I recently read a quote from an anti-human trafficking activist who said “We can always get someone out of the system, but we can’t take the whole system down.” I have to disagree with her, at least partially. Eighteen years ago in a classroom at Camp Mackall in North Carolina, I was introduced to the writings of Mao Tse Tung on guerrilla warfare as a young Special Forces candidate. Mao’s theories are masterful, and are the baseline knowledge of every student of unconventional warfare. One of the sad realities about human trafficking is that it is run by underground organizations, and is protected by local supporters, called auxiliary, wherever their operations take them. Human trafficking is a funding resource for guerrillas who use the money to wage their insurgencies against governments or systems. I am sitting here typing eighteen years later and counting my deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in years and not months. I have seen the lessons of Mao employed successfully and unsuccessfully by our country and against us by our adversaries. The bottom line is that despite what Mao later became, he mobilized his country and defeated the Japanese by using unconventional warfare.
One of Mao’s key points is that the guerrilla is the fish, and the population is the water in which they swim. Mao points out that the fish has a symbiotic relationship with the water, and the water feeds the fish. Human trafficking is propagated by networks who require business. Human trafficking only exists because there is a market for it. The same networks require local support for housing, security, early warning, intelligence, and legal protection. The water in which the trafficking fish swim, must be at the right temperature, have the right nutrients, and the right protection for the fish to thrive. If a local area has a thriving market, housing, security, early warning, intelligence, and legal protection, traffickers can remain indefinitely. Trafficking networks, like guerrilla networks, develop resiliency after time which makes it so that if part of the network is arrested or disrupted, the rest of the network adjusts their operations to increase security, and prevent further compromise. The anti-trafficking activist is absolutely correct about trafficking networks, if we solely rely on law enforcement alone to go target the trafficking fish.
The counter insurgent (guerrilla) must understand the insurgent’s (guerrilla’s) needs to effectively target the guerilla. Effective counter guerrilla operations use a whole-of-government approach to poison the water in which the fish is trying to swim. The whole-of-government approach means that diplomatic, military, economic, information/intelligence, financial, and legal efforts from everyone involved in fighting the guerrilla are all synchronized and focused on cells at the neighborhood level. In the case of human trafficking, it must be simultaneous and relentless.
The only way to destroy a network is to synchronize every effort into the overall effort. Poisoning the trafficking fish’s water requires NGOs, Faith Based Organizations, Law Enforcement, and Government organizations to share a narrative and be focused down to the neighborhood level. One of the greatest problems in counter insurgency is that terrain is won and immediately given back to the enemy by not maintaining influence and presence in the terrain that was just won. Influence can only be maintained by winning the hearts and minds of the local people and mobilizing the masses.
Mao saw the power in mobilizing the masses to win at guerrilla warfare, and in his book, Mao Tse Tung on Guerrilla Warfare, he demonstrates just how powerful that can be. I have seen and been a part of seeing entire terrorist networks taken down by the whole-of-government approach. The reality is that it is easier said than done, and many are afraid to mobilize the masses to defeat a scourge because it does not match their agenda. I would love to have the conversation on how to defeat trafficking, kidnapping networks, organ harvesters, or slave markets. Please give us a shout. Let’s defeat this scourge here at home and across the globe.