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Zero Trafficking’s TRAK: A PAI Counter Threat Network Initiative

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Gathering counter human trafficking open source intelligence is a historically low priority for tactical intelligence sections, however prioritizing this line of effort produces advantages for identifying and ultimately countering transnational criminal networks. An existing transnational criminal network will often operate in multiple criminal verticals across its operating area. This means the facilitators that assist drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) may not just move drugs, they might also move weapons, support illegal mining operations or smuggle people.Hypothetically, targeting a node in the criminal network that maintains the least operational security (OPSEC) will both have the greatest return on investment, and provide increased access and understanding of the network. Human traffickers (those commercially exploiting individuals) practice a minimal amount of OPSEC and present one of the best new opportunities to collect against transnational criminal networks.

Within the Countering Threat Networks line of effort, drugs, weapons, and terrorism hold the primary focus for collection. While law enforcement entities, particularly Homeland Security Investigations may work with vetted units from partner nations, human trafficking is treated primarily as a lower priority violation as opposed to an entry-point into threat network analysis. Transnational criminal organizations are connected across multiple criminal verticals by sharing both geographic lines of communication and networks of facilitators.

The facilitators assisting DTOs, human smugglers or other illegal activity may also serve as a nexus to key nodes within multiple transnational criminal networks. DTOs, weapons traffickers, and human smugglers all exercise relatively high levels of OPSEC in order to thwart United States and partner nation efforts. Human traffickers without a direct nexus to the United States sit within a convenient carve-out: they are not the priority of partner nations or limited DOD/Law Enforcement collection functions. But human traffickers present a key counter network collection opportunity. As a key component to their business model, human traffickers advertise their product online. These advertisements are easy to collect, aggregate and analyze. The advertisements also contain phone numbers. No other portion of transnational criminal networks freely publish phone numbers in large quantities.

Zero Trafficking provided PAI collection in support of testing counter threat network initiatives on behalf of SPMAGTF SC-18 by collecting and triaging data from Guatemala City, Guatemala.Zero Trafficking is currently collecting PAI in Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador, and continues to expand their data offerings.

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