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Capitalization, Cut Outs and Organized Crime

Qualitative research was conducted with 15 persons convicted of serious offences in connection with drugs importation into the UK, and with 10 informants of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, with appropriate safeguards.(1) Objectives included an assessment of smugglers' (planners' and organizers') perceptions about `risk' and how they attempted to reduce risk. Two conceptually distinct forms of risk were identified. Strategic risk is the risk to the planner/organizer (`number 1' man or woman). Tactical risk is the risk to the drugs and to persons other than the planner/organizer. This paper focuses on strategic risk, which is described as differing markedly between (a) the well capitalized, risk-adverse number 1, who is well `cut out' from danger, and (b) the more risk-tolerant, `hands on' number 1, who is more directly associated with the drugs and other vulnerable aspects of smuggling operations. The authors give reasons for focusing future work on interactions between the first category of trafficker and control strategies.

One of the recurring motifs in the post-war period generally has been that of `organized crime'. The concept serves to galvanize states, and in each state the separate agencies involved in crime control, to co-operate more closely together.(2) Partly because of this, when it comes to crimes such as large-scale, international drug trafficking, there is a consensus at the level of policy making that organized crime is involved at least to some extent, and the concept has become also almost fashionable (see High Level Group 1997). However, the concept is not at all analytically clear and its practical applicability and implications are still somewhat uncertain (other than the need for greater judicial, police and Customs co-operation).

This paper addresses the question of the degree and form of organization of drug smuggling into the United Kingdom in the mid 1990s. It reports on a pilot study which was envisaged as a means of exploring the general question of smugglers' perceptions of the risks posed to them by the activities of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. Some aspects of the work carried out remain internal to the Department. The focus in this paper is one of general interest to all those concerned with understanding and combating serious crime in general and drug trafficking in particular. If the agencies can attain and share a clearer concept of the problems they face, then they may become better placed to tackle it.

The Motif of Organized Crime

If crime is `organized', then how? For some observers, organized crime has a rather modest meaning, implying little more than a reasonable degree of skill on the part of the criminals (Sutherland 1937, 1949), supported by a shared cultural orientation (Hobbs 1997: 57-72). This orientation has been described variously in terms of `the dangerous classes', a nineteenth century formulation; `the criminal underworld', a concept from post-war social democracies; and `the underclass', a concept deployed in the context of the market economy and implying that crime is organized only or primarily by those who do not have access to legitimate market opportunities.

In the middle ground, definitionally speaking, some observers describe crime groups in terms of a moderate concentration of criminality into many medium-sized and semi-permanent gangs--neither a monopolistic structure, nor completely fragmented (Reuter 1983). Such organizations constitute, in American parlance, `continuing criminal enterprises', each with an internal structure that is rather persistent, links to or alliances with other crime groups, and at least some penetration into the licit economy. It is our impression that this perception is typical for serving enforcement officers.

The most expansive definitions of organized crime suggest that there exists a relatively small number of large and enduring criminal enterprises, `mafias', dominating most opportunities for crime, setting the rules for other, minor players, and penetrating not just the licit economy but also political life (Cressey: 1969).

According to the more specialized literature on drug trafficking, each of these formulations has been described: quite large-scale mafias, each involving hundreds if not thousands of participants, and constituting monopolies within certain markets (Sterling 1991; Hobbs 1994: 441-68); the middle range, consisting of many medium-scale trafficking enterprises, constituted as small and flexible teams, whose members are drawn from a variety of backgrounds, each typically operating episodically and capturing a moderate and varying proportion of a local, regional or national market for illegal drugs (Dorn, Murji and South 1991); and the least permanent form of organization, in which petty criminal labour is hired by the day, or even by the task (fetch and carry, lookout, etc.), in a pattern of casualization, mimicking changes in the broader economy (Ruggiero and South 1995).

No doubt each of these formulations--highly concentrated and powerful, organized but not large-scale, and modest and ad-hoc--corresponds at least somewhat to reality in some places throughout the world, at some times in history. But what might be the position for UK drug importation in the mid 1990s? In the present paper, we present some findings from empirical research carried out in Britain in late 1996, from which we have drawn out one theme. According to a sample of those involved in and otherwise knowledgeable about UK drug importations, there are two clear, and rather distinct patterns of organization, varying significantly in their vulnerability to law enforcement.

Methods, Sample and Framework

During 1996, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise commissioned external research with the aim of beginning to understand how persons involved in smuggling illegal drugs into the UK might perceive the risks they face, in particular from Customs themselves. The short time-scale of the research contract meant that, unlike some previous work on traffickers (Dorn, Murji and South 1992), there was no real possibility of finding suitable interviewees free in the community and unknown to the Department. Plans were laid to carry out the work during summer 1996 and, with the assistance of the Department itself and the Prison Service, 25 extended, semi-structured, usable interviews were carried out in the autumn. Fifteen of these were persons convicted of serious importation offences and given long prison sentences (see below) and ten were informants. The findings which we report emerged from the empirical work, rather than being the original motivation of the enquiry.

Prisoners and informants

At the onset it was agreed that a diversity of people involved in importation of drugs needed to be interviewed. This was because it was felt by the Department that smugglers' modus operandi, perceptions of risk, and reactions to departmental activities might vary markedly, depending upon their various backgrounds and experiences (in terms of national origin and connection, past criminality or licit business experience, relationship if any to organizations, etc.). In order to apply available resources to the issues of greatest concern to the Department, it was agreed to focus the work (i) on British nationals and (not quite the same thing) UK-based smugglers, with a secondary concern with foreign-based smugglers; and (ii) on planners and organizers, wherever possible, though it was acknowledged that problems of access might mean only a few of these could be directly interviewed and so inquiries about them sometimes would have to be conducted second-hand, through those second-tier persons working with them or for them.

Sample achieved: informants and prisoners

For reasons of security, we give no information about informant respondents, other than that there were ten in number, geographically dispersed and, between them, they had occupied a variety of roles (see below). Elaborate measures were taken to protect informants' identity when we met them, which was in each case once and once only. The only help we can give to readers in respect of HMC&E's selection of informants for us to interview is that, although the Department was keen to give us people who could shed light on the upper level of drugs importation, we doubt they would have risked any contact with the most sensitive or vulnerable informants.

