Women Challenge the Iranian Regime and the Patriarch Status Quo

The death of 22-year old Masha Amini at the hands of the Iranian Morality Police on September 16th, after a three-day detainment for improperly wearing a hijab has triggered countrywide protests. These protests triggered a brutal and lethal response by Iranian security forces, including the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC) over the last month. 

Recent foreign policy efforts by academics and researchers have focused on great power competitors like China and Russia, however, Iran holds significant open-source intelligence (OSINT) through social media streams. 

This Overwatch brief will focus on the OSINT indicators that will address whether the Iranian regime views the demonstration as a security threat or a political issue. 

The Green Revolution

In 2009, the Green Revolution played out on social media and was missed by the U.S. Intelligence community due to discounting OSINT as an intelligence discipline. The Iranian instance is notable for demonstrations since the Green Revolution spilled into streets and leveraged the internet and social media to coordinate messaging and actions. In response, the Iranian regime relied on traditional state media sources, blocking internet access and violent repression to counteract protests. The recent demonstrations follow a similar cycle: countrywide protests and demonstrations, with the regime utilizing the state media apparatus, internet outages, and violent responses, particularly against minority ethnic and tribal groups. 

Combating a Digital Evolution through Traditional ‘Blackout’ Tactics

Since the Green Revolution, the digital landscape has evolved substantially but the Iranian government methodology has not. With Facebook and Twitter rising in popularity among Iranians, the Iranian government saw this as a disruptor and imposed a week-long digital blackout initiating a brutal crackdown in 2019

Today the Iranian government decided to adopt rolling blackouts, targeting specific provinces that are composed of larger minority/ethnic groups. On September 21st, Iran curtailed access to Meta platforms, Instagram and What’s App. The routine blackouts are not inclusive to Meta-owned apps, TikTok and YouTube have routinely been blocked as well. Most of the blackouts are centered on Kurdish areas in Iran; Amini was Kurdish. Real-time network data shows a nation-scale loss of connectivity on MCI (First Mobile), Iran’s leading mobile operator, and Rightel.  

Because there is no private news site, the internet is the primary source of information outside Iranian government-controlled media. Most information comes from second-long video snippets activists manage to send through intermittent internet access as the Iranian government’s censorship efforts. 

Today’s Protest is not a Pattern of Past Protests

Up to now, the Iranian government does not appear to feel more vulnerable than they did in years of previous protests fueled by economic grievances: 2019, 2021, and earlier this year. That said, the real question is whether or not the regime leadership understands there are differences. According to Sanan Nivkol, a senior research fellow for the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House in London, the people are asking for significant political change, generating solidarity among different social groups. Over the past week, October 7-14, 2022, reports of strikes across other sectors of the economy have surfaced raising stakes. 

As noted by Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder, and CEO of the Bourse & Bazaar Foundation in London, “if they (the regime) see this as a security threat and not as an issue of political expedience, then they are more likely to respond to using tools of their security apparatus” and “the government has far more capacity for repression than it does for reform at this stage.”

Batmanghelidj poses a fundamental question concerning how the regime perceived these demonstrations as a security threat or a political problem. OSINT plays an important role in assessing the Iranian’s regime’s perception of events. One significant event occurred on October 8, 2022, when a group identified as “Adalat Ali” or “Ali’s Justice” hacked the Iranian News Agency (IRNA) and played a 30-second video. 

The video features a picture of Iran’s supreme leader, Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, with a target on his head. The video clip also includes photos of the women Iranian authorities killed: Nika Shakarami, aged 16, Hadis Najafi, age 20, Mahsa Amini, age 22, and Sarina Esmailzadeh, age 16. One of the captions read, “join us and rise up,” while another said, “our youths’ blood is dripping off your paws.”

The young women have become symbolic of the Iranian population, which is largely young and unaware of Iran outside the control of the current regime. The women and responses challenge the regime’s political views as changes to women’s laws would not be welcomed by the current regime. To control the narrative, the Iranian government has used their official state-run print, radio and television to attribute the womens’ death to natural causes, freak accidents, and/or suicide. Beyond these instances, the regime has relied on silence or attributing the violence to foreign influence and/or unknown separatists. It has purposely refrained from referencing women or the role of women in public statements. 

Anti-regime Iranian hackers have not backed down, instead they have started releasing emails and documents associated with the “Iran Atomic Energy Production and Development Company” seemingly making good on a threat they made in response to the regime’s crackdown on protesters. If these leaks are valid and continue, this could prove a critical vulnerability for the Iranian regime and may solicit an even greater swell of a response. 

