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Upcoming Seminar: “Illicit Drug Markets, Organised Crime and Development: New Approaches to Supply-Side Policies”

Patricio Estevez-Soto27 February 2018

Image credit: Alistar Rae CC2.0

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.

Seminar overview

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.

Speaker bio

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.

Upcoming Seminar: The future of US Security, Intelligence and Defence: an evening with former White House Trump Advisor, Craig Deare

Patricio Estevez-Soto15 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.

Review: Governing Criminal Markets: The role of insurers in kidnap for ransom

uctzrec28 April 2017

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tony D. Curtis/Released

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.

Upcoming Seminar: “Governing Criminal Markets: The role of insurers in kidnap for ransom”

Patricio Estevez-Soto21 April 2017

We are happy to announce a new seminar: Governing Criminal Markets: The role of insurers in kidnap for ransom, by Dr Anja Shortland, from King’s College London.

The seminar will be held on Tuesday April 25, 2017 at 5:15 pm, in the Teaching room of the Department of Security and Crime Science (35 Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9EZ). As usual we welcome all who are interested in the topic of organised crime, and the OCRN will provide refreshments for informal networking after the seminar.

Dr Anja Shortland is a Reader in Political Economy at King’s College London. Anja was an Engineering and Economics undergraduate at Oxford University and did her Masters and PhD in International Relations at LSE. Before joining King’s, she worked as a lecturer in Economics at Leicester, a Reader in Economics at Brunel University and as a consultant to the World Bank. Anja’s research broadly falls into three categories: 1) the economics of crime, 2) informal governance, and 3) civil conflict. She is currently working on the topic of kidnap for ransom, examining who kidnaps and why, how ransoms are negotiated and kidnaps resolved, and who provides the governance for this tricky market. She has published widely on the issue of maritime piracy and co-authored the 2013 World Bank Policy Report: “The Pirates of Somalia: Ending the Threat; Rebuilding a Nation.”

Seminar Overview

The intersection between the formal and criminal economies presents a range of intractable coordination and enforcement problems. Who orders and facilitates the interactions between private, legal entities and criminals (potentially) engaged in kidnap for ransom? Dr Shortland analyses the contracts, protocols, norms, and agencies created by insurers to govern this unusual market. Stringent insurance contracts, effective security measures and orderly resolutions create a profitable market for kidnap insurance. Underwriters manage moral hazard and adverse selection. Business risk consultancies minimise the kidnapping of insured workers, high net-worth individuals, and travellers. Crisis responders ensure that hostages are treated well, keep ransoms moderate and stable, and discourage kidnappers from reneging on agreed ransoms. The state, private sector and mafias incentivise co-operation and enforce contracts. Understanding this complex polycentric governance architecture is crucial for remedying current trends in “terrorist” kidnap for ransom.

Review: Open Source Intelligence and Organised Crime seminar

Philip T Doherty1 February 2017

IMG_3912

On Tuesday the 24th of January, we were privileged to welcome Michael Endsor, from King’s College London, to conduct a seminar addressing the factors associated with open source intelligence and the subject of ‘Organised Crime’. Michael is a research associate of the ‘International Centre for Security Analysis’, and eluded to the abundance of information available through social media for the collection, analysis and processing of intelligence.

The boom of social media in the last decade has spread internationally, with the example of Facebook reaching 1.79 billion users at the end of 2016. Michael explained that social media can be used as a ‘database bank’ for the collection of information on various sources, and can positively enable law enforcement agencies to develop social networks within organisations. Furthermore, with the ever growing population of online users, law enforcement can use open source intelligence (OSINT) to better their understanding of the spatial mapping of the demand for illicit products, and their consequent supply chains.

The patterning of identifying criminal activity is observed differently within each of the media sites. However, similarities occur as a trending ‘hashtag’, where the user tags a post with a specific code, enabling other interested users to interact and create online networks. Popular tags include ‘#junkiesofiggg, #dope, #ilovedope, etc.’ Michael’s primary focus within the seminar was ‘Instagram’, as patterns are observable in imaging as well as text. He described the characteristics of certain images, where an individual enjoys flaunting their wealth through designer products, and large sums of cash; while others directly display the illicit product they are trying to sell.

Instagram has tried to block certain hashtags from trending and existing altogether, however this has not seen a reduction in criminal activity, as extra letters have been added to the tag in order to avoid the security protocols. The most popular form of criminal activity on social media is the distribution of drugs.