As for prisoners, a long list of potential interviewees was drawn up by the Department on the basis of recent cases of successful prosecution, from which the research team expected that only some would be available for interview. The dangers of relying upon respondents supplied by enforcement agencies are widely appreciated and the researchers cannot give an account of the initial selection process behind the long list--other than to say that HMC&E was keen to focus on recent and high-tariff cases. However, that list had to be supplemented several times, since not all on the first version turned out to be available for interview. Several `no shows' occurred because prisoners were being moved from one prison to another on the day of interview and the Prison Department could not for security reasons let the research team know. In other cases prisoners, who were contacted by letter to ask for their permission for interview, refused; and some, whose willingness to participate had not been clearly ascertained, refused on the day. Thus there was pressure to replace those on the initial list. In some cases, prison officers offered to negotiate participation with other prisoners who in their opinion fitted the criteria of importation offence, recency of capture and long sentence and, in a few cases, prisoners who had been interviewed recommended others. However, none of these potential arrangements bore fruit, since we ran out of time needed to make the arrangements for visits. Hence, in the event, all prisoners interviewed came from lists by HMC&E.

Although prisoner-interviewees were serving long sentences--reflecting conviction for a serious importation offence, or in some cases a series of consecutive sentences for conspiracy--they were mostly only a few years into their sentences and hence described recent events. In Table 1, P 1 to P 16 refers to the persons eventually interviewed in prison. We found that in some cases the self-reported role of the person within the smuggling organization did not correspond to the records of HMC&E: here we focus on the appraisals of interviewees. In some cases the sentence reported by prisoners differs from that described by HMC&E, generally because an appeal had been held and sentence reduced.
TABLE 1 Prisoners interviewed and their versions of events

       Residence    Nationality   Sentence       Role
                                  in years       (see Key)

P1     UK           Brit          7              3 WILL Cannab

P2     UK           Nigerian      15             NONE

P3     UK           Brit          8              1 HO Cocain

P4     UK           Turk          20             2 DRAWN
P5     UK/Spain     Brit          7              1 HO Cannab

P6     UK           Turk          8              2 DRAWN

P7     USA          NK            18             1 HO Cocain

P8     Pak          Pak           13             3 SAC Heroin

P9     UK           Brit          12             3 WILL Cocain

P10    NL           NL            16             2 NOTD Cocain

P11    UK           Brit          11.5           1 HO Cannab

P12    NL           NL            20             2 NOTD Heroin

P13    UK           Brit          14             3 NOTILL/SAC

P14    India        India         8              3 DRAWN

P15    NL           NL            25             3 DRAWN/SAC

P16    UK           Turk          30             2 DRAWN

       Residence    Background and MO

P1     UK           Former small scale cannabis
                    importer serves Pakistani-Spanish firm:
                    various channels, boat to isolated

P2     UK           Says Customs constructed case from three
                    unrelated instances, in one of which
                    acquaintances booked travel tickets
                    through her. Dropped from analysis

P3     UK           Cocaine users met Columbian in a night club,
                    then started importing via air flight
                    to Heathrow

P4     UK           ShoPowner impelled to carry heroin within
                    London for Greek businesman connected to
                    informants: lorries overland

P5     UK/Spain     Small group of `self made', hands on, high risk
                    friends: by boat to English coast

P6     UK           Messenger/interpreter/inland courier drawn
                    into Turkish organization: boat to UK or lorry
                    via Eastern Europe and Dover

P7     USA          US supplier for UK friend; carried drugs
                    through in personal luggage from Miami to

P8     Pak          Drugs planted on him by international
                    organization who informed Customs to create
                    diversion; by plane to Heathrow, personal

P9     UK           By air from Latin America to Holland, then by
                    ferry to Dover in personal luggage of foot

P10    NL           Thought he was involved in gold smuggling, as
                    interpreter, now thinks used as number 3;

                    luggage by air to Heathrow

P11    UK           Self made and high tech player; boat from
                    Morocco to English coast

P12    NL           Ex-handler of stolen goods, driver; by
                    lorry from the Netherlands to UK port

P13    UK           Businessman, on holiday, hires container for
                    importation at instigation of number 2s from

P14    India        Airline steward, drawn in; heroin in his
                    personal luggage to Heathrow; reports a
                    UK-based number 2 killed for unreliability

P15    NL           Owner-driver in money difficulties wins
                    apparently legitimate contract that
                    turns out to be dubious, then Ecstasy;
                    internal in lorry tank

P16    UK           Driver/bodyguard, carried cash within London;
                    importations via a variety of means from
                    Turkey. Number 1s argued.

Key to `role' in Table 1

The numeric figures 1, 2 and 3 refer to whether the person acted:

1 as primarily as a planner and organisers; 2 as a trusted/intimidated cut-out between 1 and 3; or, 3 as knowing little and potentially disposable.

For a number 1, the letters refer to their primary way of working: HO means he was `hands on' in the sense of being closely involved in the importation and close to the drugs; we reserved the code CO for those number 1s who were `cut out' by a number 2 but in fact all number Is interviewed were hands on.

For 2s and 3s, the letters refer to the ways in which they were recruited and managed:

WILL means willingly involved, knowing from the start that drugs were involved;

NOTD means not drugs, meaning that at the start the person thought what was involved was something illegal other than drugs;

DRAWN means drawn in by degrees, not intending any illegality at the onset but becoming reconciled to it;

NOTILL means that, even as the operation progressed, the respondent thought nothing illegal was involved, only finding out when they were arrested;

SAC means that the person thinks him/herself to have been used as a sacrifice (see text);

NONE means not involved at all (still denies).

So for example 3 WILL refers to a number 3 (knowing little and potentially disposable person) who was willingly and knowingly involved in a smuggling operation.

Framework for describing sample and their contacts

Based in the interviews conducted, we adopted a simple categorization of levels of involvement in drug smuggling:

-- a number 1 is a planner and organizer, who may or may not have one or more assistants (or two or more number 1s can be working together);

-- a number 2 is a trusted assistant, who for reasons to be discussed, is unlikely to give evidence about number 1;

-- a number 3 provides specific services but never knows enough about number I to endanger him/her, since number 3 deals primarily or exclusively with number 2.

As far as number 1s are concerned:

-- some, who we call `cut out', keep a good distance between themselves and the operational aspects, thanks to their number 2s and number 3s who take the operational risks;

-- other number 1s, who we call `hands on', involve themselves quite closely with operational matters and take the associated risks, for reasons to be discussed.

According to prisoner respondents, they came to be involved in smuggling with varying degrees of willingness. For some, including all the number 1s we interviewed, entry into the business was deliberate. For some others, they found themselves drawn in by degrees, finding that by the end of the process they were involved in something more serious than they had anticipated. Others presented themselves as unwilling, sometimes being forced to take part, and sometimes as tricked into doing something they would not have done knowingly. In one case, the informant insisted s/he never did anything in any way amounting to smuggling: this one case is presented as P 2 (prisoner 2) in the table overleaf but was not relied upon for information and another respondent was recruited instead. Information on the self-reported role of each prisoner is summarized in Table 1 and in the key to Table 1.

