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Thursday, 25 June 2015 09:04

GEOINT Wildlife Security and Illicit Trafficking

As Prepared Remarks of Terrance M. Ford
National Intelligence Manager, Africa

June 24, 2015

Working Group Presentation
2015 GEOINT Symposium


Thank you to USGIF and IFAW for the opportunity to speak on this very important topic. 

Although wildlife security and illicit trafficking has many facets, I will focus my comments on the role of intelligence in supporting efforts to reduce and eliminate illegal animal trade.  

As Dave Luna, my State department colleague just properly articulated, the US government, via senior government officials and a variety of policy papers and strategy documents, has assigned a high priority to combatting illicit trafficking in wildlife.  Like other members of the government, the Intelligence Community is expected to play its part in supporting these efforts.  

In fact, the Feb 2014 “National Strategy for Combating wildlife Trafficking, specifically directs us to increase coordination with USG partners;  enhance information sharing as appropriate on  transnational criminal organizations, terrorists,  rogue security personnel and corrupt officials; and to  help partner countries build their capacity to collect and analyze information especially intelligence.

Poaching has been described as a “low risk, high reward activity” and as such, it appeals to illegal groups. These groups not only pose a threat to animal conservation but they also negatively impact national, regional, and even global security interests through corrosive corruption, increased instability, diminished economic activity, and general criminality. 

We know that the criminal syndicates that control illicit trafficking, participate in other smuggling to include drugs, weapons, people, contraband, and cigarettes.  In doing so, they often find partners in terrorist and militia groups.

Poaching is one way that many of these groups finance & fuel their activities. For example, in 2013 the UN issued a report that linked Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army to elephant poachers in Central Africa.  Other reports reflect the potential involvement of terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Al Shabaab in illegal wildlife trade.

Clearly, the IC is interested in these types of groups. As we focus on terrorist activities, weapons proliferation, and illegal drugs, we obtain information on how this contraband is acquired, transported, and sold - plus data on the organization and its leadership. This information can be of value to those engaged countering illicit trafficking of wildlife.

From a more strategic viewpoint, most of my colleagues would agree that wildlife trafficking is one of several critical issues which must be addressed, if Africa is to meet its potential as a major driver of economic growth in the 21st century.  Aside from the moral imperative to leave a better world for future generations, illegal trafficking negatively impacts our African partners across a host of socio-economic aspects. These adverse impacts make our African partners less capable of addressing our shared national security interests.

I believe the professionals that serve in the Intelligence Community but especially those within the ranks of military intelligence can contribute to addressing this problem.

Military Intelligence, or MI, is responsible for bringing clarity to the battlefield for a range of customers from tactical commanders to senior war fighters and decision-makers. To do so, a MI operator must understand the enemy to include his organizational structure, leadership, equipment, operational propensity, and communications. He or she must also be conversant with the terrain on which this enemy force operates; ground which can both favor and restrict enemy and friendly forces.  Finally, the Intel professional must understand the friendly force he or she is supporting to include their strengths and weakness.

In this analogy, the friendly force is a Partner Nation’s wildlife service, and the enemy is poachers and other traffickers.

US Combat operations over the last decade plus, has forced the MI community to develop TTPs: or tactics, techniques and procedures necessary to attack and defeat a non-conventional enemy.

Many of the TTPs that the military has developed & refined to defeat a non-traditional enemy focus on networks.  That includes networks that support terrorists, foreign fighter facilitators, illicit arms movements, piracy, narcotics trafficking, and human trafficking.  In many respects, these networkers and those of illicit wildlife traffickers have a lot in common.  Most important, the TPPs that MI has developed to understand and defeat these networks can be shared with governments and wildlife services.   

Also relevant are the analytical skills of MI personnel and the capabilities of Intel systems that support them.  These analytical tools depend on modern IT technologies to quickly ingest and process large amounts of data, correlate and parse it, to understand relationships that may not be readily evident. 

In closing, I would emphasize that the intelligence community, particularly MI, is well positioned to bring time-tested techniques to the wildlife trafficking problem set.

However, despite strong support from the President and other key officials, and the overlap of illicit traffickers activities with other intelligence issues, wildlife issues still must compete for intelligence resources with other national security issues such as terrorism and countering the spread of weapons of mass destruction. 

However, improved intelligence, while only a small part of the solution, can be a very powerful tool when properly employed.

GEOINT is probably the best postured of our intelligence disciplines to support Wildlife Security and Illicit Trafficking. GEOINT is the most naturally transparent intelligence discipline, and easiest to share with the people that are working this issue on the ground. I know that sharing GEOINT is something that DNI Clapper is going to talk about tomorrow and we can discuss during Q&As.