An open-data investigation into Facebook reveals how wood traders use the platform unchecked to traffick large quantities of logs from Africa to Vietnam, some violating national export rules or breaching treaties for endangered wildlife. Despite pledges to curb illegal wildlife trade, Facebook’s blind spot is a boon for timber traffickers and a curse for the environment.

Investigation finds that Facebook allows Vietnamese timber log smugglers to traffick wood from Africa with impunity

For the Vietnamese Facebook user Trần Mạnh the past year meant big business. He worked tireless, often nights, to sell wood. He described in one post in late March when he laments: “Another night, not sleepy. Around, still one thing $$$$$”.

Trần Mạnh sells wood logs on Facebook, often by the container. Most come straight from a ship delivered from African deforestation sites. Some may breach established log export bans, we find.

Trần Mạnh’s operation, which may have really kicked off in June 2019 when his WhatsApp number changed, is by no means an isolated case.

At least two dozen…

Journalists use open-source intelligence, data and tools to research and report on illegal mining and deforestation. Here is how they do it.

New possible artisanal gold mining changes (in yellow boxes) last year, near Puerto Maldonado, Peru

This guide describes several basic techniques for monitoring and measuring destruction and pollution from illegal mining and how to examine corporate involvement and victims.

Global supply chains and human rights violations show that illegal mining isn’t only a problem for the developing world. Risks span across the entire global supply chain. Illegally mined minerals, causing havoc in source countries, naturally find their way into products (often undetected). This guide is for investigative journalists and reporters aboard researching illegal and destructive mining with open-source intelligence and data (#OSINT).

This guide consists of three case studies:

  • (1) Cobalt mining in the DRC…

Openly accessible data and intelligence (#OSINT), mostly from the web, may increasingly empower concerned and affected citizens to demask small-scale criminals hooked on Covid-19 related crimes, including dog theft and fly-tipping.

Photo: Dreamstime

Covid-19 lockdown periods have been a boon for crime rates. In some realms of the criminal spectrum, crime decline considerably.

In the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found a 32 per cent reduction in total crime excluding fraud and computer misuse during April and May, last year.

With more people at home, fewer criminals dared to commit burglary during the pandemic — some prudently eschewed risky in-person encounters with homeowners.

However, crime in some categories noticeably increased. One of such areas includes dog theft. Criminal activity flourished as demand for the cuddly four-legged friends mounted.

Criminal gangs prefer…

An open data/intelligence analysis shows the importance of last week’s #DiamondRush in South Africa. Even before the nature of the gems are confirmed, the analysis shows the government failed to protect the people and the environment

Holes in the ground: diamond digging can have an impact on the environment and on locals, either due to the spread of a virus or unfair treatment by the government that ends up in conflict and distrust

There is hardly space to stand, let alone dig another hole. Images from last week’s scene of labouring gem diggers in the small South African town of KwaHlathi featured exhausted men and women, some with children strapped to their backs.

Similar scenes last witnessed during the great diamond rush in Marange, Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands, in September 2006, when a mineral rush broke out that had devastating consequences. A government takeover accelerated the momentum in subsequent months. The situation culminated in 10,000 illegal artisanal miners working tiny plots, triggering a water, sanitation and housing crisis.

So far, the current events in…

Data on protests around the world show that climate change and environmental issues, such as water scarcity, are increasingly sending people out to take their grievances to the streets.

Data suggests more people protest over climate change-related issues, such as water scarcity (image: Dreamstime)

Protests grow more common that involve issues like the lack of essential resources such as water. With our climate warming, more frequent and more severe droughts and more extreme weather events on the rise, increasingly fewer people tolerate missteps by their local or federal leaders. More people take their anger and frustrations to the streets.

When in May last year, in the city of Hermosillo in the Mexican state of Sonora, around 50 people gathered to protest, demanding improved water services, few officials bothered.

