Red Teaming Criminal Insurgency


. 4 .

Conclusion: Understanding the Plazas

Red teamers and wargamers should seek to inform their efforts by applying operational knowledge from real-world settings. Mexico’s drug wars, for example, offer many insights into how criminal insurgencies operate. Mexico, and the cross-border region that embraces the frontier between Mexico and the United States, are embroiled in a series of interlocking criminal insurgencies. These criminal insurgencies are the fallout of battles for dominance of the plazas, or corridors for the shipment of drugs into the United States. Cartels battle among themselves, the police, and the military, enlisting the support of a variety of local and transnational gangs and criminal enterprises. Corrupt officials fuel the violence, communities cower under the violence, and alternative social structures emerge. Prison gangs—like Eme, the Mexican mafia—also play pivotal roles in the allocation of force and influence.
      Red teaming is a way of gaining understanding of these “geosocial” dynamics. Looking at the influences, market imperatives, and factors that drive cartel and gang evolution, as well as the quest for dominance in the plazas helps place the violence encountered in criminal insurgency in context. In this analytical endeavor, red teaming is more than the tactical red cell penetration of vulnerable nodes. It is an adaptive exploration of the criminal enterprises and their interactions within the social and market dynamics of the plazas. This can be described as analytical red teaming.
      Analytical red teaming looks at the network attributes of gangs and cartels in order to determine indicators for future activity. Which gangs or cartels are emerging in a particular area, what factors will extend their reach? Where are their new markets? What is the interaction between a specific gang or cartel? These intelligence questions can be explored through scenarios and analytical wargames. What factors are key market drivers? Where will new markets emerge? What counter-gang approaches will degrade criminal influences in failed communities? How can legitimate community political and social structures be marshaled to limit criminal reach and influence? By applying adaptive, analytical red teaming systematically, intelligence and law enforcement analysts can explore indicators of gang or cartel evolution, as well as potential courses of action to counter criminal insurgency.
      Understanding criminal insurgency is an emerging field of inquiry. Many theoretical and practical questions remain, and, if answered, these questions will improve our understanding of how non-state criminal forces interact with each other and fight government power. Perhaps the biggest question is whether the potential exists for a global insurgency to take root in failed communities in North America and how criminal actors will interface with that insurgency. Will the criminal insurgency in Mexico spill over into the United States? This is not a purely academic question; nearly all observers agree that the power of criminal organizations in the Americas is rapidly increasing.
      On the more practical side, how can domestic and foreign intelligence best be integrated to address these potentials? How can we observe the emergence of movements that can morph into insurgent or criminal insurgents within North America? How can the intelligence community work with the law enforcement community to deal with these emerging criminal insurgent security challenges?
      These questions will be the subject of future papers on this subject, as we intend to return to this theme even as attention is increasingly focused on wars abroad. Official recognition of the threat spectrum is heavily tilted toward terrorism, ignoring criminal insurgency and the potential threat it poses to American interests and lives. Applying analytical red teaming to understanding criminal insurgencies, gangs and cartels can be a valuable tool for transforming the plazas from violent venues for criminal exploitation into agoras for legitimate political and social transactions.

John P. Sullivan is a career police officer. He currently serves as a lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department where he is assigned to the Emergency Operations Bureau. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism (CAST). His research focuses on counterinsurgency, intelligence, terrorism, and urban operations. He is co-editor of Countering Terrorism and WMD: Creating a Global Counter-Terrorism Network (Routledge, 2006).

Adam Elkus is an analyst specializing in foreign policy and security. His articles have been published in Small Wars Journal, Defense and the National Interest, Foreign Policy in Focus, SWAT Digest, and other publications. His work has been cited in reports by the Center for Security Policy and highlighted by the Arms Control Association and the Project on Defense Alternatives. He has contributed chapters to The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy, and War (Ann Arbor: Nimble LLC, 2008) and the compilation Threats in the Age of Obama, now on sale from Nimble LLC. You can read his blog here.

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