Phases of fieldwork

The phasing of work was as follows: a wide, scanning start to the research (informants, talking about a range of smugglers), followed by a series of more narrowly focused case studies (prisoners, each tending to focus on his or her own case), and finishing off with another broad scan.
Scan                             Focus
5 informants                     16 prisoners,
interviewed in   [right arrow]   various locations
London and the

Scan                             Scan
5 informants                     5 more informants
interviewed in   [right arrow]   outside south-east
London and the                   England

This phasing of research fieldwork was entirely fortuitous. It arose for practical reasons. The first five interviews were with informants of the Department because of the relative speed of access to informants, compared with some delays in getting into prisons. After this, it became possible to carry out the prison-based interviews. Finally, as those interviews dried up, informants were returned to in order to complete the sample. Although not planned, this phasing helped us to establish an analytic framework within which to conduct the interviews and to structure the findings (see below).

Development of a research framework

Our objective was to discover, (i) what risk is, from the point of view of planners and organizers of drug importations and, (ii) how planners and organizers reduce the risks that most worry them. Initially, our approach to the interviews was loosely structured, with a tightening of focus that we shall describe. In the first few interviews, we found that interviewees quite readily warmed to a conversation structured in three parts:

i. entering `the business' (`how I got involved'), and risk appraisal and risk-reduction at that stage,

ii. making arrangements with other people (`the people I know about best'), in their own group and outside, and how to appraise risks and reduce them in relation to people, and

iii. making the logistic and practical arrangements for smuggling (`how that job was done'), and risk appraisal and risk-reduction of each MO and entry point.

The fact that our first five interviews were with informants turned out to be significant and useful, since informants generally are able to talk about a range of smugglers (whilst prisoners were understandably quite engrossed in their own experience, and less able to articulate the methods of others). The initial informant interviews helped to organize the framework for research. Coincidentally, as the fieldwork began, the research team was reminded of a model of organized crime developed by anti-Mafia criminologist Pino Arlacchi (Arlacchi 1988; Arlacchi 1996). This suggests, inter alia, that economic resources and specific organizational skills distinguish the more `organized' and enduring criminal enterprises. As the research progressed, the research team reconstructed Arlacchi's model to achieve a reasonable fit with the subject matter coming out of our interviews. We present the basic features of the resulting framework here, elaborating parts 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 empirically in the following pages:

1. Strategic and organizational skills needed by organizers

1.1 Start up capital and its relationship to risk tolerance

1.2 Managing people: trust, violence and the negative control of information

1.3 Neutralizing/evading law enforcement: the positive control of information

2. Tactical, logistic and operational arrangements

2.1 Planning each job

2.2 Money outbound from UK

2.3 Exchanging drugs/money

2.4 Back into UK

2.5 Transfer to distributors/wholesalers

2.6 Money inbound/laundering

By the time we were halfway through the research, we found that this framework could be used with prisoners, as well as with informants. Because it provided a means of capturing what seemed important aspects of criminal organization--especially in relation to points 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3--the decision was made to adopt this modified form of Arlacchi's model for the purposes of this research. Of course, this is a framework to guide the research, rather than a set order of questioning. Indeed for some interviewees, especially prisoners who knew about some aspects of drug importations but little or nothing about other aspects, it would have been pointless to insist on exploring aspects about which they were ignorant. In practice, the interviews varied, some covering some areas in some depth, others focusing on other areas, and a few ranging over the whole span of concerns. At the start of the work, we expected interviews to last on average about an hour. In practice, the average was approximately 90 minutes, and some interviews extended over two hours. Taken together, the interviews cover all the ground indicated in the framework, albeit to varying depth.

Findings: Smugglers' Perceptions of Strategic Risk

Start up capital, and its relationship to risk

In this paper, we are particularly concerned with start-up capital for drug importation. From our interviews and from the modified Arlacchi framework used in this research, we surmise that, for criminal organizers, start-up capital may need to cover the following: costs of developing an appropriate organizational form; costs of minimizing information flows to enforcement agencies, including the costs of trust and/or violence; costs of neutralizing/evading law enforcement, including attempts to influence positively information reaching them; costs of planning the first job (travel etc.); money to buy the drugs and costs of getting it to the seller; costs of precautions around the exchange of drugs and money; costs of getting the drugs back into the UK, undetected; and costs of arrangements for transfer to distributors/wholesalers.

For a would-be organizer of a drugs importation, there are two broad possibilities in relation to possession of start-up capital which is full and sufficient, in the sense of covering all the above-listed categories of cost:

(a) Start-up capital will not be a problem for some entrants, who may have personal wealth for family or business reasons, or may be backed financially and otherwise assisted by family or friends. This allows entrants:

-- to proceed with due caution, with risk-reduction in terms of people and MO;

-- and to survive, should the money and/or the whole load (unusually) be lost. In these circumstances, relatively risk-adverse planners and organizers can proceed. They can quite quickly recoup their costs and a surplus, and are then able to re-invest, with the options of keeping the same arrangements or enhancing them.

(b) If full capitalization is not available, then a Hobson's choice arises for the prospective organizer:

-- either to proceed under-capitalized, which means cutting corners, hence being relatively close to the drugs, being unable to buy a trustworthy number 2 and some number 3s in order to insulate oneself;

-- or to borrow, which places one in a hazardous situation if anything goes wrong, as we shall describe.

To proceed in either case, one has to be tolerant of the risks involved. The chances of losing the load, the investment and one's own freedom are higher in such circumstances.

Our respondents say that the risks of conviction differ considerably between these two categories of planner/organizer. What those odds might be, it is not possible to say in quantitative terms on the basis of this work, but the following may serve to give a taste of interviewees' beliefs on this matter.

Capitalized risk-minimizers

In relation to organizers with sufficient start-up capital to set up their business correctly, our interviewees cited odds so small for their criminal conviction that they cannot be expressed meaningfully in quantitative terms. Some spoke of `like one in a hundred' (one person spoke of `one in four hundred'), but they made clear that what they meant by this was that it would be only `very bad luck' if such an organizer was convicted. The odds were simply too small to be expressed with any confidence.

Perhaps occasionally the load would be lost--a business expense--and more generally some part of each load or of every other load might need to be Sacrificed, together with some expendable and ignorant persons, in order to `keep Customs busy'. Occasionally, a trusted number 2 would be captured and convicted but, if they had been recruited and treated correctly (see later), they would insulate the boss.


In relation to those without full capital, who nevertheless persist in entering the business, either in the hope of generating sufficient profit to develop a more secure smuggling operation second or third time round, and/or because they are somewhat attracted by the risk of being `hands on', respondents agreed that the odds are much shorter. The additional risk here is that, if the load is apprehended then so may be the number 1s who are so closely associated with it--if not actually carrying it or sitting in a boat with it, then watching close at hand and, at times, taking delivery after arrival in the UK. Again, it is difficult to quantify the odds, but they may be much closer to 1 in 10 than 1 in 100.

