Human traffickers continue to circumvent enforcement in the ASEAN region. Freeland wanted a better, faster way to process and disseminate information to the counter-trafficking community.
Using IBM® i2® intelligence analysis software, Freeland analysts turn raw data into powerful visualizations that reveal trafficking networks and provide critical leads to help enforcers save lives.
103 defendantsindicted by Thai police in Rohingya trafficking and corruption case
Transformationalchanges in how counter-trafficking information is processed and shared
New opportunitiesfor training lawmakers and law enforcement to help them save lives
Business challenge story
Fighting well-funded foes in the black market
It started in the mid-1990s with a case of wildlife traffickers moving tiger pelts and bones from the Russian Far East to other countries. Pursuing the traffickers, Freeland Founder Steve Galster discovered this same criminal organization had another line of business—trafficking women. But Galster couldn’t find a law enforcement or civil society group in Russia willing to take on the human side of the investigation. That is when idea of Freeland was born: the world’s first NGO focusing on both wildlife and human trafficking.
As the organization learned more about the counter-trafficking in persons (C-TIP) community, says Galster, it became clear there was a gap in finding and using data for conducting investigations.
“We decided to fill that niche,” says Galster, by applying Freeland’s data-driven approach to investigating organized crime and corruption to the pursuit of human traffickers. As long-time users of IBM i2 intelligence analysis software, Freeland analysts—many of whom have law enforcement or intelligence backgrounds—have successfully conducted investigative projects that have ultimately led to major arrests and convictions of those operating illicit trafficking supply chains.
However, the economic power of black market traffickers continues to circumvent enforcement in parts of the ASEAN region and threaten vulnerable people and wildlife.
“We value, but are not satisfied with, incremental progress against human trafficking syndicates,” says Galster. “Trafficking generates huge profits that these syndicates will protect at all costs, so the counter-trafficking community has to make transformational changes in order to catch up and win. In a data-driven era, being able to process information exponentially faster and more skillfully is our transformational opportunity.”
Building a focal point for information analysis and sharing
In February, 2018, with technical assistance provided by the IBM Impact Grant program, Freeland launched the Analytical Center of Excellence (ACE) to operate in Thailand from the organization’s head office. The center’s mission is to facilitate the flow of data and analysis among civil society and government agencies responsible for protecting people from criminal traffickers.
“From our vantage point in the counter-trafficking community, we could see that different people and organizations were holding onto separate pieces of the same puzzle,” says Galster. At the same time, a lot of data was trapped in stacks of paper on desks in law enforcement offices or held onto by other organizations in the civilian community. That data ranges from personal observations of people in the field to data gleaned from social media and email, interviews with victims, and banking information from anti-money laundering investigations.
“What we’ve been dreaming about for a long time is to create a center that can fuse information from all of these different sources, add value through analytics, and then give something of value back to the ‘donors’ of the data so they can use it to do something good,” Galster explains. “That is ACE.”
The IBM Impact Grant provided ACE with IBM i2 Analyst’s Notebook® software and onsite technical training to help the center’s analysts get up and running quickly. This will enable Freeland analysts to use capabilities like network analysis and find path to reveal relationships that help identify human trafficking networks, plus create clear and compelling graphic representations of the data to help regional agencies build cases and pursue arrests.
The analytics center has a second mission as well, which is to customize training for a wide range of local law enforcement agencies in Asia and Africa that are using IBM i2 intelligence analysis to uncover criminal networks. Freeland aims to rapidly improve the accessibility of actionable intelligence to all involved in the common fight against trafficking in the world.
“ACE works in many ways, depending on the proficiency of the law enforcement office we are helping,” notes Ricardo Forrester, Deputy Director of Freeland’s Empowerment and Analysis division. “We can provide them with training, we can provide them with the end result of our analysis, or we can give them the raw data.”
From cell phones to jail cells: breaking up high-level corruption
The power of analytics to combat human trafficking—and the corruption that helps it thrive—is exemplified in Freeland’s involvement with Thai law enforcement investigating trafficking in the stateless Rohingya people. Traffickers were recruiting Rohingya people in Myanmar and transporting them to Thailand by boat for later sale as agricultural slave labor or for ransom by family members. There is suspicion that some Rohingya migrants have also been recruited into insurgent armies.
At a highway checkpoint, Thai police captured five trucks crammed with 98 people, all appearing to be victims of trafficking destined for labor camps in Malaysia. Police also captured five cell phones belonging to the drivers—and asked Freeland for help. By accessing three months of telephone history from each device, Freeland was able to map the pinging of signals activated by the phones and identify the precise route the drivers had taken on multiple occasions.
What followed was a months-long investigation into the complex case of an extensive trafficking network involving hundreds of people. Cellebrite forensics technology was used to extract the phone data. Using this telephone data, plus interviews with freed Rohingya captives, police trained by Freeland fed the data into the i2 software. Freeland’s intelligence analysis produced charts that filled in pieces of the trafficking supply chain. The investigation uncovered the location of several holding camps and identified corruption in the police and civil authorities.
“Normally a case like this involving corruption would be swept under the carpet,” says Galster. “Instead, with the i2 technology we kept it going and were able to move the targeting way up the chain to police officers, some politicians and eventually up to a senior Army officer.”
E-banking records linked one driver to a municipal chairman in the Rayong province of Thailand. That official’s banking records revealed bribes paid to a high-ranking lieutenant general in the Thai military. Ultimately, the investigation led to the indictment of 103 members of the trafficking network and guilty verdicts for 62 people—a victory widely hailed as a major step in combatting human trafficking in Thailand.
The analytics center has implications beyond enforcement. A new program will inform behavior change campaigns that work to reduce demand and to intercept and deter purchase of trafficking-related products or services. Data analysis will also help map current trafficking trends and hot spots to help lawmakers create stronger regulations where they are needed most.
“With organized crime gangs continuing to exploit vulnerable people for profit,” says Galster, “strategic partnerships like the one we have with IBM are critical to working towards a world that is free of human slavery.”
Freeland is a frontline counter-trafficking organization working for a world that is free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. Our team of law enforcement, development and communications specialists work alongside partners in Asia, Africa and the Americas to protect the environment and vulnerable people from organized crime and corruption.
Take the next step
Through its Corporate Citizenship initiative, IBM awarded Freeland with an Impact Grant including IBM i2 Analyst’s Notebook software and training. For more information, visit ibm.com/ibm/responsibility/
To learn more about IBM solutions for intelligence analysis, visit: https://www.ibm.com/security/intelligence-analysis
To learn more about Freeland’s fight against human and wildlife trafficking, visit: www.freeland.org