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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: “Migrating ‘Ndrangheta: The mobility of Italy’s most powerful mafia”

Patricio Estevez-Soto17 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.

Seminar summary

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.

Speaker profile

Dr Anna Sergi

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: “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

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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.

 
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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.

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.

Interested in researching online criminal markets? Here is 1.6 TB of data

Patricio Estevez-Soto20 July 2016

It is not news that much organised crime activity has moved to the web. However, an article in this week’s edition of The Economist (“Shedding light on the dark web“, July 16 2016), provides an enlightened analysis on how the drug trade has moved from the street to online markets facilitated by anonymising technology such as Bitcoin and Tor.

The article focuses on how the market infrastructure provided by “Dark Net Markets” (DNM)—such as an escrow service, information sharing between buyers and sellers, dispute resolution mechanisms, etc.—has transformed business practices of these “organised criminals”, making them look more like Amazon and less like Al Capone.

While the article is an interesting read, what made it all the more interesting is the data it uses. As the article states:

The secretive nature of dark-web markets makes them difficult to study. But last year a researcher using the pseudonym Gwern Branwen cast some light on them. Roughly once a week between December 2013 and July 2015, programmes he had written crawled 90-odd cryptomarkets, archiving a snapshot of each page. (The Economist, July 16 2016)

Naturally, this data is a treasure trove for anyone interested in studying these criminal markets, and luckily for the research community, it is publicly available at Gwern Branwen’s Black-market archives. Branwen’s description is enticing (my emphasis):

Dark Net Markets (DNM) are online markets typically hosted as Tor hidden services providing escrow services between buyers & sellers transacting in Bitcoin or other cryptocoins, usually for drugs or other illegal/regulated goods; the most famous DNM was Silk Road 1, which pioneered the business model in 2011. From 2013-2015, I scraped/mirrored on a weekly or daily basis all existing English-language DNMs as part of my research into their usagelifetimes/characteristics, & legal riskiness; these scrapes covered vendor pages, feedback, images, etc. In addition, I made or obtained copies of as many other datasets & documents related to the DNMs as I could. This uniquely comprehensive collection is now publicly released as a 50GB (~1.6TB) collection covering 89 DNMs & 37+ related forums, representing <4,438 mirrors, and is available for any research. (Branwen, July 14 2016)

Some of this data has already been used in articles and posts, yet there is still a lot of potential for researchers from an organised crime and/or cybercrime perspectives. Branwen lists some possible uses, yet I am sure researchers that specialise in this field can think of many more.


 

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.