In these circumstances, many respondents believed that factors tipping the job towards failure included:

-- `getting greedy', for example by attempting to move too big a load for the form of conveyance used, be that person, lorry, boat or whatever;

-- `getting lazy', repeating the same method too many times, or failure to split the load so as to reduce the chance that all might be lost;

-- `loose talk' by oneself, one's co-organizers or contacts, leading to surveillance;

-- `getting stupid', for example failure to pull out of a job when finding oneself under surveillance;

-- falling out with co-organizers, which can raise the emotional level and reduce decision-making ability;

-- and just being unlucky.

Once a risk acceptor, always so?

What of those who, lacking sufficient capital to enter in a big way, nevertheless enter in a small and modest manner and, through good luck and/or discretion, manage several successful runs? Do they not then acquire sufficient capital to be able to adopt a more secure business approach, in which they could reduce their personal exposure?

Perhaps there are some such operators, but we found little indication of their existence in this research. This may be because there is a close `fit' between: (a) willingness to enter in a risky manner, (b) willingness to continue to participate in a `hands on' manner, (c) some actual enjoyment of that level of risk, relishing crossing swords with Customs and, (d) the probability of getting caught. Our research was not designed to track trafficking careers, nevertheless our respondents suggest that those who begin in a `hands on' manner carry on that way, because the dispositional switch to a truly risk-adverse mode is simply too great. Indeed this was the account offered by most of our risk-taking number 1s themselves, albeit somewhat ruefully: the high-risk entrant who survives long enough to build up considerable capital applies it in high-risk manner and most likely eventually gets caught. None offered an alternative account.

There does seem to be a two-way transition between the roles of (i) high-risk `hands on' organizer-smuggler and, (ii) high-risk employee, generally acting as a number 3, knowing that position to be potentially expendable. Indeed we found a number of respondents who described their own history in terms of successive occupancy of these two roles. This role-swapping carries with it the danger of getting confused, as we later describe.

Doing business on credit: in illegal markets, not a risk-reduction strategy

We came across several instances of credit being extended, either as a business courtesy between organizers who were well enough capitalized not to need credit, or in the form of a high-cost loan, for those who really did need it in order to put a job together. If the job goes well, then all well and good, in both cases. But if things go wrong, then these two situations and their possible sequelae begin to look quite distinct. In the case of the well-capitalized operator who nevertheless accepts a loan and then loses that job, embarrassment and perhaps suspicion are aroused: however, he is well enough positioned, from past jobs and other current jobs, to repay the loan, thus putting things to rights in financial terms.

For the under-capitalized risk taker, however, things are not so easy. Demands for repayment of the loan can be met in one of four ways: the borrower quitting all environments in which the lender may be able to find the borrower (difficult); borrowing from elsewhere in order to meet the commitment (likely to cause further difficulties); quickly doing another job, possibly in a hurried and more severely under-capitalized manner (a recipe for disaster); agreeing to work off the bad loan, by acting as a number 3 in a high-risk position (with the tacit understanding that one may be informed upon--see below). Thus, for the low-capital organizer, already operating in a relatively high risk manner, taking a loan is a further high risk move. Our respondents indicated that jobs organized on a loan basis are conducted under more pressure than jobs which do not involve a loan. This reduces the possibility that part or all of the loan would be used in order to construct `cut outs', with a view to safeguarding oneself from law enforcement agencies (as would be the inclination of the already well-capitalized, risk-adverse operator).

Furthermore, for the low-capital operator, a loan is more likely to be used to increase the size of the consignment. The bigger consignment is required to generate enough profit to compensate the organizer for the treble sense of personal risk: from law enforcement; from the `normal' hazards of competitors; and from the potential anger of the creditor, who at the very least will tell others about any default, making any future business much more difficult. In these circumstances, with the outcome of the one job so crucial, and nobody else available that can be fully trusted with the drugs, the organizer is all the more ready to be `hands on', with obvious consequences in the case of interception. Thus, in this illegal market at least, taking credit is not a secure method for overcoming lack of capital. Rather, it may be regarded as a further heightening of the low-capital, high-risk strategy.

Summary on capital and distance from the drugs

To summarize, as far as start-up capital and risk are concerned, we can differentiate between:

-- Well-capitalized entrants, having money from family, business and/or other areas of crime, who are fairly risk-adverse, and who use part of the capital to construct cut-outs, with trusted/fearful associates acting to shield them from unknown/ unreliable contacts. Such individuals may lose a load or two, but rarely their own freedom. Their subjective sense of personal risk is that they control it. And they do what they can to minimize it.

-- Risk-tolerant individuals who lack full start-up capital, and whose psychological dispositions are such that, even if they could build up sufficient capital to pay cut outs, are not minded to do so. They either exit the business after a few runs, or remain `hands on', working either for themselves or for others. If the load is apprehended, then quite likely they will be as well. Their subjective estimation of personal risk is that they are on a knife edge. Some of them verge on frank risk-enjoyment.

This leaves those other individuals, having neither any start-up capital nor much appreciation of risk, who are drawn into roles other than planning and organizing.

Managing People: Trust, Violence and the Negative Control of Information

The low risk way: letting others take the risk

A fully capitalized and risk-adverse smuggling organization has one or more number 1s, who interact only with one or more number 2s who are trusted and/or too fearful to give evidence against the number 1. The number 2s carry out at least that part of the organizing that involves hiring services from other, potentially less reliable number 3s, who may be considered expendable. The number 3s may be required simply to put distance between hazardous parts of the work and the number 1, the role of the courier being an obvious example, or because their legitimate role establishes useful cover, for example lorry drivers, or because they have specialist skills such as the ability to construct concealments.

Additionally, when the smuggling firm is considering doing business with another firm about which it has doubts--perhaps because it is an unknown quantity, which might mean either that it could rip one off, or be under surveillance, or actually be undercover agents or participating informants--then it may field an intermediary or go-between. This person will be a risk-assessor, having skills in sizing up the unknown party whilst negotiating terms, with a view to making a favourable or unfavourable report back to number 2 or 1. In the case of an initial interaction between the firms of two fully capitalized and highly risk-adverse firms, each very unsure of the other, the formal picture can be visualised as Diagram A.

[Diagram A OMITTED]

The same broad pattern seems to occur when dealing for the first time between firms from different national or ethnic groups--for example between a British cannabis importer and a northern African cannabis exporter. In this case the role of the intermediary may be more of a contact-maker than a contact-breaker, since in the Mediterranean context the chances of enforcement agents posing as smugglers is reckoned to be slimmer than in the UK, although the possibility that the other party may be either incompetent, or predisposed to rip you off, cannot be discounted and still merits appraisal.

