated fatality figures reported by IISS for these countries.↩
- Population estimates taken from the World Bank, among other sources.↩
- Homicide reports : For this estimate, I used the number of homicide reports published by the Mexican government, since the data on homicide victims is not disaggregated by weapon use. There where 21,000 homicide reports in 2016, in contrast with the reported 23,000 homicide deaths. The disparity is explained by the fact that some incidents included more than one death.↩
The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of UCL, the Department of Security and Crime Science or the UCL Organised Crime Research Network.
By uctzrec, on 28 April 2017
The issue of kidnapping for ransom often appears in the media, with certain high profile cases dominating the headlines for weeks. According to these cases, hostages are brutalized and regularly murdered to either send a political message or due to external environmental factors such as stress. However, Dr Anja Shortland, of King’s College London, argues differently. She claims through her extensive research on the subject that the majority of kidnapping for ransom cases end with the victim returning home safely. And all this is thanks to a stable and well governed private market.
Dr Shortland began her research ‘when [Somali] piracy was cool’ back in 2014. She was fascinated by questions revolving around the value of a human life and about how companies could interact with criminal organizations legitimately and safely. When she analyzed the effectiveness of private companies in recovering prisoners, she discovered a surprisingly high success rate. In fact, when foreign nationals or nationals working for multinational companies were kidnapped, 97.5% returned safely to their families. In the remaining 2.5%, hostages were mainly killed due to rescue or escape attempts. Therefore, it appears that the kidnap for ransom market is fairly stable and well governed.
One fascinating aspect of the kidnap for ransom business is the interplay between legitimate businesses and criminal enterprises. On the business side, insurers play a role in the governance of the market. In order to do so, they must accomplish certain tasks. First and foremost they must conduct successful resolutions to hostage incidents, i.e. family members must return home safely. However, they must do so by understanding the kidnapping risks in geographic areas, pricing policies accordingly and knowing the ‘average’ cost of a ransom. If firms can fulfill these requirements, they can play an important role in saving lives and providing valuable services.
Dr Shortland also addressed the issue when terrorist groups conduct kidnapping for ransom activities. Her research argues that private firms act as stabilizers in the market so long as ransom prices remain constant. Therefore, it is in the interest of the market and in the interest of the victims that firms pay the required ransom amount. This sum usually never rises above a few thousand US-Dollars (USD) and only in very rare circumstances will a group request and be paid over a million USD. However, this dynamic changes when the ‘terrorist’ label is introduced, usually by governments.
State involvement in the market is seen as counterproductive and even dangerous for several reasons. Given that the counterparty has changed from a private to a public organization, the stakes increase. Governments tend to be weak negotiators because they are myopic and in part regulated by public perception and the media. Essentially, while a private firm may be willing to conduct a relatively long negotiation (most kidnapping for ransom cases rarely extend more than a week or so), governments must deliver results in a short time frame and they must achieve success.
Furthermore, and more importantly, governments are not limited by a hard budget. This means that while a terrorist group may request a lower ransom, governments generally overcompensate to ensure the release of the hostages. While this is generally a positive outcome, overpaying destabilizes the market prices for hostages and can cause an increase in insurance premiums. This, in turn, can reduce coverage and result in more uninsured and consequently vulnerable employees that might be at risk of being kidnapped. Dr Shortland uses this argument to support her claims that private institutions are best suited to provide governance of the kidnapping for ransom market.
This academic work can help to understand market dynamics and provides some ideas of how public and private actors interact with each other. Furthermore, the field addresses issues of how legitimate and legal firms can maintain complex and working relationships with criminal and terrorist organizations. Shortland’s arguments provided a concise and detailed presentation of the research that she been conducting over several years. For any further information please read her numerous papers on the subject and keep your eye out for upcoming publications.
I am an American/Italian MSc student reading for a degree in Countering Organized Crime and Terrorism at the Jill Dando Institute. I like to think/write about the crime-terror nexus, organized crime in Italy and art crime. Contact: LinkedIn
The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of UCL, the Department of Security and Crime Science or the UCL Organised Crime Research Network.