From Pablo to Osama: Trafficking and Terrorist Networks, Government Bureaucracies, and Competitive Adaptation

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ISBN-13: 978-0271029313
ISBN-10: 0271029315
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Editorial Reviews


“The United States has struggled to win its wars on drugs and terror. Why do our adversaries always seem to be one step ahead? Michael Kenney provides an original and provocative answer to the question of why the ability of drug cartels and terrorist groups to learn, adapt, and move quickly surpasses ours. Our technical and military advantages are not enough in a contest that rewards agility and information superiority. This book is an important contribution to our understanding not just of the adversary but of the limitations of our response.”
—Martha Crenshaw, Wesleyan University

“Kenney has written a remarkable and highly readable book that will be of interest to a wide ranging audience . . . it will be useful to sociologists, industrial and organizational scholars, and others who want to better understand the particulars of illicit networks, how they are organized, how they achieve reliability, and how and why they are able to persist. It also will be useful to public management scholars and policy-makers who are interested in better understanding their own practices and how they can be more successful in creating reliable outcomes.”
—Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, International Public Management Journal

From Pablo to Osama is a well-researched and well-organized book that is written in clear, expressive language. It will be of interest to practitioners and scholars alike. . . . Kenney has made an important contribution to the literature analyzing the organization and operation of illicit networks and the governmental structures established to protect society from them.”
—Melvyn Levitsky, International Studies Review

“Kenney’s study is riveting, important, and an original contribution that is a must-read for those attempting to understand the structure and identity of criminal networks engaged in terrorism and transnational organized crime. It provides novel insight into why law enforcement will keep losing until they are able to learn and openly reflect on their activities in the same way that criminal networks do.”
—Sara Davies, International Affairs

“Kenney has written an exciting, informative, and practically useful book. He uses organization theoretic concepts to explore and illuminate rich empirical data and provide insights relevant to important policy issues. This is a rare combination reminiscent of Diane Vaughan’s The Challenger Launch Decision and Lynn Eden’s Whole World on Fire. Specifically, Kenney examines the relationship between organizational structures and organizational learning in the context of organizations that engage in and fight against terrorism and drug smuggling.  The insight he provides about the strengths and weaknesses of these organizations provides the basis for new ways of thinking about policy in these important domains. The book is a real treat to read.”
—Martha S. Feldman, University of California, Irvine

“Kenney provides rich details and tells great stories, tying them all together with enough theory and policy relevance to keep the reader interested.”
—J.S. Holmes, Choice

“This is an impressive book. It applies organizational theory to understand the dynamic relationships within two little-understood sets of complex, mutually dependent enterprises. The first set pairs narcs and narcos (or Colombian drug trafficking cartels and U.S. and Colombian drug enforcement organization). The second set looks at terrorist organizations, particularly Al Queda and U.S. and international counter-terror organizations. Kenney shows how drug cartels and terrorist organizations continually adapt to the counter-narcotics measures and anti-terrorist forces.  Competitive adaptation means that apparent "success"  by law enforcement agencies or others is generally short-lived. The conceptual framework is very useful—indeed penetrating and necessary—for all current and future scholars and policy makers concerned with these issues.”
—Marc Chernick, Georgetown University

“Kenney’s From Pablo to Osama is among the most powerful books ever published on the topic of drug trafficking. . . . This book is extraordinary. For those perhaps expecting technical network analysis and arid theory, this book is a relief: it is beautifully and clearly written, so that even a layman (or policeman) could easily grasp its fine-tuned integration of theory and evidence. This is real-life social science. It brings balanced perspectives to topics usually clouded by superficial sensationalism.”
—Paul Gootenberg, Qualitative Sociology

About the Author

Michael Kenney is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Penn State Harrisburg.


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Product Details

  • Library Binding: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press (March 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0271029315
  • ISBN-13: 978-0271029313
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,565,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating book. It uses data from two seemingly different realms--drug smuggling to terrorism--to illustrate some key organizational issues facing both drug traffickers and terrorists, on the one hand, and the governments that combat them, on the other. The book examines the interaction between these actors and draws some important lessons for governments. The linkage is made explicitly on page 1: "As members of the U.S. intelligence community acknowledge, drug enforcement raids in Colombia during the 1990s serve as models for today's counterterrorism missions. . . ."

There are a handful of key concepts that underlie the analysis. One of these is competitive adaptation. The author defines this in the following terms (page ix): ". . .terrorists and counterterrorists not only learn, they learn from one another, through complex interactions in shared social systems. . . ." Another key concept is "organizational learning." This book explores how organizations learn. Methods of learning might include "metis," experience in the field, and "techne," abstract technical knowledge. Terrorists and drug traffickers use experience based in practice, the lessons of which will vary from context to context. States and their competitors tend to develop "competency traps," in which they come to depend on what has worked in the past and do not anticipate organizational learning from their nemeses.

The book's first part looks at drug trafficking in Colombia as a case study. The second chapter lays out how the traffickers' decentralized networks "allow them to process information and adapt their activities in response to knowledge and experience" (page 23). Because they are more agile, the small networks have an advantage over state organizations.
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Format: Library Binding Verified Purchase
Michael Kenney gives us valuable and unexpected insights into how organizations learn and innovate under adverse economic and social conditions. Possibly without realizing it, he takes the Mertonian notion of creative deviance and expands it into an image of a self-organizing and emergent process that is more responsive to environmental change than structured problem solving on the part of government agencies. Drug traffickers and terrorist, to be sure, are extreme cases of criminality. They are also organizations that are persisting in their attaining of objectives and survival in what can at best be considered uneeven competitive arenas. The techniques they employ are replicable in legitimate organizxations that must nevertheless engage in market creative deviance (competing outside the box) to survive. It would be an unusual but valuable book for managers engaged in highly comeptitive and hostile markets to read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I ordered this book a long time ago when I was in college, but I'm glad I found it on my bookshelf recently. It parallels a lot of what's going on today with terrorist groups such as Hamas and Isis, but puts a unique twist by adding in knowledge about how drug trafficking and cartels relate to it all as the bottom line at the end of the day for everyone is MONEY. Anyways, if you want a summary of the book you can google it, but my recommendation is for you to just BUY it. It's worth the price, and the seller did not take long at all if I recall correctly.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By LinuxMan03 on March 28, 2007
Format: Library Binding
I've read many books on terrorism and have found many of them well written. This literature is one of the very best. It uses information by practitioners and provides like no other resource. A must for anyone in the terrorism/trafficking field.
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By Brian Ang on January 25, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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