THE FIRST PILLAR, AND CORE OF OUR WORK, CENTERS AROUND INTELLIGENCE-GATHERING, UNDERCOVER OPERATIONS, AND ANALYSIS TARGETING TRAFFICKERS AND TRANSNATIONAL CRIMINAL NETWORKS INVOLVED IN ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME, ALL WITH THE AIM OF SUPPORTING THE WORK OF TRUSTED LAW ENFORCEMENT AND GOVERNMENT AGENCIES.
Intelligence-gathering, undercover operations and analysis are powerful tools to fight environmental crime and to push governments to change and/or enforce national laws, as well as regional and global treaties.
Fighting environmental crime is not just about awareness campaigns or deploying the latest technology to remote areas; organized, competent, and effective law enforcement is a substantial and much-needed deterrence. So is collecting all the information and telling the complete story.
Threats to wildlife, forests and oceans cannot be addressed only through awareness or demand reduction campaigns. Even funding and empowering rangers to protect wildlife on the ground is not enough. Due to the complexity, international reach, and transnational organized criminal networks associated with environmental/wildlife crime, only professional intelligence can effectively shine a light on and thwart these crimes.
The intelligence-led approach is needed to integrate the more traditional “reactive” conservation models with a more proactive, impactful, and disruptive approach. Intelligence is the knowledge – ideally the foreknowledge – that our organization and partners must have to safeguard Earth and respond to very concrete threats to the environment and to us all.
Professional intelligence is essential to the detection, prevention, and prosecution of environmental crime and other related crimes, such as money laundering, corruption and the trafficking of other illegal products.
HUMINT, or HUMan INTelligence, Cyber Intelligence, and other forms of intelligence, if used with a strategic long-term vision, can also lead to the reduction of what is now called the “militarization of conservation”, the violence that surrounds environmental crimes, with its very high human toll.
Equally important are Analysis, Reporting and Dissemination. This activity begins with the collection of the first information and continues indefinitely. With intelligence processing and analysis all the information gathered from various sources are converted in a form which is usable and understandable for analysis. Raw materials are translated, evaluated for reliability and their relevance is assessed. Among other products, it includes the production of Confidential Intelligence Briefs (CIBs) for law enforcement agencies and Public Reports for the public and policy makers.
Our intelligence-gathering and analytical work allows us to:
- Inform the public and policymakers about the real drivers and enablers behind environmental crime;
- Collect information and investigate along the entire illegal supply chains and identify the players throughout the criminal networks; and
- Provide national and international law enforcement agencies with confidential information and evidence that can lead to further investigations, arrests, prosecutions and the disruption/destruction of criminal networks.
For example, our undercover investigations in China, Hong Kong and Vietnam (see Operation Game Over and Operation Red Cloud) informed the public and policymakers about the extent of the illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn, and also provided actionable intelligence to Chinese and other international authorities. Operation Game Over, with our WildLeaks Project, were also featured in the Netflix documentary ‘The Ivory Game‘.
In Thailand, months of investigation by our team, allowed the Royal Thai Police and Customs to arrest two of the most important wildlife traffickers in Asia, who had been smuggling ivory, rhino horn, orangutans, pangolins and other illegal wildlife for years (Operation Mozart).
And in Mexico, our intelligence-gathering work on illegal fishing and the trafficking of the totoaba fish that in pushing the vaquita to extinction (Operation Fake Gold), pushed Mexican, Chinese and U.S. authorities to crack down on the main traffickers, gave material for an international impact campaign and was featured in the National Geographic documentary ‘Sea of Shadows‘.
Evidence-based recommendations and outcomes developed as a result of professional intelligence and analytical work will ideally affect change at many levels. Crucially, nobody can be perceived to be outside of the reach of the law. Upon the conclusion of our intelligence and analytical work, we prepare Confidential Intelligence Briefs (CIBs) to share with relevant law enforcement bodies at national, regional, and international levels, depending on the nature of intelligence and which agencies are well-positioned to take effective action. In the past 5 years we have shared dozens of CIBs with selected law enforcement and government agencies.
Independence and Integrity
In order to conduct intelligence-gathering operations and independent investigations in certain countries, and to be able to publish the findings and protect our integrity, we cannot be based in those countries, as we cannot have offices and personnel who could become a liability during a potential confrontation with a body under investigation.
Our role is not to be part of the local establishment of NGOs and activists, but to act as an external agency with the goal of collecting and sharing information and actionable intelligence, without the risk of being censored, intimidated, or expelled.