2007 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Chris Dishman

Developed a new market-based strategy and information system that enables U.S. government agencies to more effectively target and disrupt illegal drug trafficking networks.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and other federal agencies have employed with some success an array of prevention, treatment and interdiction strategies in our society’s 40-year war against drugs. However, even as overall drug use has been driven downward, drug trafficking organizations have continued to find ways to maximize their profits and minimize their risks. But over the past two years, Chris Dishman and his team have developed innovative analytical resources that enable federal agencies to better understand and attack the economic vulnerabilities of the illegal drug trade at key points in their production, distribution and sale.

The goal of drug enforcement operations is not just to punish individual criminals, but to degrade and disrupt drug traffickers’ capacity to profitably deliver their illicit wares to the United States. Dishman, hoping to improve the effectiveness of drug supply reduction programs, developed the idea of disrupting the drug trade from a business perspective during his tenure as a Defense Department intelligence analyst, specializing in drug policy. The drug trade, he reasoned, was dictated by the same economic forces that apply to any other marketplace. But for all its efforts to stymie the flow of drugs into the country, the government lacked a clear picture of how the drug networks could best be targeted for disruption across the spectrum of operations.

Dishman outlined his market-disruption model in a series of papers that caught the attention of policymakers at ONDCP, which brought Dishman onboard to establish and lead the first ever “Market Model/Market Disruption” analytical team.

Their mission was clear: analyze where the money is made in the illegal drug trade and calculate ways to stop it by making it unprofitable. Dishman and the team combined an array of domestic datasets, knowledge gleaned from prisoner interviews, and detailed financial information gained from investigations, from agency databases and case files across the country and around the globe.

Dishman brought all of his research and technical expertise as well as his extensive knowledge of the drug markets to bear in creating models of the drug business.  But it was also an effort that demanded the highest levels of diplomacy as Dishman brought together a host of federal agencies dedicated to the counter-drug fight.

Since there has never been a single repository of international drug price data, Dishman established a quarterly interagency working group that provides a formal venue in which the agencies can share drug price and other illicit financial information. Dishman and his team have also formed partnerships with their colleagues from the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and representatives of the Colombian government.  He established a Market Model Interagency Group where these agencies and others meet to discuss their respective understandings of the drug market. Under Dishman’s direction, participant agencies collect new drug market data and combine each other’s knowledge of drug markets to develop a more comprehensive picture of the economic system behind drug trafficking.

As a result, the government now has a shared system to track drug prices worldwide and drug business data and information is more widely shared than ever before. Dishman, the team’s expert on the cocaine market, is able to predict and evaluate drug flows and production, evaluate the effectiveness of supply-side drug control policies on the drug market, and recommend new policies which will disrupt the drug market. Dishman’s team analyzes drugs from their source of production to their sale on the street, including understanding the business habits of drug users.

Using this information, federal authorities are able to target their interdiction efforts in ways that will be the most disruptive to the drug trade. Earlier market disruption efforts severely damaged organizations specializing in the production and distribution PCP, LSD, and MDMA/Ecstasy.  It has also resulted in the dramatic declines in consumption of these drugs, as measured by ONDCP’s annual drug use surveys.

Through patience, persistence and resourcefulness, Dishman brought his innovative idea to fruition. Now in his ninth year of public service, his relentless search for critical information about the illegal drug markets is both a professional and personal passion to which he is tirelessly dedicated. His work has proved invaluable to the thousands of men and women dedicated to combating all aspects of the drug problem and the nation as a whole.