The price of looking the
other way by state officials has a new measurement: the Rhino Horn Index. Like a
Hollywood list for actors and directors, those in the know can scroll down and
find out the asking price and from their contacts establish the actual price.
But establishing market price of officials is getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s
first examine the transition of organized crime. Organized crime adapted to the
industrial age, and it is now adapting to the digital age.
We draw our knowledge
about criminals and their activities from TV shows like the Sopranos,
the newspapers, films like the Godfather and Good Fellas,
novels, and plays. The Mafia is a cultural object that people feel they
The Mafia has a code. And
they have their iconic philosophy such as “Money is Power.” Or “It is a good
person that sees and keeps silent.”
The Mafia was associated
with families and operated locally.
Like any other business
model, the modern criminal organizations wishing to scale to global reach have
had to modernize to keep with the times. Tony Sopranos’s world is already in the
Leaving aside murder,
kidnapping, rape, assault, burglary, and robbery that involve an individual or
maybe a few individuals in a gang, the big-money crimes are in stolen art
objects, animal products, security swindles, counterfeit goods, credit card
fraud, tax and benefit scams, and, of course, trafficking of people, weapons,
drugs, and illegal wildlife. The criminal kingpins like their counterparts in
finance, banking, big corporations have reduced their risks by finding flaws in
the existing law enforcement system and exploiting them to their
The name of the game is
not to get caught.
The digital highway
robbers are surfing the big data wave. With the best lawyers, accountants, and
consultants, they can find new and better opportunities for making money and
figure out the probability of detection.
With large cash washing
through their hands, the criminals succeed by creating networks of police,
politicians, customs and immigration, bankers, lawyers, CPAs, who are rewarded
for their assistance. The international crime payroll is likely one of the
biggest in the world. The CEOs of these hugely profitable enterprises do not
appear on the Forbes list of the richest. They are hidden out of
The global criminals are
drawn from many nationalities. The list would include: Russian, Chinese,
American, Indian, English, Macau, Madagascar, Brazilian, and many more. The old
idea that crime is ‘organized’ never contemplated the full extent that the
modern digital economy could improve organization.
The Economist, January
18th 2014, ran a story “Earning with fishes” that indicated the
illegal wildlife trade was worth ‘as much as $133 billion annually.’ That’s a
lot of exotic birds, elephant tusks and rhino horns. As rhino horns fetch up to
$50,000 per kilo you have a product significantly more profitable than cocaine
or gold and if you get busted, the sentence is closer to 14 months than 40 years
in the big house. The question in the mind of an international criminal is
how many rhino horns in pay offs are required to complete the
A lot has been written
about money politics and how the rich use lobbyist to influence Congress to pass
legislation to protect and advance their economic interest.
In the criminal world,
they cut straight to the chase and pay off the prosecutors, witnesses, customs
inspectors, the cops, and anyone else hovering near the criminal justice system.
One kilo of rhino horns buys a cop or a district attorney. Four kilos and you
have a judge finding insufficient evidence. A small herd of rhinos should be
enough to buy an entire congress.
The biggest source of
corruption isn’t the politicians filing phony expense accounts, or giving a
contract to a relative or friend, or taking a golf holiday paid for by a big
pharma company. The real action is in the world of illegal transactions where
the players know the price of those monitoring and regulating the law
enforcement system. They use money to control that system.
And they do it every day
of the week to the tune of billions of dollars.
Organized crime has
discovered what the DOW 500 CEOs have figured out: borders are your best
friend—just like cross-borders is the new mantra for international crime. Divide
your business into component parts: Your buyers are in country A, your sellers
are in country B, your money comes from country C, your mules from country D,
your transportation from country E, and your residence is in country F. Payments
flow across multiple borders, from multiple bank accounts, in multiple
Each jurisdiction has its
own laws and regulations and officials to take care of. Choosing the right
location for a part of the overall transaction slows down the official process
as the officials only see the part that takes place inside their borders. It’s
pulling all of the pieces of the puzzle apart. The criminal caught is the mule,
the flunky, the ‘worker’. The crime bosses are at sitting beside their swimming
pool drinking a cool drink. Their connection to the criminal activity has
disappeared as the trail ends in an offshore company with nominee shareholders
What is the reaction of
governments to the scaling of international criminal activity? The
Economist says without any irony: “Governments are reacting by getting
law-enforcement agencies to work together. America is trying to improve the flow
of information between them.”
What this means is the
government has no plan. It is too busy fighting terrorists, and that fight sucks
all of the resources into a battle that lets the criminal class clean up.
International criminal activity is layered with complexity. Take money
laundering as the cash rattling around the system won’t fit in a suitcase. It
needs a banker.
“Between 2006 and 2010,
some of those criminal networks laundered $881 millions dollars through a single
legal bank inside the United States. In fact, in 2012, the Criminal Division of
the Department of Justice pointed out that the same Bank ‘failed to monitor’
$9.4 billion dollars during that same period.”
This amount comes from
gangs in Central America and Mexico. Wrap your head around the amounts from all
criminal activity internationally, and you start to understand the dimension of
the problem. This year on The
question asked is: What scientific idea is ready for retirement? And Eduardo
Salcedo-Albaranchose recommended that “Crime is only about the actions of
individuals” should be retired.
In its place we turn to
data mining tools to make predictions from the vast sea of information to get a
handle on how the networks are constructed. Once the design emerges, the
players’ roles understood, the parts of the puzzle are reassembled. The idea is
to use big data to establish an overall picture of the full extent of the
components (including the gray areas of officials, politicians, banks, lawyers,
and accountants) who play a role in the criminal organization. The process goal
is to make the illegible legible.
This assumes that major
criminal organizations are keeping one step ahead with their workforce of
specialists who can encrypt communications and set up alternative means of
funneling money. Given the huge resources available to international criminal
syndicates, the chances are finding a person’s price in kilos of rhino horns
will extend the immunity they currently enjoy. There are companies that provide
seminars on how security teams can use web intelligence for effective threat
The reality is government
is either too distracted, has different priorities, or enjoying the fruits of
kilos of rhino horns to make significant headway into the tangled web of
organized international crime. The best and the brightest minds might find an
alternative to working on Wall Street. And the rest of us might wake up to
discover there is another .1% working the system, who are untouchable and too
big to fail.