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Homeland Security is Using Supply Chain Analytics to Go After Organized Crime and Traffickers

I had the pleasure of attending the Thomson Reuters Government Conference, and sat on a panel with Andy Russell, Lead Director, Department of Defense Programs.

Prior to our panel session, I heard from some outstanding speakers on the topic of supply chain risk as it impacts national security and government risk.  This included a variety of topics, including cryptocurrencies, trade based money laundering, and law enforcement collaboration.

The first Keynote Speaker, Derek Benner, is Associate Director for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).  HSI has one of the largest international forces – and has to work on a complex range of commercial crimes, IP theft, human right violations, benefit fraud, narcotics, weapons, art/antiquity theft, export enforcement, illicit supply chain of fentanyl and opioids, gang activity (including MS13) and many other challenges.

Derek noted that HIS is only 15 years old, but has a long geneaology that dates back 200 years.  The transition of DHS and ICE in 2003 led to the evolution of HSI.  We evolved from independent silos of domestic and international investigations, to a truly global organization that adapts to the mission at hand, in face of the fact that criminal organizations are evolving as quick as we are. Cryptocurrency and fentanyl are moving quicker than anything.  Our commitment is to reshape how we work, to work smarter, and leverage technology to improve our mission.  HSI is working to improve the risk of managing law enforcement operations.

Derek emphasized that “Our two greatest assets are our people, and our data.”  (Many private sector companies should be thinking this way as well).  Derek explained how HIS is finding ways to leverage both of these assets.  On the subject of data, he noted that “We are a data rich organization and are good at assembling large amounts of data, but we are missing the mark to make it accessible, consumable, and investigatively viable.  One of the great things about technology is the ability to amass huge amounts of information, and discern trends to enhance our operator experience in the field.  We are transitioning our workforce towards data analytics, but have struggled in our ability to use data effectively.  The criminal landscape is increasingly complex and we need to be able understand the interconnectivity of our data investigations.  HSI is in the early stages of harnessing big data and analytics in a virtual environment.  We are turning massive amount of data into insights, into a next generation analytic platform that will become an ingestion point for all data from multiple agencies and sources.  We hope to bring investigative intelligence and data together to operate efficiently around 21st century crimes.    Today it is not enough to just have the tools – we need to have significant focus on tools that are time sensitive that allow us to act quickly, and which also leverages leading issues like suggestive engines.”  HSI has hired its first batch of 5 data cientists to start to keep up with the need to amass all of this data in a format that will make it standardized and usable.

For example, in the area of human smuggling and trafficking, the movement of financial transactions is the key, and is the cornerstone of attacking these criminal organizations.  Derek noted how these flows are very complicated to understand on a national scale, so HSI needs to be able to parse it and cleanse it and fuse it with other information that HSI owns and estimate the size and complexity of human trafficking that hasn’t been recognized.  HSI is also using this platform to address the opioid epidemic, dark web, and MS13.  Tracking the financial supply chain is key to stopping criminal activity.

A real-world example involved a shipping label from a fentanyl organization, which was left on a cutting room floor at the scene of an overdose fatality of the dealer.  HSI conducted analytics against the label, and discovered the same shipper had 14,000 shipments into the US, and 68 of those contained contraband in the form of synthetic narcotics.  Analytical work determined that sadly, 8 or the 68 individuals who had imported these narcotics had died from overdose of shipments from that company.  And the investigative team was then able to identify several hundred thousand dollars of transactions sent to China to move those shipments.  The individual receiving funds  was also advertising on the internet and dark web.  This led to a subsequent arrest by following the money.

HSI is also developing a national case coordination model, which is an innovative approach to avoid having to manually reconstitute top criminal network intelligence reports.  This can help to facilitate interagency reports, and to get common objectives and international engagement.  With the rise of machine learning, HSI should be able to automate processes in real time, allowing investigators, and allowing HIS to work collaboratively with state, local, and international partners.  Smart data analysis has expanded our analytical posture and allow special agents in the field to create a performance reporting dashboard (PRD).  This system collects metrics into dynamic dashboard visualizations that sits on desktops, measuring outcomes like arrests, seizures, agent hours, etc.  Multiple reports can be seen, and if the Special Agent in Charge wants to, for instance, assess their teams’s success on gang operations, he or she can see resource deployment vs ROI in terms of outcomes.  This system will be essential for allocating new resources around national priorities.  In addition, wewant to give people more time back – automation capabilities to build cases, rather then performing manual activities like and reduce dependence on paper based systems.

Derek finished up:  “We know priorities will change, they will ebb and flow, so it important for HSI to leverage and invest in our workforce to enable them to fight criminals using modern analytics.  We are committed to this direction.”