New Scientist reports on a new complexity analysis approach to Mexican drug cartels. Pointing out that removing the leader of a cartel is often cited as a major victory in the war on drugs, the article says that in fact more minor players with key connections might be more useful targets. The article explains that the approach
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… But like a hydra, chopping off the head only caused the cartel to splinter into smaller networks.
Apparently this reveals “links that are not otherwise visible… people who are not well-connected, but serve as a bridge linking two groups”, whose removal “could devastate [cartel] operations”. This is not the approach that has been historically taken and the New Scientist has some discussion of the relative merits.
More information: Destroying drug cartels, the mathematical way.