Establishing trust/fear with number 2s

How are these sensitive relationships managed? When the planner/organizer wishes to distance himself from aspects of the job, the essential thing to do is to fragment it into a series of events that cannot be linked back to him--for example, making travel arrangements, making concealments, handling money, and exchanging/transporting the drugs. In such cases, these tasks will be split amongst others who know little or nothing of each other's involvements and, more importantly, nothing that is potentially damaging about number 1. For this to be possible, he needs to have at least one number 2, who interfaces with the number 3s who carry out the fragmented and/or most exposed tasks.

How does a number 1 establish trust and/or fear with his number 2s, which is sufficient to ensure that the latter will (a) put the freedom of number 1 before his own freedom and, (b) never accidentally construct an evidential trail back from the drugs, through one or more number 3s, through the number 2 to the number 1 ? It seems typical for this fairness to be construed in terms of both (positive) trust and (negative) fear, but the proportions vary according to the type of organization.

Trust/violence in tight peer groups

Here the main risk is perceived as lying outside the firm (`us and them' model). Risk-reduction relies on keeping things within the external boundary compact and tight. Personal relationships are important, and the trust/violence balance is more towards the former. There is an emphasis on avoidance of conflicts within the firm. If one party disappoints, then the other (s) are likely to be angry. But they may be reluctant to resort to direct and substantial violence, being more likely to try to get their own back, and to bad-mouth the disappointing party and hence ruin their other business ventures. There will also be, in many cases, a disinclination to face the censure of being thought to be `a bit of a nutter', since that would make others wary of doing business with you in future. Finally, serious violence can be expensive to arrange: if arranged on the cheap, it may not be done properly and hence may backfire.

For these reasons, within the small and tight group, the emphasis is on trust. If the parties can establish with each other that certain expectations about the conduct of each are `only fair, after all', then the bargain is sealed. Conversely, in the case of a number 2 who believes that s/he has been badly treated, then it is the sense of unfairness that stimulates loose talk. In one such case:

The trust was very high since the operation was run on the basis of most of those involved being members of a hierarchical family group. In terms of outsiders, only X and Y were involved, the latter being intimidated by the family to keep him quiet. The risk of loose talk was low as long as the operations were successful. However, after the breakdown of most of the London side, the risk of loose talk materialised in the form of additional tip-offs. These were given to Customs by Y after the family presented him as the main organizer [which he certainly was not]. Being faced with those accusations, Y decided to co-operate with Customs and not only to give evidence against the family but also against other smugglers whose involvements and whereabouts had been previously unknown to Customs.

Trust/violence in extended organizations

Here the main risk is perceived as lying inside the firm, since the organization contains so many people, many of whom have in their heads a picture of at least part of the whole. In one international firm:

In order to prevent leakage of information, violence seems to have two levels: (i) if money or drugs are slow to be given when owing, then giving a warning of say 48 hours or else, followed by a beating up, would be the approach; (ii) in the case of continuing default, or if there is a suspicion of disloyalty, then murder could be anticipated. Hence there may be no need for threats to be made in any explicit manner--everybody knows the score.

Risk-reduction relies on having numerous cut outs within the firm--hence minimizing the amount of information that each individual holds--and, to the extent to which that system becomes compromised, risk-reduction can involve a greater reliance on violence. For example:

X worked as an airline steward when he was approached by a man who persuaded him to smuggle small amounts of heroin into the UK ... [Meanwhile] the international organization involved experienced problems in its `UK branch': one of the couriers within London was thought to be a trouble-maker and there were anxieties that he might jeopardise the organization. No remedial action was taken by the number 2 `responsible' for the courier. Following the arrest and conviction of X and his immediate contact, this number 2 was murdered, most probably as a punishment for not controlling his subordinate.

In general, according to our respondents, the more extended the organization becomes, the more it may lean towards the violence end of the trust/violence dimension, since it is difficult to be sure of so many people's loyalty and reliability under pressure. A capacity to operate in environments in which violence is a possibility and the ability to generate fear of possible violence are a considerable asset when it comes to the planning and organizing of drug trafficking enterprises that involve more than a small group. That is not to say that one has to be violent in this business, but at the very least one must have a degree of `violence literacy'--that is to say, to be able to recognize certain displays of violence and potential violence, what they are intended to convey, and to be able to respond appropriately.

Number 2s' recruitment of number 3s

According to our sample, there are three main ways in which a number 2 can engage a number 3 to carry out a particular, fragmented task. Many number 3s are well aware from the start about the nature of the acts they are being asked to commit, clear about their illegality and clear about the scale of penalty if caught. Others are clear about the nature of the acts and clear about their illegality, but stunned about the scale of the sentence handed down, considering their subordinate position in the smuggling organization. We have several such people in our sample. In either case, it seems, according to our respondents, that recruiting such helpers is straightforward.

But about one third of our prison sample said that, although they knew from the start that they were being asked to do something illegal, they only found out that it was drugs when they were arrested. For example:

X was a handler of stolen goods when he was approached by a man asking him to drive a sealed trailer to the UK. He thought at that time that he was about to load stolen goods in the UK, and to return with them to the continent. However, after arriving in the UK, he was arrested by the Customs who found heroin hidden in the trailer.

In another case:

X was asked by a friend to act as an interpreter in a gold smuggling operation. He believed him and they boarded a plane to Heathrow together. In Heathrow they met up with a man from [Latin American country]. He had the cocaine on him and it was supposed to be passed on to X's friend, who was the UK distributor. However, they were under surveillance on arrival [X believes] and were arrested the next morning ... `You get caught up in this', X now says, `when you are naive, greedy and in the wrong place at the wrong time'.

Another one third of our prison sample were not at all aware at the start that they were being asked to do anything illegal. Rather, it seemed they had an opportunity to make money in a legal manner--this opportunity typically being heaven-sent in view of their debts. As matters progressed, it became clearer that something `dodgy' might be involved, though this need not immediately appear to be related to drugs. Later, it became clear that drugs were involved.

X and his brother, like their father, are owner-operators of a one-truck firm which suffered financial problems. He was approached by a representative of a local business who suggested a contract would save the business, as long as X first made an investment in a specialist tank-trailer, which X did. However, no business was forthcoming, X's financial problems were by now of course worse (post-investment), and X pressed his contact for the realisation of the contract. In the course of that meeting a case fell open revealing a gun, `leading X and his brother to believe that they were dealing with a crook of some kind. Later, the contact let slip that he might be involved in some kind of European Community fraud, which seemed a reasonable possibility to X, in the context of cross-border transport of foodstuffs. More delay, more remonstrations by X, then he was taken by his contact to the factory, and shown his own lorry, empty and in such a light that it could be seen that it had an internal compartment. The contact said words to the effect of `well, you now know what is going on here, we have a contract, and so now we have to get on with it'. In considering the situation, X felt that they would be bankrupted if they did not comply (considering the debt), that they could suffer harm (considering the gun), and they knew insufficient about the criminality they were dealing with, making it impossible to assess the likely outcomes of alternative courses of action (like going to the police).