The advantage to law enforcement is the insight into names/coding of products, the packaging of certain drugs, the regions of distribution (due to geolocation tagging on images), the individuals involved in such a transaction, and the observation of proliferating online networks. Through the analysis of tags, shares and direct messaging (DM), law enforcement are able to trace products back to the distributer are consequently spark an investigation for an arrest. This can also lead to the research into open source hotspot mapping (both temporal and spatial) for specific use of illicit produce and the supply demand markets of these.

 
IMG_3923

Michael’s research paper ‘A structural Analysis of Social Media Networks: A Reference Guide for Analysts & Policymakers’ is a brilliant example of how intelligence can be gathered from public, and even private accounts, of social media.


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.

Upcoming Seminar: Open Source Intelligence and Organised Crime

Patricio Estevez-Soto16 January 2017

We are happy to present our first seminar of 2017: Open Source Intelligence and Organised Crime by Mr Mick Endsor, from Kings College London.

The seminar will be held on Tuesday January 24, at 5 pm, in the teaching room of the Department of Security and Crime Science (35 Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9EZ). As usual we welcome all who are interested in the topic of organised crime, and the OCRN will provide refreshments for informal networking after the seminar.

Mick Endsor is a research associate at the International Centre for Security Analysis. He holds an MA with Distinction in Intelligence and International Security from King’s College London. Mick previously read History at the University of Leeds, where he obtained a First Class Honours Degree in 2012. A former intern at ICSA, Mick has also worked on secondment at the National Crime Agency where he provided open source intelligence expertise. Mick’s research interests include: open source intelligence, organised crime and intelligence-led approaches to strategy and security.

Seminar Overview:

Open source and social media intelligence offers law enforcement the opportunity to generate insights into a range of criminal activities and organised crime networks that can be integrated with other data sources to better understand organised crime threats. Analysing drug related posts on Instagram provides a case study of how social media information can provide insights into patterns of supply and demand as well as new developments in the illicit drugs market.

Upcoming seminar: Make America Great Again? Donald Trump’s War on Drugs

uctzhid3 December 2016

Please save the date for our next seminar entitled “Make America Great Again? Donald Trump’s War on Drugs”. It will take place at 6:00pm on Monday 5 December 2016 in the Teaching Room of the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science, 35 Tavistock Square, Jill Dando Institute, UCL, London, WC1H 9EZ.

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump argued that Mexican people were bringing drugs and crime into the US. One month later, he accused the Mexican government of corruption after drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped from a Mexican prison. One of his main pledges as a presidential candidate was to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Dr John Collins will talk about the implications of Trump’s election on drug policy and organised crime. Our guest speaker is the Executive Director of the LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project and coordinator of the Expert Group on the Economics of Drug Policy.

He earned a PhD from the Department of International History at LSE. His research focuses on Anglo-American relations and international drug control over the period 1939-1964 and the creation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961.

This event is open to the general public and will end with a networking sesión with our fellow OCRN members.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Review: Wildlife trafficking and its security implications

uctzhid24 October 2016

Last week, we were delighted to have Cathy Haenlein, Research Fellow from the RUSI National Security and Resilience Group Studies, as an OCRN guest speaker. Her talk provided an insight about how wildlife trafficking has been evolving throughout the last years and the different response approaches adopted by countries and international organisations.

Wildlife trafficking is becoming a serious issue across the world and a lucrative criminal activity. Cathy explained there is a lack of consensus and consistency within the legal definition, for instance, it is not clear what are the species included. Hence, the terminology used is imprecise and the dimensions of this activity are insufficiently understood.

Despite the gravity of the threat affecting a vast range of species, wildlife trafficking is not considered a security threat or priority for governments. Three narratives linking security threats to wildlife trafficking: terrorism, organised crime and human security.

Wildlife trafficking is part of organised crime activities as it embeds complex operations, using high-volume transportation and the participation of different actors in the supply chain. It is known that East Africa has source and transit countries for wildlife illegal activities. International organisations such as Interpol have identified kingpins and large shipments have been seized in the region.

Another aspect to point out is that this type of crime faces several challenges for doing research (how to measure it or to get data) as well as prosecution (the role of corruption). However, our expert suggested different responses that might help to develop effective strategies such as community engagement; law enforcement, demand reduction and the identification of money flows.