Perceived in isolation, these mostly peaceful demonstrations represent just single data points. Few barely generate enough…

A visual open-data investigation examines new export tactics by Iran and how the US sanctioned-plagued nation may have managed to smuggle liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) out of the country for sale to Asia.

Following the tracks of Iranian LPG sales (TJ, Dreamstime)

Last April, a 114.2 meters long vessel called LAUREN, just vanishes from earth. Days later, it re-surfaced on international AIS screens at the same spot where it ‘disappeared’. It then enters UAE waters to ‘rendezvous’ with two other ships on separate occasions, one operated by a US sanctioned company.

What reads like the beginning of a John le Carré novel turns stranger than fiction. Within around ten days at the end of April of last year, the LAUREN performs the magic trick not once but twice. …

British plastic waste keeps being exported to third countries. Much of it ends unrecycled, badly incinerated, on foreign landfills, burned in the open or blown into the ocean? Here is why and how we must track Britain’s responsibility in polluting foreign soil.

Campaigner found British plastic waste exports on the coastline of Adana province, Turkey. A recent study by WWF finds that the Cilician coastline (above) suffers more plastic pollution than any other stretch of the Mediterranean (Sentinel 2 data, 2021 — Tracking ocean plastic in Turkey’s Adana province, where Greenpeace visited, with open-source satellite Sentinel 2 ‘Ocean Plastic Detector Prototype Script’, image: TJ)

On a per-capita basis, Brits rank second in using the most plastic, just behind Americans, according to a study published in Advances Science last year. What does the UK do with all the plastic waste? Much of it is exported, with a seemingly clean conscience by the government, critics say.

Anything that can’t be recycled or adequately incinerated, shouldn’t be exported in the first place. British plastic waste that isn’t recycled often lands in foreign landfills and the ocean, affecting humans and animals at sea and land.

If plastic exported waste is incinerated, it’s often burned in the open in…

An open-data probe into Dahua and Hikvision exposes how OEM sales tactics are on the rise amid growing ethical concerns over the business with surveillance firms linked to China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang.

In Europe, the US and Britain, it’s becoming trickier to detangle whether surveillance equipment is connected to human rights violations in Xinjiang — China’s surveillance and oppression of minorities in Xinjiang is well documented.

By selling to third parties which place their own brand labels on the equipment, companies mask the real origin and support companies’ profit footing the bill for more human rights violations.

It makes buying ethical surveillance equipment trickier for both private and public entities in the west, this news analysis finds.

Chinese surveillance makers Dahua and Hikvision, both very active overseas, have established links to the…

A simple #OSINT case study on how to geo-locate and chrono-locate video material in an Asian country like Myanmar 🇲🇲

The situation in Myanmar is deteriorating. Mobile phone video footage can provide journalists with important open-source evidence of what happens on the ground. But in order to trust it, we have to verify it first. Shocking videos surfaced in February after the coup when police decided to use live ammunition on unarmed protesters (Source: an analysis of videos by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab).

Last week, I was asked to work on a training case study. The starting point was a video without a description. For the purpose of knowledge sharing, I’d like to provide my insight. It’s fairly basic…

Satellite images show evidence suggesting that Myanmar’s coup d’état increased the risk of unsustainable deforestation in the country. As western powers impose sanctions, the situation may be ripe for escalation. Experts say the military junta wants to make quick cash. China was observed as a buyer.

Image: Wikipedia/Dreamstime

The crackdown by the military government on unarmed protesters left many dead and the country in shambles. The military junta’s violent rule introduced on February 1 with a coup d’état bears other sad consequences, namely an increased risk for the environment.

Apart from the mass protests since the military seized control, there is new evidence emerging that under the new military’s rule, unsustainable deforestation burgeoned. The main driver, according to experts, is quick profit-making, marked by illegal timber sales previously confiscated by the military.

Open-data confirms large-scale forest clearing even before the coup and the amount of clearing and felling…


Investigative journalist with a technical edge, interested in open source investigations, satellite imgs, R, python, AI, data journalism and injustice

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store