Our Assessment

The protests and landscape is one to monitor with a close eye across the social streams, as many turn to social media to show their support and fight against the challenge of the patriarchal regime, and potential indicators to determine the regime’s perceived level of vulnerability.

Instagrammer: @ninaansary

One indicator is a direct mention of women in their state-run media. This would be a shift in the regime to begin and acknowledge the role of women and young females in protests. It also shows the regime is concerned that protest demands have grown beyond the control of traditional repression tactics. Even further, the state-run media has not acknowledged the burning of hijabs and haircutting in their public statements. If they begin to, this communicates dissent within the regime’s political and security apparatus, potentially manifesting other officials to leverage social media to call for political change or reform on women’s issues or moderating other issues. All potential signs that they seek to resolve this politically to avert further instability and strikes across the Iranian economy. 

Secondly, the control of the internet. Currently, the regime appears convinced rolling internet outages in regions such as Kurdistan and other minority-dominated areas are sufficient. The short video clips on social streams depict protesters clashing with security forces are not currently impacting the regime’s internal calculations. The videos do validate the narrative that these are security threats from separatists and/or foreign-sponsored actors. An outright internet shutdown and other national communications would indicate that the regime perceives substantial threats from protestors’ social content and will resort to brutal tactics to suppress demonstrations. 

Lastly, an interesting aspect would be the emergence of a leader or leaders within the movement. The regime’s allowance of the formation of such a structure, which would allow some negotiations and/or acceptance of a political solution serves as a potential indicator of the regime’s intentions and/or willingness. If the regime elects to stifle or eradicate such nascent structures could lend credence to their perception that the movement is a security threat. The extent of women’s rights or women leaders in this leadership will also provide indicators of the regime’s thinking. The scope of women’s involvement or presence in an emerging organization would paint a picture of the regime’s view of the situation as a security threat or a political adjustment.

All Roads Lead to Rome: A Look at the Recent Italian Election and its Potential Consequences for Europe and the War in Ukraine

On September 25th, 2022, the country of Italy held a snap election after the previous unity coalition government fell apart. The election would decide the composition of Italy’s 68th government in the last 76 years. The result of that election was the formation of Italy’s first self-identified, far-right government since the end of World War II. The new governing coalition consists of three parties, listed in order of the percentage of votes they received: Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), Lega Nord (The Northern League), and Forza Italia.

Italy is known as a country defined by divisions: separatists and nationalists, monarchists and republicans, partisans and fascists, northerners and southerners, communists and capitalists, and leftists and conservatives. These divides are deep, and many have existed since before the country’s unification in 1861. With all these deeply embedded divisions, Italy has averaged roughly 1.12 governments a year.

Despite these ever-present divisions, the coming to power of a self-proclaimed, far-right government in the country, excluding the fascists, is an anomaly worth further investigation. In this week’s Overwatch, analysts will look at the political landscape, economic data, and popular opinion coming out of Italy to understand what factors caused this electoral anomaly and its implications for U.S. interests and the current conflict in Ukraine.

A Look Back at World War II

Before diving into the more recent politics of Italy, it is worth summarizing the political landscape in the country after WWII. After its defeat in WWII and subsequent occupation by allied forces, Italy, like post-Cold War Eastern European countries, was under the control of the Christian Democratic party (DC) until the early 1980s. The Christian Democratic Party was a political party comprised chiefly of ideologies that spanned from the center-left to the center-right. The party’s main opposition during this time was the Italian Communist party.

During the Cold War, Italy and the success of the control of the Christian Democratic party were deemed crucial to U.S. national security interests due to its centrality in the Mediterranean, its access to Western Europe, and the Communist leanings of the population after living under fascism. The country was so important that one of the first covert actions undertaken by the newly minted CIA aimed to influence Italian elections to assist the Christian Democratic party. Whether those actions tipped the scales is a subject of debate, regardless, the Christian Democrats remained in control of Italy, and the Italian Communist party was kept from power.

An additional layer to the stable political was the social-political environment marred by political violence. This violence included bombings, kidnappings, and political assassinations, undertaken by neo-fascist groups, left-wing terrorists, and organized crime.

By the beginning of the 1980s, the DC began to lose power and control of the Italian government switching hands several times. The reasons for the decline of the DC are subject to some debate. However, some, such as academic Giancarlo Cristiano, point to political fragmentation caused by the declining intensity of Cold War politics. Others point to corruption common to political parties that remain in control for decades. Additionally, high levels of political violence in Italy began to subside by this period.

