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La Cosa Nostra, the Italian mafia of Big Al Capone and Lucky Luciano is on the skids these days.:

“The mob’s frailties were evident in recent months in Chicago, where three senior-citizen mobsters were locked up for murders committed a generation ago; in Florida, where a 97-year-old Mafioso with a rap sheet dating to the days of Lucky Luciano was imprisoned for racketeering; and in New York, where 80-something boss Matty “The Horse” Ianniello pleaded to charges linked to the garbage industry and union corruption.

Things are so bad that mob scion John A. “Junior” Gotti chose to quit the mob while serving five years in prison rather than return to his spot atop the Gambino family.

At the mob’s peak in the late 1950s, more than two dozen families operated nationwide. Disputes were settled by the Commission, a sort of gangland Supreme Court. Corporate change came in a spray of gunfire. This was the mob of “The Godfather” celebrated in pop culture.

Today, Mafia families in former strongholds like Cleveland, Los Angeles and Tampa are gone. La Cosa Nostra — our thing, as its initiates called the mob — is in serious decline everywhere but New York City. And even there, things aren’t so great: Two of New York’s five crime families are run in absentia by bosses behind bars.

….The oath of omerta — silence — has become a joke. Ditto for the old world “Family” values — honor, loyalty, integrity — that served as cornerstones for an organization brought to America by Italian immigrants during the era of Prohibition.

“It’s been several generations since they left Sicily,” says Dave Shafer, head of the FBI organized crime division in New York. “It’s all about money.”

At the peak of the mafia’s power, the 1950’s, it had only 5000 “made” members but it was deeply entrenched in a powerful national labor movement, was entwined in a numerous big city Democratic machines ( notably Chicago’s notorious old 1st Ward, where Sam “Momo” Giancana’s minions hustled out the ghost vote for JFK) and enjoyed the tolerance of the immensely powerful FBI Director J.Edgar Hoover, who had a taste for the track and shady associates in his off-hours. The mafia not only had mystique and physical force at their disposal, they had the political juice, having in classic Boydian fashion, strategically connected themselves to as many other centers of power as possible.

What happened to the Mob sbsequently is a lesson for all those who study the potential of networks vis-a-vis states. Despite their fluidity and adaptivity, networks are not ten feet tall. They can be disconnected and isolated. Their internal cohesion can be disrupted. Their OODA loops can be disoriented and only in the rarest of circumstances can networks stand toe-to-toe in the open with the massive power of state hierarchies. They are beatable with patience, strategic thinking, consistency and time.

2 Responses to “”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I think your post is ass backwards. The mafia is less a network and has always been run on hierarchal lines. The mafias destruction has less to do with them being a network, and more to do with them having always been a hierarchy versus newly networked governments. Their destruction comes about from the government becoming more connected and network like through information sharing and policing work from local level police to higher up. So your second point about government hierarchy is also incorrect.

    You have the right answer but the wrong hypotheses.

  2. mark Says:

    Hi anon,

    Sorry for the delay. Actually, I relish tough criticism. Your premise was:

    “The mafias destruction has less to do with them being a network, and more to do with them having always been a hierarchy versus newly networked governments”

    I hope that you are correct here. That would be good news. But is that really the case ? I am not picking that up, for instance, on the reporting of the family secrets trial in Chicago. It seems the result of very straightforward & traditional FBI-DOJ organized crime work, coupled with a lucky break of flipping the son of a senior outfit boss who was getting even with his father.

    Structurally, I see your argument for the New York families, if you exclude associates who are not made members. Chicago’s Outfit has always been more loosely run.

    If you have some insights to share here, the floor is yours.

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