Illuminating dark networks: a social network analysis of an Australian drug trafficking syndicate


A small but growing number of analysts of criminal activity have used social network analysis (SNA) to characterise criminal organisations and produce valuable insights into the operation of illicit markets. The successful conduct of SNA requires data that informs about links or relationships between pairs of individuals within the group. To date analyses have been undertaken with data extracted from offender databases, transcripts of physical or electronic surveillance, written summaries of police interrogations, and transcripts of court proceedings. These data can be expensive, time-consuming and complicated to access and analyse. This paper presents findings from a study which aimed to determine the feasibility and utility of conducting SNA using a novel source of data: judges’ sentencing comments. Free of charge, publically accessible without the need for ethics clearance, available at the completion of sentencing and summary in nature, this data offers a more accessible and less expensive alternative to the usual forms of data used. The judges’ sentencing comments were drawn from a series of Australian court cases involving members of a criminal group involved in the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine during the 1990s. Feasibility is evaluated in terms of the ability to produce a network map and generate the types of quantitative measures produced in studies using alternate data sources. The utility of the findings is judged in relation to the insights they provide into the structure and operation of criminal groups in Australia’s methamphetamine market.

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    Note that the judge could mention people who had not done anything criminal, such as victims, bystanders or family members. We did not include such people.


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This work forms part of the Drug Policy Modelling Program funded by the Colonial Foundation Trust. This paper is based on a paper presented at the Illicit Networks Workshop which was held by the Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention, Wollongong University, Australia (December, 2009). We would like to thank Professor Carlo Morselli for his advice and encouragement.

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Correspondence to David A. Bright.

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Bright, D.A., Hughes, C.E. & Chalmers, J. Illuminating dark networks: a social network analysis of an Australian drug trafficking syndicate. Crime Law Soc Change 57, 151–176 (2012).

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  • Methamphetamine
  • Betweenness Centrality
  • Network Member
  • Criminal Group
  • Closeness Centrality