Countering system disruptions: concepts and lessons

In MXSECURITY we have constantly warned about the increasing threat of system disruption techniques by Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs).

On May 17th, we pointed out that DTOs could eventually target critical urban infrastructure such as electric power lines, communication hubs or key highways in Mexico’s major cities.

By then DTOs had already disrupted large cities such as Monterrey or even Mexico City, by blocking the cities’ main highways with barricades. However, as we then said, the complexity of the system disruption techniques used by the drug gangs would eventually increase.

In Monterrey for instance, DTOs have started to attack electric power hubs as a clear intent to cause major blackouts. It is not yet clear if these attacks have been successful so far, since local authorities have remained silent on this topic. Nevertheless, similar reports have emerged in the neighboring state of Tamaulipas, where drug gangs related to Los Zetas organization are believed to have caused major damages to small-sized electric stations.

We should not ask ourselves if these attacks will get more complex in the upcoming future –they certainly will, but how can local governments effectively tackle them.

During the past week, local and state authorities in Monterrey announced the creation of the so called “anti-blockade enforcement groups”, comprised of state and municipal policemen with helicopter support. The idea is not bad at all; however since local police forces are deeply corrupted by DTOs, the success of the entire anti-blockade strategy is yet to be seen.

Perhaps local authorities should look at international experiences were criminal syndicates have used similar system disruption tactics.

Sao Paulo, Brazil could be a good example.

During 2006 the Primeiro Comando da Capital, or PCC (First Command of the Capital), a Brazilian criminal syndicate that first started to control local penitentiaries and then moved to a wider scope of illegal activities, attacked the city of Sao Paulo. The PCC hijacked public transport buses and burned them in the middle of the city’s main highways. Schools and government buildings were closed, transportation was halted and several banks robbed.

Throughout several days, Sao Paulo experienced a series of system disruption attacks that collapsed its entire economic and social life.

Lessons drawn from this experience point out two main operational concepts regarding the PCC’s capabilities:

Mobility: The PCC used small commandos that simultaneously committed the attacks, making it harder to police forces to respond.

Network-centric communications: The gang-style commandos did not use different communication systems. Instead they communicated with each other and received orders by cell phone. It’s been said that police forces in Sao Paulo did use different communication channels -radios with diverse frequencies- that further complicated their response.

While the PCC had an agile and “networked structure”, police forces were disperse.

In regard to system disruption tactics, the Sao Paulo experience shows us that police and military forces must have a clear command-and-control structure, operate under a network-centric communications system and assure mobility (active helicopter support instead of a passive one).

The anti-blockade enforcement groups created in Monterrey should learn from the Sao Paulo experience. It is not enough to assemble such groups if they don’t operate under a comprehensive, network-centric strategy.

If these anti-blockade groups operate with different communication systems, lack a clear command-and-control structure and have a passive helicopter support, they’ll simply fail

2 thoughts on “Countering system disruptions: concepts and lessons”

  1. I think what we are seeing is somekind of modern warfare narco organization, such as the zetas, against a very unprepared and old style organization, such as the Nuevo Leon police force. The result is overwhelmingly in favor of the zetas given their organizational and strategical advantages.

    But what are we to expect from politicians who do not take security seriously?

    Look at what happened to Edelmiro in Santiago, the guy was the municipal president, he had a salary of around one hundred thousand I reckon, plus “other incomes”. And lived in a house worth more than fifteen million pesos.

    And yet, for those things, this completely unprepared, ignorant politican had a municipal policemen, one who earned less than four thousand pesos per month, guarding his home, his person and his family!!! The asymetrics could not be more offensive here. One poor, miserable, hungry man taking care of the safety of a millionaire!

    How sad that we are in the hands of such politicians.

  2. Thanks José Angel, you are right.

    Police forces will never match DTO’s without a network-centric operational structure.

    Regards.

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