C4ADS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing data-driven analysis and evidence-based reporting on global conflict and transnational security issues.

Background

C4ADS investigates the illicit trafficking of goods and money by transnational criminal networks. This kind of crime persists because it’s easy for bad actors to conceal their activity using opaque ownership structures and complex sequences of activity. Fundamentally, that’s a data problem. Finding commonalities across corporate registries and bank records, comparing shipping manifests with customs declarations, and surfacing unknown affiliations among shareholders, directors, and companies—all of this is nearly impossible when each piece of information is contained in its own silo.

This is the kind of problem that we built Palantir to solve, and since 2012, C4ADS has used our platform to accelerate investigations of various forms of trafficking, from illegal weapons transfers to ivory smuggling around the world.

This year

In 2016, C4ADS used Palantir in a groundbreaking project to use open data to investigate illicit North Korean financial networks. Starting with 39 vessels known to be linked to North Korea, C4ADS analysts built out a complex network of 147 ships, 267 individuals, and 248 companies, and identified unsanctioned companies that had engaged in around $800 million in trade with sanctioned North Korean entities.

How they did it:

Integrating data from open, publicly available sources (public records, court filings, customs and trade data, media, lawsuits, academic reporting, etc.)

“Tagging” the various actors, events, and relationships described in this data (much of it unstructured free text)

Connecting public records to ship identifiers to reveal each vessel’s ownership and management structure, then connecting directors, shareholders, and companies to one another to understand how they’re related

Revealing points of convergence: the major players who connect all of the other ships, companies, and individuals ensnared in this massive network to known North Korea facilitators

Ultimately, the Department of Justice charged and sanctioned four individuals and a trading company with “conspiring to evade US economic sanctions and violating with Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators Sanctions Regulations.”

Imagine analysts working on bulletin boards with pins and string, poring over Excel spreadsheets, logging into one database after another. It’s painstaking work, and the longer it takes, the more bad actors stand to gain. Bringing the data into Palantir lifts the signal out of the noise and makes it possible to connect each dot that describes a convoluted network. From those dots, a pattern emerges, revealing the kind of information that law enforcement and policymakers can act on.

Palantir is an integral component of my day to day workflow. Using a range of analytical tools, it helps me stay organized, visualize my raw data, and enables me to sort through the vast haystacks of data to find the one needle that makes the crucial connection.

— C4ADS analyst

It’s not magic—humans continue to play the most critical role by making nuanced decisions and judgment calls about what the data says. Palantir augments what analysts can do to make incredibly complex problems tractable and helps organizations like C4ADS make a tangible impact on human lives.