THE CORE OF OUR WORK CENTERS AROUND INFORMATION-GATHERING, UNDERCOVER OPERATIONS, RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS, TARGETING INTERNATIONAL TRAFFICKERS AND TRANSNATIONAL CRIMINAL NETWORKS INVOLVED IN ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME AND OTHER SERIOUS CRIMES (CONVERGENCE), WITH THE AIM OF SUPPORTING THE WORK OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND GOVERNMENT AGENCIES.
Information-gathering, undercover operations, research and analysis, and the production of Intelligence, 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.
As pioneers in the use of professional intelligence applied to environmental crime and crime convergence, and with a significant track record, we have been working for over a decade with top professionals from the Intelligence Community and law enforcement agencies, to create a unique organization willing and capable of fighting Environmental/Wildlife Crime at the highest possible level.
Our team and network of collaborators include professionals who have been working in the intelligence and investigation fields for decades for top governmental agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and other government agencies.
Typically, our operations may last from several months to years to complete and can be complex in terms of logistics, data collection and processing. To do so we use multiple field operatives (investigators and researchers), crime experts along with analytical support staff.
To gain the trust of local contacts, sources and informants we need to spend a lot of time developing relationships to the point where we gain enough trust so we can understand the entire illegal supply chain, map the whole criminal network, and extract valuable information that our analysts will use to produce various intelligence products, including confidential reports for law enforcement and government partners.
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 (Crime Convergence).
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.
The Collection and Processing of information feeds into our Intelligence Cycle. Equally important are Analysis, Reporting and Dissemination. These activities begin with the collection of the first information and continues indefinitely. With processing and analysis all the information gathered from various sources are converted in a form which is usable and understandable for analysis. Raw information are translated, evaluated for reliability and their relevance is assessed. Among other products, this work includes the production of Confidential Intelligence Briefs (CIBs) for government and 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, including Crime Convergence; 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 various 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 and the U.S., our intelligence-gathering work on illegal fishing and the trafficking of the totoaba fish that is pushing the vaquita to extinction (Operation Fake Gold), pushed Mexican, Chinese and U.S. authorities to crack down on the main traffickers, and supported U.S. authorities in arresting some of the most important totoaba international traffickers, in Southern California in May 2023.
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 years we have shared dozens of CIBs with selected law enforcement and government agencies.
Geospatial intelligence applied to environmental crime refers to the systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of geospatial data, such as satellite imagery, GPS data, geographical information systems (GIS), and information collected by our teams, to detect, monitor, and combat environmental crime. This approach helps law enforcement and government agencies identify and understand patterns, trends, and spatial relationships associated with crimes like illegal logging, illegal fishing, trafficking, and poaching, and the links to other serious crimes (Crime Convergence), facilitating targeted interventions and informed decision-making to preserve and protect natural resources.
Thanks to a partnership with ESRI, Geospatial intelligence allows ELI to produce comprehensive Confidential Intelligence Briefs encompassing various dimensions of environmental crime, serious crimes, and international trafficking networks. By leveraging geospatial data and the data collected in the field by our teams, we can pinpoint critical hotspots, uncover intricate patterns across geographical locations, and better explain Crime Convergence and its interconnectedness with broader criminal networks.
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 to act as an external agency with the goal of collecting and sharing information and producing actionable intelligence, without the risk of being censored, intimidated, or expelled.
ELI does not always release media briefings in relation to our operations, the work of government partners, and arrests, as doing so would jeopardize the safety of our teams in the field, law enforcement operations, and future investigations.