Like so many other naive number 3s, once recruited, this respondent's consideration of the chances of success were purely driven by his appraisal of the possibility that frontline Customs staff would see the hidden compartment, a possibility which he discounted, since:

`The way the compartment was made was professionally done and there was no way that anyone was going to see it when it was full and with the outer skin and refrigerant around the outer tank, it was perfect.'

Like many others, he had only the vaguest concept of intelligence or undercover so did not, indeed could not, consider information from that quarter to be a risk. The stages of commitment in this case(3) are more complex than in some others, but there is a continuity between the more and less complex recruitment of those `drawn in'. In each case, the process happens by degrees rather than all at once, and the recruit is caused to implicate himself.

Why should so much effort sometimes be expended on the recruitment of a number 3? Part of the answer, of course, lies in the opportunities for legal `cover' which their licit business offers. But also, their naivety offers safeguards for the planner/organizer. Not only does the lack of `background' of such a number 3 mean that they are less likely to be known by the authorities, it also means that their ability to figure out the wider situation is quite limited--and therefore so is their ability to offer to the authorities the crucial information that would be necessary to convict a number 1. Furthermore, the more naive the number 3 who knowingly participates, the less their ability to run off with the drugs. What would they be able to do with a lorry load of cannabis, or suitcase containing cocaine? By contrast, naive and untested number 3s would not be given a suitcase of money, at least not if they knew or suspected it to be money, since they would certainly know what to do with that. Even a trusted number 2 could be sorely tempted by a large quantity of notes. By the same token, an experienced number 2 is quite likely to know what to do with a quantity of drugs, and so there is every reason for suspicious number 1s to arrange things so that number 2 has little opportunity to divert the drugs. From these considerations it can be seen that the close association of drugs and number 3 is multiply determined.

The high risk alternative: changing roles

As we have indicated above, in certain less well capitalized and/or more risk-tolerant operations, the planner/organizer might occupy any of several roles:

-- at some times a number 1 who is completely `hands on', either in a small group with other, similar number 1s, or working solo;

-- at other times attempting to put together a more complex operation, involving some number 3s, albeit not quite properly cut out;

-- they may also work for other planners/organizers, for example, as someone else's number 2, recruiting number 3s with needed characteristics and skills;

-- and, possibly, sometimes work as a number 3, for example as a courier, for someone whose identity is not clear to them.

On the question of such mobility between roles, respondents suggested that this quite easily leads players to forget which role they are supposed to be occupying at a particular time, and hence to act inappropriately, leading to an increase in risk. In extreme cases--where a person has been variously, for example, a hands-on number 1 (e.g., carrying drugs in a body belt or in personal baggage), a number 3 (carrying drugs from A to B in the service of a number 1 whom they do not even know), an intermediary (checking out an unknown party), and perhaps also an informant (a role which is a good training for acting as an intermediary, and vice versa)--then it is all too easy to assess incorrectly the most appropriate action for the present role, especially when one is under stress.

In summary, we were struck by the relatively high levels of role-swapping and consequent role confusion amongst those risk-tolerant number 1s, interviewed as part of the prison sample and amongst the informants. By contrast, all respondents agreed that risk-adverse, well capitalized and properly cut out number 1s never forgot their role and its boundaries, nor those of others.

Neutralizing/Evading Enforcement: The Positive Control of Information

From the point of view of planners' and organizers' perceptions of risk, motivating informants not to speak, or to speak in certain ways, represents an attempt to control the information available to Customs and other agencies. The fact that so many believe this to be the case suggests that some at least are following this `normal' strategy. Three possibilities were identified: smugglers using sacrifices of drugs and/or people to divert Customs; smugglers using violence to direct informants; smugglers themselves being informants.

Sacrifices and diversions

Throughout the research, we were presented with claims from respondents that they personally or people they knew had been `set up'--put in a vulnerable position and then informed upon--sometimes by their own erstwhile employers. Sometimes this was regarded as resulting from disagreements between bosses who themselves had fallen out. But, more commonly, it was regarded as a deliberate sacrifice:

--in order to `give something to Customs' (drugs and a person)

--as a diversion from the main consignment of drugs

--in a manner which occupied Customs with a captive who could tell them nothing really useful.

There were hints that, since informants might sometimes be known to be informants, much or most of the information they received could be given them deliberately and in a planned manner, by well capitalized and securely cut out planners, sacrificing the relatively un-capitalized, risk-tolerant and highly exposed individuals who oscillated between the roles of minor competitors and employees. In the case of one prisoner:

He was charged with being the main organizer in a drug smuggling operation concerning heroin. However, he claims that he was never [knowingly] involved in smuggling drugs. The arrest resulted from a set-up which involved [country name] drug dealers and UK Customs. The drug dealers worked together with undercover agents in [country name]. For this co-operation they not only received rewards in the form of money but also the chance to distract Customs from [the informants'] own smuggling operations. They normally planted drugs on a [country nationality] traveller and denounced him, whilst one of their own couriers went through the controls unchecked. Subsequently the arrested person was presented as an organizer ...

Whether this is or is not the case is something on which we do not attempt to reach a judgement. The information is far from sufficient and, in any event, the aim of this research is to enquire into what smugglers believe to be the case. In these terms, the finding is secure: a variety of respondents believe that sacrifices routinely take place and are intrinsic to the business of smuggling and enforcement.

Managing informants: the role of violence

It was common ground amongst respondents that violence might be used against informants: most obviously, to dissuade them from giving information to enforcement agencies. In this sense, the capacity to `manage' informants though violence may be considered a resource required at start-up stage, along with capital, if risk is to be minimized. Without it, planners and organizers are more exposed.

Less predictably, we were told by some respondents that abstention from violence, by those known to be potentially violent, might well be employed in relation to known or suspected informants, in order to induce them to shape and channel information to law enforcement agencies. Thus, if certain information is `let slip' to a known or suspected informant in the absence of any suggestion that he'd better keep quiet--or accompanied by patently unconvincing threats (play acting)--then the scene is set for that information to be passed on to the enforcement agencies. Alternatively, some ritual but visible hurt may be inflicted (bruises, minor cuts, etc.), both to maintain relationships in their normal course, and to provide the agencies with a sign of seriousness, but no lasting physical harm need be done. The same information may be given to more than one person, to increase chances of' delivery.

Organizers as informants

A minority of respondents went further, referring to the possibility that bosses have worked out a ploy whereby, by becoming registered informants themselves, as distinct from instructing others how to inform, they would further reduce the risks they run. Such a possibility was described as having two significant advantages for the planner/organizer:

--It would routinize the process of positive control of information about one's own firm, providing a framework for nominating peripheral aspects of one's own organization and consignments for arrest and seizure: no one is in a better position to do that than the planner/organizer.

