“In military operations, we call it ‘the squeeze,’” said Lieutenant Colonel Faye Cuevas. “If you squeeze a partially deflated balloon the remaining air has to move to the part not being squeezed. Similarly, if you squeeze criminal activity in one location, it will likely move to another area.”
Before Faye took her current position as International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) Chief of Staff, she spent nearly two decades supplying intelligence assistance to U.S. military and Special Operations allies fighting terrorism in the Middle East and Africa. The Lieutenant Colonel is now using her expertise to help implement a unique information technology network to stop poachers in Kenya before they kill endangered wildlife.
The tenBoma Intelligence Network
IFAW’s anti-poaching operation, known as “tenBoma,” uses “methodology conceptualized around the same Find-Fix-Finish-Exploit-Analyze-Disseminate, or ‘F3EAD,’ targeting cycle that emerged as a highly successful framework for Special Operations Forces to facilitate terror network targeting during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Faye explained.
“Tactical military commanders in the counter-terror context faced an adaptive and networked adversary operating in complex societal environments. The situation is similar in counter-poaching operations,” she said. Both the military and “wildlife intelligence teams must understand, decide, act and react in real-time to be effective.”
The tenBoma strategy differs from military tactics in that “the F3EAD cycle has largely been associated with facilitating lethal action – capturing and/or killing suspected terrorists. In contrast, tenBoma leverages F3EAD-derived information to enable decision makers to better determine what action or combination of actions to take based on the common information picture,” described the military strategist.
Another distinction is that F3EAD depends on “classified intelligence sensors,” which restrict information sharing. Conversely, “tenBoma is built around a collaborative information-sharing model that catalyzes cooperation among other NGO partners and local communities,” IFAW’s Chief of Staff clarified.
The open information system also better enables the Kenya Wildlife Service’s (KWS) personnel (IFAW’s on-the-ground partners) to share and rapidly respond to local information in close to real-time. This allows IFAW to analyze the network and target critical moving parts. For example, if the KWS shares a lead on where poachers are headed, IFAW can “share network diagrams between other organizations or enforcement entities that focus on other levels or aspects of the network or supply chain,” to stop the poachers.
Poachers are often linked to larger criminal networks. They typically send wildlife contraband to counterparts in the Middle East and Asia, who then distribute the products on the black market. TenBoma is focused on essential nodes of the wildlife trafficking network that “few (if any) other counter-poaching initiatives address,” Faye said. “These are critical levels of the network because they often reveal, not the ‘Kingpin’ but the criminal who, once removed from the network, generates the highest possible reduction in aggregate crime level.”
“This approach is more disruptive to the network than targeting the kingpin, which takes time, resources, and often requires multi-jurisdictional coordination. As we continually characterize the network, using the tenBoma methodology to understand roles within the criminal enterprise, links to other nodes on the transit and distribution side are revealed.”
As a broader picture emerges, IFAW’s work can also reveal information on other environmental crime operations, such as deforestation, illicit charcoal trade and illegal gemstone mining.
Hightech intelligence networks and big data analysis are promising tools that can help stop wildlife trafficking; however, local information and community engagement are also critical resources for terminating these illicit acts of environmental violence.
“Valuable information moves through the bushnet – through tribal, clan, ethnic, and gender channels – in rural areas of Kenya and beyond faster than through most telecommunication devices,” said Cuevas.
The tenBoma network uses local intelligence in anti-poaching operations as much as possible. “As we expand tenBoma, we envision adding a Community Enforcement Network (CEN) to harness information as it travels through the bushnet and empower communities with a role and responsibility in their own security.” Community members would hypothetically use radios and satellite phones to queue the central network coordinator, who could then incorporate the information into the broader intelligence network.
Dangers of Anti-Poaching Operations
Both KWS Rangers and community members working to stop poaching activity face significant risks. “Poachers are a well-armed, well-resourced, and well-connected adversary,” explained the Lieutenant Colonel. “They are dynamic and operate in and among populations and affiliations are typically based on personal relationships.” The complexity of social networks makes it difficult to “identify, track and locate” target personnel, which also poses increased risk and uncertainty to KWS Rangers hunting them down.
To help mitigate danger, the tenBoma system “includes a comprehensive analysis of all potential threats that KWS may face in conducting the operation,” said Faye. The analysis creates a more comprehensive threat picture so Rangers are better able to anticipate risks they will face. Before, that wasn’t happening.
From a community standpoint, “tenBoma takes its name from the existing Kenya community security philosophy ‘Nyumba Kumi,’ which translates from Swahili to ‘Ten Houses,’” she said. “Nyumba Kumi is basically a community watch where, if 10 neighbors come together to watch out for each other, the broader community becomes safer as a result.
“tenBoma is designed to address isolation between communities and facilitate a way for those communities to communicate with KWS. Information gained from community reporting becomes part of the aggregate information and is used to identify threats to communities, which can catalyze a community scout or KWS response.”
Stamping out Corruption
Poachers make relatively good money, which is hard to come by in Kenya and other wildlife trafficking hubs.
“The place I was living is an arid area, where we depend on livestock. When famine comes, we usually lose a lot of animals. When we lose these animals, we lack what to eat. I would take my animals to the market to sell, but after the famine, we had nothing left to sell,” admits John Kaimoi, a convicted Kenyan Elephant poacher. “I realized I had a responsibility for this young family… This is what forced me, family.”
Two male elephant tusks can weigh over 250 pounds. Kaimoi said he received roughly $26.36 USD per pound (valued at over $800 USD per lb. on the black market), which means he could expect to get about $6,590 USD for killing an elephant in 2012.
In addition to financial temptations, KWS Rangers work in “austere environments, which can provide both incentives and opportunities for them to resort to corruption,” Faya explained. “Our teams work side-by-side with Rangers…During those patrols, we are able to gauge unit morale and cohesion, and in areas or units that it is poor (which it almost always is), we take steps to improve through social and team-building events”
In addition to morale-raising group activities, IFAW works with local magistrates to “identify and discuss legal requirements that promote successful prosecutions and deterrence of wildlife criminals.” They also require the KWS to use company smartphones and applications for official business, which allows IFAW to monitor correspondence and reduce the risk of corruption.
Additionally, IFAW engages with local community leaders to “garner community support for reporting on wildlife crime” and encourages community members to submit ideas on how to strengthen wildlife and community safety.
The Big Squeeze
IFAW and KWS identified a temporal period during which a lot of poaching typically takes place. “We direct law enforcement efforts at a known hotspot of criminal activity to put pressure on the criminal networks that, according to the trends, have historically operated in these areas at these times,” said Lieutenant Colonel Cuevas.
The Rangers used a mobile collection app to “rapidly report and process indicators associated with wildlife crime.” They sent this to headquarters in Nairobi, where the information was analyzed. “Based on the analysis, Rangers were out conducting vehicle stops, inspections of convoys, and engaging informant networks,” she said.
As a result, there was no reported poaching activity in the area in the 2016 season, whereas there had been “elevated levels of poaching activity” during the same time period over the last six years.
“The squeeze is the first step,” said Cuevas. Since the “squeeze,” IFAW has “been conducting predictive spatial modeling to anticipate where those criminal networks may look to operate next.” They then focus resources in those locations to anticipate criminal activity and stop poachers before they strike.