A Challenging Nexus
Criminal Organization Centers of Gravity at the Local Level
When combatting today’s threats of transnational organized crime, much attention is focused on the commodity or main product which the organization brings to the market. Whether they move drugs, weapons, people, wildlife, oil, gold or other commodities, all criminal organizations no matter how sophisticated have structures much like any business. Supply chains flow from the producer to the shipper to the distributor and on to the retailer. These supply chains include a multitude of licit and illicit, witting and unwitting participants and elements that move the commodity on to the market. From shipping and trucking agents to banks and front companies the structure can be highly compartmented but also highly interdependent on the next element in the chain. Paralleling this supply chain is a reverse process whereby return proceeds flows from the retailer backwards through the various organizational levels and ultimately to the organization’s leadership. These enabling mechanisms are referred to as centers of gravity (COG’s). This term, first conceptualized by the Prussian military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz and cemented within US military counterinsurgency doctrine, is defined as “the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action or will to act.” When applied to criminal organizations, COG’s are critical to ensuring they can accomplish their objectives in the most efficient and costs effective manner.
While seizures and interdiction efforts are and will remain a necessary tactic in the fight against transnational organized crime, a focused strategy against critical centers of gravity can be a fruitful and efficient way of creating organizational stress which law enforcement can exploit to disrupt and degrade an organization’s operational capabilities. While this is done at the national level, there is ample evidence to suggest that it can be of great utility at the state and local level as well. Using the example of counternarcotics operations within a local law enforcement agency, instead of expending large amounts of resources on reactive policing against retail drug sales, take these same resources and surge them through an intelligence driven approach, towards centers of gravity such as financial operations and money movers, local transporters, mid-level gang management and regional distribution nodes. When a proactive, synchronized operations/intelligence cycle is implemented, formidable reductions in criminal organization operations, drug supply and sales would be achieved. Along with reducing drug sales and drug related crime, distributors responsible for supplying the area would also notice these effects and be forced to alter their methods and tactics. This alteration in adversary behavior could be exploited by law enforcement to make arrests of critical personalities and gain key intelligence. This becomes a cyclical methodology constantly updated with new information that can be used to not only reduce drug activity and its associated criminal activity, but also to ingrain a level of strategic understanding and threat awareness that was not previously present.