Discussing technology and atrocity prevention in Tanzania

Our Philanthropy Engineering team is proud to support a number of non-profits that are working to prevent atrocities. Our partners are contributing to real-time early warning and prevention of violence against civilians, using open source data-driven analysis to identify those financing and otherwise enabling atrocities, and helping to tell the story of mass atrocities occurring around the world. We have learned a lot from these partnerships about the role that technology can play in preventing atrocities, and are always looking for opportunities to share these lessons with like-minded organizations.

On May 27th and 28th, I traveled to Arusha, Tanzania to attend “Best Practices and New Opportunities in Genocide Prevention: Governmental Action, Technology, and Regional Contexts,” a conference organized by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) in conjunction with the Tanzanian Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs and the United Nations Office of the Special Advisor on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. On a panel dedicated to exploring how technology can support the effective response to and prevention of mass atrocities, I presented the work of two of our partner projects: Resolve and Invisible Children’s LRA Crisis Tracker and C4ADS work on illicit trade and its relation to atrocities.

Photo Credit: Auschwitz Institute of Peace and Reconciliation

The LRA Crisis Tracker uses Palantir Gotham to track the activity of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa. Individuals report LRA attacks via early warning systems that have been put in place by Resolve and Invisible Children. These organizations then use this data to respond to atrocities and spread messages encouraging LRA members to defect.

Photo Credit: Auschwitz Institute of Peace and Reconciliation

At the Arusha conference, I demonstrated how analysts can analyze patterns in LRA activity not just to decide where and when to institute new defection programs, but also to measure the effectiveness of those actions after the fact—for instance, does a new flier drop program in a certain area lead to any measurable or noticeable increase in defections in that area in the following weeks?

C4ADS, a think-tank based in Washington, DC, has used Palantir Gotham to identify people and organizations that are intentionally or unintentionally enabling atrocities. In Arusha, I explained how a few analysts were able to quickly and comprehensively analyze a web of shell companies operating ships that were caught illegally trafficking Somalian charcoal (so-called ‘conflict charcoal’ because it is used to fund the al-Qaeda linked al-Shabaab terrorist group). Using Palantir Gotham as a search and discovery tool to analyze open source data from the UN, news media, business directories and other sources, C4ADS was able to identify some key individuals and organizations linked to the illicit trade off of the Horn of Africa.

My panel also included some great discussion of the importance of protecting privacy and civil liberties when collecting, aggregating, and analyzing data for atrocity prevention. The data associated with these conflicts is often messy or incomplete, and is typically spread across multiple sources and stored in disparate formats. Palantir and our Philanthropy Engineering team are dedicated to building technology that can integrate this information and render it useful to organizations working to prevent atrocities, while protecting the privacy of those at risk.

Mojo the HeroRAT

The conference was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot from the other attendees. As I packed to come home, my only regret was that my schedule didn’t allow for a trip down to Morogoro, where another one of our philanthropic partners is based. His name is Mojo, and he’s a rat. Since last September we at Palantir have been proud to support the Belgian NGO APOPO via the adoption of Mojo, a “HeroRAT”. HeroRATs are used by the NGO to sniff out and identify unexploded landmines and tuberculosis. The rats are too light to detonate the landmines, so once they identify one through scent and scratch to indicate its location, humans are deployed to safely remove the mines. Our HeroRAT Mojo has been in intensive training in Morogoro. Although I didn’t get the chance to visit him on this trip (he was too far from Arusha), we have been keenly following Mojo’s progress through advanced training and his final, rigorous landmine clearing tests. I look forward to meeting him the next time I’m in Tanzania!