Intelligence and the Illegal Wildlife Trade

The IC and NGOs form a network to fight wildlife crime

By Kristin Quinn

March 16, 2016

The Intelligence Community (IC) and nonprofit organizations have formed a network to help stop illegal wildlife trade. This network convened on Capitol Hill March 8 in a Congressional forum titled “Criminal Nature: The Global Security Implications of the Illegal Wildlife Trade.”

Sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and hosted by the American Geographical Society and the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), the forum brought together several leaders in the fight against wildlife crime for an afternoon of presentations and discussions.

Azzedine Downes, president and CEO of IFAW, discussed in his welcome address the importance of the IC and NGOs creating their own network to fight the dense networks of criminals operating in Africa and around the globe.

The illegal wildlife trade generates roughly $10 to 20 billion in revenue a year, Downes said. “The idea that sophisticated networks would not be interested in this type of product is simply not true.”

Terrance Ford, national intelligence manager for Africa with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), shared what the IC is doing to support the President’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking released in 2014.

“Illicit trafficking of wildlife products is a global criminal enterprise of epic proportions,” Ford said, adding that such crimes continue to increase and tackling this problem is an enormous challenge.

Ford said poaching undermines good government and fuels the spread of illicit practices. Moreover, he continued, “Illicit trafficking provides sources of revenue for transnational criminal organizations, violent armed groups, and militias. The IC is obviously very interested in this nexus and in the destabilizing impact poaching has on the relatively fragile African societies and their weak governments.”

In response, ODNI formed a Counter Wildlife Trafficking Community of Interest to facilitate information sharing with the objective to provide law enforcement agencies and partner nations with actionable intelligence needed to interdict transnational organizations, poachers, financial institutions, and middlemen who enable wildlife trafficking. Dr. Odean Serrano, formerly of the National Geospatial Intelligence-Agency (NGA), joined ODNI to lead this effort.

According to Ford, ODNI is exploring ways to develop an unclassified information sharing environment that will encourage data exchange and cooperation among the IC, all of U.S. government, NGOs, the private sector, and select international partners. Options for analytic support are being considered as well.

“To be honest, we—the IC—have just started this effort,” Ford concluded. “We have a lot of work to do. … We cannot guarantee success. But I want you to know we are trying the best we can to contribute to this effort in a very meaningful way.”

David Luna, senior director of national security and diplomacy with the U.S. State Department, shared some sobering statistics with the forum. He cited several estimates that illicit economies account for 8 to 15 percent of world GDP. More alarmingly, 52 percent of world wildlife has been decimated in the past 40 years—a fact Luna described as “astonishing.”

He attributed this rise in wildlife crime to the high-reward, low-risk opportunity such illegal trade presents.

“I would argue wildlife trafficking is contributing to instability not only in Africa but in all communities,” Luna said.

In her keynote address, Hon. Judi W. Wakhungu, cabinet secretary for environment, water, and natural resources for the Republic of Kenya, named the U.S. a “powerful ally” in the fight against illicit wildlife trade.

America has stood up and said ‘This is not Africa’s problem, this is the world’s problem, and we stand with you to deny those that would rob us of the wonder of elephants and rhinos and other species targeted by poaching,’” she said. “I am grateful for your partnership.”

To learn more about how the Intelligence Community and geospatial tools and technology can help stop poaching, read the Q3 2014 trajectory cover story “Wildlife Crimes.”