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Tracing Illegal Logging and Influence from Peru to China

Criminal organizations and malign state actors exploit natural resources across their regions of influence. High demand for natural resources drives increased exploitation and foreign investment. 3GIMBALS recently analyzed strategic competitors’ activities and followed the flow of media, natural resources, and money to track influence.

What we found illuminates the dark truth that authorities have been hypothesizing. Our research exposes foreign investment and economic influence on natural resource exploitation by strategic competitors.

Here’s how we traced the flow of foreign influence from the illegal logging industry in Peru to China.

Start with OSINT. By ingesting news articles and social media content, OMEN™ compiled information using automated features and geolocation extraction from diverse sources to identify details of illicit activities. Corporate registry data highlighted network affiliation with global connections in Peru. Layering imagery and geospatial datasets to natural resource monitoring confirmed the extent of environmental degradation. Searching obscure e-commerce sites revealed falsified labels on illegal timber in legal shipments and tracked down product destinations.

Tailored digital media queries identified businesses with a history of illegal practices in the logging industry. By conducting keyword searches in native language social and traditional media for local areas, such as the Port of Callao in Lima, Peru, analysts found historical reporting on illegal exports, Figure 1. 3GIMBALS followed the stories through maritime reporting and local media outlets to destination ports around China. Analysts corroborated reporting that mentioned ships with automatic identification system transceiver data to see if the reports and the vessel traffic lined up.

Figure 1. Tailored digital media queries identified business history of illegal practices in the logging industry, 2017-2020

Business export records helped characterize authorized logging concessions and expose illegal operations. Forest concession records maintained by Peru’s Forest and Wildlife Service shed light on places where the government permitted timber logging. 3GIMBALS mapped these areas to compare to illegal activities. With Peru’s Red List for forests, analysts uncovered businesses with a history of illegal activity and logging concessions in Peru’s forests. Business and government records enabled mapping to locate company operations and revealed forest use outside of authorized logging areas, Figure 2.

Figure 2. Business export records exposed forest use outside of authorized logging areas, 2021.

Geospatial datasets from environmental organizations highlighted deforestation hot spots in Peru. With the previously mapped forest concession areas, these datasets confirmed 3GIMBALS’ analysis. A picture of illegal logging in Peru began to emerge by layering the location of Peruvian government-reported seizures of illegal timber on top of the analysis. Maps produced by 3GIMBALS showed forest concession areas, business headquarters, deforestation hot spots, and locations of illegal logging seizures, Figure 3. The scale of deforestation remained broader than illegal timber seizure response.

Figure 3. Seizures of illegal timber confirmed deforestation hotspots monitored by environmental organizations, 2021.

Falsified government transport records from a mix of government databases and media outlets further validated analytic findings. 3GIMBALS’ geospatial analysts discovered and mapped infrastructure locations to follow the flow of timber exports along roads and major waterways, Figure 4. By tracking timber with government records from forests to sawmills to ports, 3GIMBALS found reports of sawmills that mixed illegal timber in legal shipments within supply chains. Following the flow of timber, analysts searched obscure e-commerce and dark websites to uncover product destinations.

Figure 4. Falsified government transport records unveiled illegal activity and mixed timber in supply chains, 2021.

Dark web research, as well as open source, e-commerce sites, social media, and export records from the Port of Callao revealed a thriving black market timber trade in several areas of China, Figure 5. Often when illegal and legal timber mix, suppliers applied falsified “forest alliance” labels to deceive importers and buyers. The quantities of protected trees available in Chinese markets indicate that more of these trees were logged than legally allowed.

Figure 5. Dark web, e-commerce, and social media research revealed black market trade at Chinese ports, 2021.

With OMEN, analysts closely monitor natural resource exploitation from malign state actors and criminal organizations to understand influence across regions. The ingenuity of this effort–workflows, datasets, and nuanced methods of a human-driven approach–operationalizes persistent OMEN natural resource monitoring to unveil exploitation by beneficiaries, from around the world.

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