New Scientist said:
WHEN the Mexican navy announced on 9 October that Heriberto Lazcano, leader of the country's most violent criminal cartel, Los Zetas, had been killed it was hailed as a major victory in the war on drugs. But it's doubtful that Lazcano's death will be the end of Los Zetas - or reduce violence in Mexico. After all, there is already a new leader.
More useful targets might be those apparently minor players with key connections, according to a complexity analysis approach that could help Colombia - the world's largest producer of cocaine - investigate and prosecute cartel members.
Complexity analysis depicts drugs cartels as a complex network with each member as a node and their interactions as lines between them. Algorithms compute the strength and importance of the connections. At first glance, taking out a central "hub" seems like a good idea. When Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, for example, the Medellin cartel he was in charge of fell apart. But like a hydra, chopping off the head only caused the cartel to splinter into smaller networks. By 1996, 300 "baby cartels" had sprung up in Colombia, says Michael Lawrence of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation in Canada, and they are still powerful today. Mexican officials are currently copying the top-down approach, says Lawrence, but he doubts it will work. "Network theory tells us how tenuous the current policy is," he says.