by Joshua Whitney Allen

IBM’s i2 Enterprise Intelligence Analysis deployed in fight against illegal wildlife trade

Published August 22, 2014


One of the most lucrative global crime markets doesn't move drugs or guns—but operates with a reach as wide as the most powerful mafias or legitimate corporations.

To immense riches, millionaires and part-time crooks smuggle animals around the planet in an illegal wildlife trade so complicated that only analytics can provide observers with any clarity.

Transnational crime illustrates much of what is problematic about security in the modern age. Borders are porous, international law is weak, and loosely affiliated networks of thieves, smugglers, businesses, and corrupted officials can move goods without much fear of arrest or prosecution.

Based in London, a small nonprofit organization called the Environmental Investigation Agency uses analytics to monitor this trade and assist governments in disrupting illegal wildlife networks. EIA has deployed IBM’s i2 Enterprise Intelligence Analysis product to track a diversity of organizations that move a range of species and products—tigers, leopards, ivory tusks, pelts.

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Working across Africa and Asia, these criminals are wildly elusive. The U.S. government has estimated that the global illegal wildlife trade generates $8-10 billion in revenue each year. This year, the State Department announced a $1 million reward for information helping to dismantle the Laos-based Xaysavang Company crime syndicate, headed by Vixay Keosavang.

In succeeding in its illustration of this trade, EIA has advanced the use of analytics to assess broad, truly global behaviors, creating ideal data use cases that could help any business pro grasp the complexities of commerce operation and consumer interaction.

“For many years we’ve seen that aspects of the wildlife trade demonstrate features of serious organized crime,” says Charlotte Davies, crime analyst at EIA. “Sophisticated smuggling techniques and routes, provision of top lawyers and corruption of judicial processes, and of course huge profits.”

The diversity of traded species is as broad as the types of organizations smuggling them. Wildlife flows across networks that include sophisticated mafias and front businesses that appear, on the surface, dissimilar in their purpose.

 “An essential benefit of analytics software such as IBM’s i2 is its ability to map associations,” says Davies. “Analytics brings that additional dimension by making visible what was previously not: how criminals interact with each other and the world around them. This is expressed by displaying commodity and communication flows, relationships and personal movements.” 

The data EIA collects comes in varied forms: regional news reports of a rash of poaching incidents, police reports, shipping manifests, court documents, tips. The ability of the software to distill such diffuse information is a must for EIA, who partners with agencies like Interpol, the United Nations, and government agencies, who together need to consider four investigative questions in their search for criminal networks. “Who are doing things, when are they doing them, where are they doing them, and what are they doing? And the important piece in the puzzle may be in a non-obvious data format that you need to assimilate in order to find that non-obvious relationship,” says Bob Griffin, head of IBM's i2 and counterfraud efforts.

EIA’s analysis of the infamous Indian smuggler Sansar Chand, who trafficked thousands of pelts throughout Asia, plotted the interconnections of franchising, supply chain, and market dynamics.

Davies explains: “Using analytics, we have demonstrated Sansar Chand and some of his network, including poachers, dealers, and commissioning agents within India, along with buyers from other countries. When layering the commodity flows and associations, the picture gets pretty busy—it’s a fluid rather than rigid network, with relatively complex horizontal and hierarchical interactions, something of a spider web.”

“Social network analysis takes into account the directional flows of commodities or communications, and this versatility enables you to explore and address questions: where to make the biggest impact? How to disrupt, fragment, or shatter the network?

“Identifying the different roles in a network provides different options for developing an investigation, and a way of maximizing limited resources by targeting players whose removal will most effectively halt criminal activity.”

 “One dealer, Suraj Pal, was arrested for the first time in 2013—although Chand had named him as a major trader many years earlier.”

EIA must try to influence the varied law enforcement agencies and intergovernmental organizations positioned to arrest wildlife traffickers and their associates. This requires tact, diplomacy, and patience. Not every police agency is competent or free from corruption. And the punishments for wildlife trafficking can be lighter than those for drug smugglers, ensuring that an ever-renewing subset of poachers and traders will try their hand at a relatively low-risk game.

The subtlety of political influence aside, EIA was ahead of the Big Data trend in its use of analytics to drive their deductions. Its assessment of the big cat trade is a fine use case in logistics analysis. Since 2000, the results of IBM i2 iBase reporting, along with statistics from the Wildlife Protection Society for India, showed that since 2000, at least 5,786 Asian big cats have been identified in trade globally, of which 22 percent (1,247) were tigers from both wild and captive sources, according to Davies.

As Davies explains, from the overarching dataset of all Asian big cats, analytics led EIA to quickly drill down using sub-queries to isolate cases involving likely captive-source tigers related only to specified source, transit, and destination countries.

“EIA can then upload crime cases and organize them by captive-source trade and traders, compare records and identify duplicates, update and merge, and corroborate and integrate information--all whilst maintaining source integrity. Case comparison with integrated intelligence has also allowed the building of links revealing long-standing networks and repeat offenders operating across borders, which shows activities stretching back to 2003.”

Griffin explains that the i2 product is often used in counterfraud deployments. Twelve of the world’s leading banks use i2 Enterprise Intelligence Analysis, which is in operation in 150 countries around the world. Such numbers show that, to both commerce and the world’s activists and enforcement agencies, the power of data to reveal patterns and associations in illicit behavior is perhaps analytics’ most attractive aspect.



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