--The additional advantage of number 1 doing this him or herself would be a degree of immunity from prosecution, some respondents suggested, since a case would be difficult to construct without portraying the informant's past roles, which would leave him open to just the sort of retaliation that the authorities are concerned to prevent.

This suggestion was made by only a small minority of prisoners (two out of fifteen, of whom one made a specific allegation and the other oblique hints); and by a minority of informants (three out of ten, none of whom however expressed any specific allegation). Generally, the matter was put in terms of a possibility, one that would very much benefit organizers, with respondents having no clear views on how often this possibility might be a reality, if at all. Amongst other respondents, no one argued against the idea or felt that it was absurd.

It is not difficult to see why this might be, as far as prisoners are concerned. For the relatively large number of prisoners who regard themselves as a number 3, observing that their number 1 is not in prison, and feeling a sense of injustice, the idea that the number 1 protects himself and essential parts of his operation by acting as an informant does offer one explanation of otherwise perplexing and painful facts. True or false, at a psychological level it can serve as an explanation of the present situation of imprisonment. For one prisoner respondent, the idea that number Is are acting as informants has been reinforced by the conduct of the courts, in response to defence attempts to name certain alleged `big bosses' or to call them as witnesses:

During his trial, X tried to give evidence against persons he alleged to be both the main organizers and informants. However the judge blocked this move by the defence, and instead granted a public immunity certificate on this point.

Only this prisoner expressed the point in such terms. But the concept of number is being informants is quite widely understood. In this context, it may be that the connotations of `the protection of informants' are unfortunate--it might be construed as protection from prosecution.

From the point of view of informants we interviewed, things are more complex, and the evidence remains ambiguous. On the one hand, informants are mostly quite sophisticated observers, who are well aware of the advantages to be gained by a smuggler by acting as an informant. On the other hand, they might have been warned by their handlers not to give any really sensitive information in the research interview. Whatever the underlying truth of the matter, therefore, it is not surprising to encounter innuendo rather than clarity.

The point remaining is that there is a feeling amongst some of the respondents and, by implication, in the broader populations from which they are drawn, that the general level of risk confronting a planner/organizer may be reduced by being an informant or managing an informant. Accordingly, it seems quite possible that at least some planners/organizers may attempt to follow this `norm'. In other words it seems possible that at least some smugglers are putting some effort into at least an exploration of the possibilities for such a strategy. We consider this a sensitive pivot for drug enforcement.

Hearsay: lighter than expected seizures?

One third of the prison sample and half the informants/respondents referred to hearsay on the possibility that the weight of drugs which announced by the Department as having been seized is, in a few cases, rather less that thought by the smugglers themselves to be involved. The shortfall mentioned by some was about one tenth of the total amount. However, although these respondents repeated this as hearsay, none held to it as a matter of personal belief: most simply reported it as an idea `going the rounds', about which they kept an open mind. None claimed any direct knowledge of such a practice. When pressed for a explanation, respondents generally declared themselves mystified. One informant suggested that the drugs might be used for exploratory undercover operations by officers, where the operation may not have been sanctioned by the Department. However, this was just an idea, and neither s/he nor any other respondent had any reason to believe that this happened in their particular case.

Expectation that officers would not be corrupt

Meanwhile, it is notable that the hearsay is not to the effect that declared seizures are sometimes larger than expected by smugglers--which would be what one might expect if respondents were alleging that enforcement agencies were enhancing sentencing by padding the seizure figures. This is consistent with the general perception amongst respondents that the Department is perhaps hard, but not corrupt. None of our respondents referred to knowledge of corruption in the Department. It should be recalled that the sample interviewed was drawn from a longer list nominated by HMC&E so it would have surprised the researchers to come across well formed allegations of corruption.

A minority of respondents--half the informants and a small minority of prisoners--suggested that the risks experienced by planners/organizers would be increased by any active attempt to induce corruption amongst Customs officers. They felt that direct attempts at bribery would be counter-productive, resulting in greater and more unfavourable attention being applied to whoever made the attempt. Any individual officer of the Department presenting themselves as `easy' would be regarded with suspicion--a sign of increased, not decreased risk. Even if one did form such a relationship with Customs, there could well be problems later, since `a dealer has no safeguards [that Customs would continue to keep their side of the deal] and you could only lose out eventually'.

In summary, insofar as the Department may be regarded as open to being manipulated, it is through their relationship with informants, according to this sample.

Discussion: Possible Implications of the Bifurcation of Risk

This research addresses the question of risk, as understood by planners/organizers of significant importations of illegal drugs into the UK, and what the implications may be for control. According to our respondents, risk falls into two distinct parts:

--The possibility of seizure of the drugs and associated resources (including personnel other than the planner/organizer)--which we refer to as the `tactical risk'.

--The possibility of the planner/organizer not simply coming under surveillance, which is a possibility that might precede or follow loss of a consignment, but also being arrested, charged and convicted--which we have called `strategic risk'.

The most pressing aspect of risk, i.e. risk to the planner/organizer (boss, number 1 man or woman), is largely determined at start-up stage, when the general mode of organization is developed (depending on capital, personal disposition and cultural resources). Such risk can be reduced to a low order of magnitude by those able and predisposed to employ sufficient capital (a) to employ others to act as trusted/fearful `cut outs' between themselves on the one hand, and expendable chemical and human resources on the other and, (b) to control the flow of information to enforcement agencies. For such well-capitalized and well `cut out' number 1s, where each importation is a small and controlled facet of the business, some losses of drugs and personnel are discounted as acceptable business expenses, and by no means threaten their freedom or wealth. The activities of frontline, uniformed Customs staff are not seen as posing a significant risk to them. Their vulnerability to routine undercover operations is `manageable'. The only enforcement measures which are judged to pose a serious, strategic threat are long-term undercover operations that seek to work past cut-outs.

By contrast, for the more exposed, high risk, `hands on' planner, who remains close to the drugs, risk of loss of the consignment is much more serious, since it is likely to involve not only being put out of business, but also the risk of arrest and conviction; yet he or he may be unable and to some extent not disposed to reduce these risks.

Our observations on the well capitalized and well cut planner/organizer out are not quite in line with 1980s British trafficking research (Dorn, Murji and South 1992), in which the idea of large, continuing, mafia-like trafficking firms run by distant `Mr Big' figures was criticized. However, that research focused primarily on the internal UK situation, and provided relatively little purchase on the situation regarding large-scale importation. Furthermore the situation in the 1990s may have developed, especially as regards the wider European theatre (Dorn, Jepsen and Savona 1995). Pending refutation, then, the findings presented here and their possible implications deserve consideration.

