Earth League International: meet the CIA of wildlife trafficking

PantherNOW/Conor Moore

Conor Moore | Contributing Writer

An organization dedicated to protecting wildlife from trafficking gave a presentation on the day-to-day workings of their operations and their purpose on Mar 9.

Earth League International is an organization founded by ex-intelligence community, law enforcement and security members with the purpose of spying and gathering data on wildlife trafficking organizations who seek to profit off the poaching of endangered species. 

ELI is run chiefly by a board of directors, some public and others anonymous for privacy and protection sake. Founder and Chairman Andrea Crosta led the bulk of the presentation and gave an overview of the organization’s day-to-day operations.

“We function at the highest possible level with expertise coming from former FBI, CIA and ONI”, says Crosta. “We are always evidence based – videos, photos, IDs, bank accounts, geospatial data collected by our satellites. Undercover devices are used as well, effectively creating a form of social engineering to collect information on suspects.”

During the presentation, Crosta also talked about ‘convergences’, or how different types of crime often tend to intersect with wildlife trafficking. There are four different types he discussed.

First, when multiple species of animals are involved, endangered or not. The second is when environmental crimes, such as illegal mining or logging are involved.

 Serious crime convergences make up the third type, with examples money laundering and human trafficking. Lastly, there are transnational network convergences, which are when criminal organizations at an international level use environmental crimes to strengthen their operations.

“90% of ‘persons of interests’ are Chinese,” said Crosta. “In addition, the vast majority of criminal bodies tend to come from Asia, with the bulk of caches from illegal activity being sold on black markets there.”

Another member of ELI, Dr. Odeon Serrano, discussed how brazen some traffickers can be.

 “They advertise on social media, especially Twitter and Facebook,” said Serrano. “While it is not completely obvious from first glance as they tend to code their messaging, we have ways of deciphering what they are attempting to sell.”

As chief data analyst for ELI the organization, Serrano developed much of the satellite-based technology used to monitor transnational crime networks. Her work is described as “instrumental”. 

During the closing Q&A session, a student asked a question to Crosta about how he felt after years of witnessing animal cruelty. 

He stated, “I feel nothing. After years and years of doing work like this you start to lose your sense of immediate reaction to the harm. But it has not eliminated my passion for the work nor my pursuit of justice.”

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