This informative report from March 2019 has been professionally converted for accurate flowing-text e-book format reproduction. The United States government has utilized leadership decapitation strategies to counter illicit or insurgent organizations since the kingpin strategy was first developed in the late 20th century by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Most critical analysis of this strategy, however, deals with terrorist organizations rather than transnational criminal organizations (TCOs). This study looks to the findings in these critical studies that may also be relevant to countering TCOs and, based on them, asks: what are the main factors that determine the effectiveness of leadership decapitation in countering TCOs? This study applies the four factors found in the literature to impact vulnerability to leadership decapitation—institutionalization, popular support, history of violent rivalry, and law enforcement efforts—to four TCOs. It finds that Medellin and Cali cartels did not gain an advantage from any of the factors. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) received protection from leadership decapitation from three of the four factors but ultimately was defeated. In the final case, the Sinaloa cartel, all four factors were present to provide the organization with protection from decapitation. These results are important for governments and law enforcement organizations to understand as they work to defeat TCOs.
This compilation includes a reproduction of the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community.
Chapter I hypothesized that the same four factors that determine a terrorist organization's vulnerability to leadership decapitation would be applicable to TCOs. Similarly, there is a potential for ancillary results based on the different motivations of the organizations-profit or ideology-that impact how the organization responds to leadership decapitation efforts: peace negotiations versus a fight until the end. Additionally, this chapter examined and defined the different factors from the literature and their potential to impact the vulnerability to leadership decapitation of the chosen case studies. Chapters II through IV analyze historical case studies and determine their relevance in predicting the effectiveness of leadership decapitation. The Medellin and Cali cartels were defeated by leadership decapitation and were made vulnerable by all of the defined factors. Both organizations were highly centralized wheel networks with all power and authority held at the top of the organization before filtering down. This structure made them highly susceptible to leadership decapitation. The popular support for both groups was varied throughout Colombia's population and tended to be localized rather than widespread leading to further vulnerability to leadership decapitation. Despite having long histories of violent rivalries and protracted law enforcement efforts and well-developed alliance structures, neither the Medellin or Cali cartel gained protection from leadership decapitation from these factors. The literature suggested that these relationships should have highlighted organizational and operational vulnerabilities and then provided the operating space for them to make changes and adapt. However, neither organization addressed their organizational vulnerabilities and ultimately this led to a fatal vulnerability to leadership decapitation that was exploited by the Colombian strategy.