It’s interesting how the popularity of the term “sleeper cell” drastically increased the public awareness of cell structure networks. Yet the vast majority of people really don’t know how these networks function or understand why on earth it is so hard for us to bring them down. This is really true in human trafficking and drug trafficking cases, international cell networks are very hard to beat. Let’s go over some reasons.
First of all cell networks are not the Mafia style networks. There is usually no “don” running the show. Cell networks are loosely affiliated groups and typically there is no boss overseeing the entire network. The cells work together for mutual benefit and don’t require a mutual leader to accomplish their goals.
The interesting thing about these cells is they are usually totally unaware of any members of the cells they do direct business with. Let’s say Cell A produces a product, cell B ships the product, and cell C sells the product on arrival. In cell networks, Cell A and Cell C have no direct contact, neither cell knows any members of the other cell. In all three cells there is probably a single person that interacts with the cell they directly contact. One person in Cell A knows one person in Cell B. In cell B one person knows one person in cell C and so on. This highly insulated structure allows cell networks to survive if a single cell is targeted by law enforcement and removed. Let’s say cell c is operating out of Houston Texas and is brought down by a law enforcement raid. When law enforcement questions that cell there is literally only one person who actually has information to give them regarding the network and that person can at the very best reveal the name of one other individual (who would likely be dead or moved by the other cell at this point). This makes gathering intelligence on these networks extremely difficult because to bring down the entire network, you have to map the entire network without arresting or revealing yourself to any part of the network.
Here is a simple graph:
Replacement cells. This comes into play really heavily in international cells. Let’s stick with the above scenario and say Houston/cell c is compromised. Our international network simply replaces cell c with a new cell in a new city. The tragic reality is, there is no shortage of arms/drug dealing gangs in cities all across the world. These gangs readily accept the new income from trafficking and already have the necessary precautions to protect shipments, buy off law enforcement, and move products in place. Even when a cell that is actually selling people is brought down it is replaced quickly and the other cells in the network likely will not have even been aware of the momentary market loss. Complicating this issue is that the cells that law enforcement are usually able to uncover are the end cells, the ones selling the victims/products. In human trafficking, it is very hard to catch the cells that transport victims. This is because people can hide in plain sight, it’s not like an illicit drug or a weapon that immediately raises red flags. You can walk right past a transported human and not be aware there is anything wrong.
In all aspects of hunting cell networks jurisdiction between law enforcement agencies becomes a huge problem. If cell A exists in Africa, cell B is an international crew from Europe running victims in a cargo ship, and cell c is in Houston. How do cops from Houston stop Cell A even if they retrieve intelligence on Cell A? Then you’re looking at Interpol, Europol, The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, local authorities in Africa as well as national law enforcement in the United States that can arrange the sharing of intelligence and resources with the above groups. Mostly you’re looking at your cells being long gone before appropriate international action can take place because you have had to involve dozen of agencies and many people have had the opportunity to leak information. What about cells operating state side? It’s the same issue really. If cell A is in Kentucky then the cops from Houston who brought down cell C still can’t address Cell A because they do not have the jurisdiction to do so.
What I am getting at is that fighting cell networks is hard. They thrive without structure, recover easy, and individual cells often have no useful information to lead back to the other cells. Though it can be controversial an emerging trend is to observe the cells and try to bring down multiple cells in simultaneous raids (this has also been done for the more structured mafia networks with simultaneous raids in Sicily and the United States). Controversial because this involves knowing a cell is operating and not stopping it until the information on the other cells is in place. Though operations of that scale are usually left at the federal level.
To expose it is to kill it.