Hidden in plain sight: an anthropology of the global criminal underworld.

AuthorKortava, David
PositionDark Logic: Transnational Criminal Tactics and Global Security - Book review

Dark Logic: Transnational Criminal Tactics and Global Security

Robert Mandel

(Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2011), 255 pages.

Over the last two decades, the global shadow economy has flourished: according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), illegal trade--in guns, drugs, timber, elephant ivory, human beings, and virtually anything for the right price--generates an annual turnover of some $870 billion, the equivalent of nearly 7 percent of the world's legitimate exports of merchandise. (1)

A recent UNODC publication reports that "states and international organizations have largely failed to anticipate the evolution of transnational organized crime." The entire industry, it would seem, grew up hidden in plain sight, as if garbed in camouflage from its infancy. What countermeasures have been taken--mostly in the form of conventional law enforcement--"have done little" to stem its growth or minimize its impact. (2)

Few scholars are less surprised by these grim facts than Dr. Robert Mandel, professor of international affairs at Lewis & Clark College and author of Dark Logic: Transnational Criminal Tactics and Global Security. Mandel has been mulling over transnational organized crime for well over a decade, and his latest meditation on the subject can be read as a sequel to an earlier work: Deadly Transfers and The Global Playground: Transnational Security Threats in a Disorderly World (1999).

In Dark Logic, Mandel contends that there exists a major lacuna in policymakers' understanding of the modus operandi of global crime networks. Commonly held assumptions about what triggers organized crime, the extent of its impact, and what might make for successful policy responses have been, on the whole, "controversial, wrongheaded, or ill advised." (3)

Mandel aims to get into the heads of transnational criminals and to cast a bright light on the contents within. He focuses on the "Big Five" criminal organizations: the Chinese triads, the Colombian cartels, the Italian mafia, the Japanese yakuza, and the Russian mob. When are their members likely to employ corruption as a tactic, and what circumstances will goad them to violence? Under what conditions will the ramifications of crime be borne by individuals, and past what point is the state itself imperiled? These are the central questions driving Mandel's analysis.

In answering them, he hopes to provide global law enforcement and defense officials--to whom the book is...

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