In the case of terrorism, there is an alleged involvement of al-Shabaab with ivory illicit trade and poaching elephants in Africa. Nevertheless, our expert made the caveat of an overstated discourse regarding the role of terrorism in wildlife trafficking as there is not sufficient evidence suggesting this nexus.

Currently, RUSI is working on a research project and training programme in Kenya and Tanzania funded by the UK Government focused on tracking the illicit funds from illegal wildlife trade. Also, they are undertaking a research programme on the security dimensions of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in collaboration with The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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.

Upcoming seminar: Wildlife trafficking and its security implications

Patricio Estevez-Soto29 September 2016

We are happy to announce our next seminar: Wildlife trafficking and its security implications, which will take place at 6:00 pm on October 10, 2016, in the Teaching Room, of the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science.

Wildlife trafficking is a complex crime that covers a wide range of illegal activities, from poaching to corruption and black markets, weaving vast networks of participants transnationally. It has environmental, economic and social implications.

The scale of the problem is staggering. In 2013, the United Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said that wildlife trafficking was organized crime on a massive scale; while just this week, reports emerged naming ringleaders profiting from $23 billion in annual trade in illicit animals, involved in a network that spans multiple countries and tangles international governments.

Our guest speaker Cathy Haenlein, is a research analyst on national security and resilience at the Royal United Services Institute.

She conducts research and analysis on a range of African political and security issues, with a focus on organised crime, the illegal wildlife trade, peacekeeping and counter-violent extremism.

She formerly worked for three years as Deputy Editor of RUSI Newsbrief and Associate Editor of the RUSI Journal. Prior to joining RUSI, Cathy worked for various international NGOs, including as a project development specialist based in Madagascar, focusing on environmental programmes. Before this, she spent five years in Italy, producing and writing for two European journals on EU–African relations, with a focus on migration.

Cathy holds an MSc (distinction) in African Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, with a focus on conflict, peacekeeping and governance. She also holds a BA Hons (first class) in Social Sciences from Durham University, is an experienced editor and graphic designer, and a qualified project manager, holding PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner certifications.

Be sure to join us Monday October 10, 2016 at 6:00 pm, in the Teaching Room, of the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science35 Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9EZ.

As usual, there will be an informal session to chat and network with fellow OCRN members after the seminar.

Review: Using technology and intelligence to fight human trafficking

uctzhid27 July 2016

by Helden De Paz Mancera * and Ana Lorena Vigil Gomez Haro**

© Patricio Estévez-Soto

© Patricio Estévez-Soto

Last 26th July 2016, the UCL Organised Crime Research Network convened a seminar entitled “Using technology and intelligence to fight human trafficking”. Our guest speakers were Dr Bill Peace, and Lovisa Ladälv from the independent charity Stop the Traffik.

Stop the Traffik (STT) has a prevention approach and focuses on building resilience communities so that they may be able to recognise human trafficking practices and report them in the best way possible, without placing themselves in a dangerous situation. SST has launched three global campaigns with the aim to raise awareness on human trafficking practices in the supply chain of the chocolate, fashion and tea industries on a global scale.

© Florian Hetzel

© Florian Hetzel

STT’s latest project is the Stop APP, which aims to empower communities to report any suspicion of human trafficking worldwide. This information, along with that gathered from different partners, is then analysed in the STT intelligence-led prevention centre and provides analytical products such as traffickers’ profiles, criminal networks, modus operandi and hotspots. By using this type of technology and intelligence, it is possible to identify where human trafficking takes place and how it looks in order to go back to the communities and further their awareness so they may be able to prevent it from happening.

© Florian Hetzel

There is evidence that human trafficking takes place in a community, through a community, and into a community. Hence, everyone can do something to prevent it. Currently, the Stop App has different partners such as IBM, Financial Times, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, amongst others who are becoming more involved in the fight against human trafficking. If you want to get the App in your mobile device please visit: http://www.stopthetraffik.org/uk/page/the-stop-app

*Helden De Paz Mancera is pursuing an MSc in Countering Organised Crime and Terrorism at the UCL Jill Dando Security and Crime Science Institute.

**Ana Lorena Vigil Gomez Haro is pursuing an MA in Intelligence & International Security at King’s College London.

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.