Towards a quantitative model for exploring implications for control

Let us suppose for the purpose of argument that the present research is soundly based, that there are two distinct modes of operation for organizers of drug importations, and that few operations fall in between these two organizational modes, as has been argued above. What are the implications? Can we begin to quantify the situation, as far as the chances of capture of organizers are concerned? A hypothesis may be aired, subject to elaboration and fine-tuning by further work (Table 2).
TABLE 2 Hypothesis: two forms of firm

                                  High cap, and     Risk-tolerant
                                   risk-adverse      risk-adverse

Risk to number 1, in terms of
 risk of conviction:
  per importation                 Order of 1%(a)    Order of 10%(c)
  per 10 importations            Order of 10%(b)    Order of 65%(d)

(a) As noted in the text above, the nearest that respondents could get to estimating the chances of capture of a well-capitalized and careful number 1 was something like 1 in 100.

(b) Calculated on the basis of 10 occasions, on each of which there is a 99% chance of getting through, yielding a cumulative chance of 90% (approximately) of getting through over 10 occasions, hence implying a 10% chance of being captured by that time.

(c) The higher chance of capture for the risk-tolerant number 1 arises partly because the riskier nature of operations indulged in make it more likely that something will go wrong, and partly from the fact that s/he is personally exposed if anything does go wrong.

(d) Calculated on the basis of 10 occasions, on each of which there is a 90% chance of getting through, yielding a cumulative chance of 35% (approximately) of getting through over 10 occasions, hence implying a 65% chance of being captured by that time.

Obviously, this attempt at quantification is intended to be only indicative and extremely tentative. The authors welcome debate on empirical and/or theoretical grounds. Leaving aside exact percentages, and focusing only on the orders of magnitude suggested, the point is that our respondents clearly indicated that the personal risk to those planners and organizers who were well capitalized and cut out--who may or may not be responsible for most drug importation by weight--are very much lower than the risk to the drugs or the risks to smugglers operating on a different strategic basis. This is as far as we can go. The material that we have been able to gather does not allow quantification of the relative numbers of the two forms of operation, nor of the relative values of drug importations for which they are responsible.


Domestic, European and international policy making increasingly interlock, with similar measures being taken throughout the world. This means that the possibilities of convergence on effective policies will increase, but so will the possibilities of convergence on policies that prove ineffective or have paradoxical and unexpected outcomes.

In the context of the European Union, the Maastricht Treaty and Treaty of Amsterdam have created a legal space in which action on Justice and Home Affairs aims to maximize co-operation between and enhance effectiveness of judicial and enforcement agencies. This is not the place to go into the controversies about the relationship between Community and Member State competencies that this broad and fast-moving agenda has provoked (O'Keefe and Twomey 1994) nor to explore prospects for their resolution (Dorn and White 1997). We focus here on issues bearing closely upon the forms of organized crime described in this research. In 1997 the Union's `High Level Group' drew up a raft of proposals for action, including the proposition, clearly of relevance in the light of the present study, that the European Council should

adopt a joint action aiming at making it an offence under the laws of each Member State for a person, present in its territory, to participate in a criminal organization, irrespective of the location in the Union where the organization is concentrated or is carrying out its criminal activity. (High Level Group 1997, p. 9)

Justice and Home Affairs ministers reached political agreement on this in early 1998. The resulting Joint Action (European Union 1998a), building upon existing concepts underpinning the competence of the European Police Office, defines a criminal organization as:

a lasting, structured association of more than two persons, acting in concert with a view to committing crime or other offences which are punishable by deprivation of liberty or a detention order of a maximum of at least four years or a more serious penalty, whether such crimes or offences are an end in themselves or a means of' obtaining material benefits and, if necessary, of improperly influencing the operation of public authorities. (Article 1)

Summarizing for reasons of space, the Joint Action commits the signatories to adopt `effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties' for any person who either takes part in the activities of a criminal organization--including those of its activities that are not themselves criminal--if the person knows that the organization in general perpetrates or intends to perpetrate criminal acts (European Union, 1998a, Article 2).

This and many other measures recently and currently being adopted might seem from the point of view of enforcement agencies to hold some promise in their attempts to grasp well-capitalized and risk-adverse number Is such as those described by this research. But these people did not get where they are today by being passive in the face of enforcement strategies, indeed they are generally recognized as working hard to stay one step ahead. How then might organizers react? It must be expected that they sit down and think through the counter-measures that they could adopt in response to the Joint Action--news of which, of course, entered the public sphere well in advance of implementation. (The authors got their first copy of the Joint Action on the Internet.) It is less clear that policy makers and enforcement agencies run strategic scenario games as part of the process of evaluating policy proposals. Rather they adopt proposals on which political agreement can be reached.

The shapes of organized crime are largely the result of counter-strategies adopted by criminal organizers in response to control measures. What an informed debate on European crime policy needs is an understanding of this process. At the same meeting of Justice and Home Affairs ministers that reached political agreement on the Joint Action, agreement was also reached on a new funding mechanism, covering research on organized crime and named in honour of the illustrious Judge Falcone (European Union 1998b). Hopefully research will be funded on impacts of legislation and control practices (established, recently implemented and proposed).

The globalization and increasing pace of development of organized crime control policy are inexorable. In these circumstances, `look before you leap' might be an appropriate motto and independent research into and audits of the policy options must be more desirable than ever. The European Union offers one framework within which crime control developments can be interrogated. What we call for is not just `more research', in the US/UK tradition of research into organized crime per se, but also a better understanding of the dynamics of enforcement in interaction with its objects of control.

(1) ISDD expresses gratitude to Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, who contracted and Facilitated the research on which this paper draws. However the usual disclaimer applies: the authors carry the responsibility for the views expressed and the paper should not be taken as a reflection of the views of the Department.

(2) See, for example, the Joint Action of the European Council of 17 December 1996 concerning the approximation of the laws and practices of Member States to combat drug trafficking and to prevent and combat illegal drug trafficking, QJ No L 342 of 31.12.96. (QJ refers to the Official Journal of European Communities.)

(3) It is alleged that the contact man was a member of a Dutch enforcement agency or a participating informer. Whether this is the case or not does not affect the example of how a number 3 may be subtly drawn in, by degrees, committing himself through a series of steps of compliance, positive action and non-action, all underpinned by lack of experience.


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SIMONE WHITE, Nicholas Dorn is Director of Research and Development at ISDD, Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence, London, where he co-ordinates a study supported by the European Commission on administrative measures in drug policy. Lutz Oette is completing his legal training in Cologne after studying in London for an LLM. Simone White is a Senior Research Fellow at De Montfort University, Leicester, where she researches and teaches EU law. Communications may be sent to the first author by e-mail: or
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Publication:British Journal of Criminology
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Date:Sep 22, 1998
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