The period of roughly 1994-2008 can best be described as an era of bipolarism. This means that at the end of the Cold War, Italy’s political landscape shifted to one in which multiple parties unified into center-right and center-left coalitions and competed with one another. While political control switched more frequently during previous periods, acceptable ideologies remained within certain foreign policy boundaries, including support of NATO, the E.U., and the United States.

The Modern-Day Rise in Populists

Fast forward to the modern-day landscape – Italian politics from roughly 2009 to the present. For many, this is seen as the rise of populism in Italy. There are several reasons behind the rise of populism; the three most common are economic crises, such as the Great Recession and the impending post-Covid Recession, the migrant crisis, and deteriorating trust in Western institutions such as the European Union. These issues all interact to form an environment friendly to populists on both the left and right.

Populist parties that have seen their power increase during this period include the left-wing Five Star Movement, the Brothers of Italy, and the Northern League. The rise of these parties poses a potential problem for U.S. foreign policy interests. The Five Star Movement, Brothers of Italy, Lega Nord, and Forza Italia are all pro-Russian to varying degrees, potentially threatening U.S. foreign policy interests.

Silvio Berlusconi, head of Forza Italia, describes Vladimir Putin as a friend, having vacationed with him in Sardinia in 2003, Siberia in 2015, and even visited Putin in Crimea shortly after its annexation by Russia in 2015.

Matteo Salvini and his party, the Northern League, are known to have connections to Putin and Russia. A 2015 post by Salvini shows him wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Putin and the caption, “Here in Strasbourg. President Mattarella (then President of Italy) has just intervened, [and] said that ‘closing and controlling European borders is not necessary.’ No, of course, let’s bring in millions more immigrants. I’ll give two Mattarella in exchange for Putin!”

Additionally, Salvini’s party has been accused of taking Russian money to help fund their political campaigns. In 2019, a phone call between a close aide of Salvini and an unidentified Russian individual discussing how to funnel Russian oil money into his political party was released. More recently, in January 2022, Salvini was exposed as having met with the Russian Ambassador to Italy at least four times; he claims he was attempting to create a peace deal to end the conflict and help all parties involved.     

Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s new prime minister and leader of the Brothers of Italy, has recently been supportive of Ukraine, publicly promising to continue sanctions and arms shipments to the country in its fight against Russia. However, this stance is a change from the past. A search of Meloni’s Twitter profile revealed tweets from 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2020 all calling for sanctions against Russia to be lifted due to their effect on the Italian economy. Given her past stances and the pro-Russian leanings of her coalition partners, her recent public support of Ukraine could change, especially given Italy’s economic and political realities outlined in the data below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Political data from the most recent election demonstrates cause for concern for those looking to ensure that Italy remains tied to the E.U. and, by extension, the United States. A report by Open Online shows that the Brothers of Italy (dark blue)  and the Northern League (Green) are particularly strong in the country’s north. The Brothers of Italy also made significant inroads in traditionally centrist regions such as Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, signifying a solid support base for right-wing populists in the country’s north. In the south, things do not appear much better as the Five Star Movement, despite gaining third place nationally, firmly beat out the centrist party in the south. This leads to the conclusion that the political parties with the most power in the north and south of Italy are sympathetic to Russia.

Italy has also seen a noticeable decrease in election participation since 1979. The number one reason for this dip in participation, according to a report by the Italian government, was alienation, defined as radical criticism, dissatisfaction, and distrust. However, this apathy, while present throughout the country, is not spread equally. The south of Italy suffers the most from apathy, according to data from 2018, while the northeast suffers the least. With the northeast being a stronghold for Italy’s right-wing populists, they will likely not be as affected by lack of participation as their competitors will be in future elections.

Economic factors driven by the conflict in Ukraine will also play into the calculus of whether Italy’s current governing coalition continues to back the United States and its allies in supporting Ukraine. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Italy is projected to be one of the only two European countries entering a recession in 2023. A look at data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development assesses that Italy’s GDP growth for 2023 will be only .4%.

Outside of high-level economics, there is also the reality of gas shortages. The shortage is estimated to be 5-6 billion cubic meters during the coming winter. As of September 2022, the Italian government began asking its citizens to lower their heat by one degree and turn it off for one hour daily. It is also likely that the current leading coalition’s supporters in Italy’s northern region will suffer more from these shortages in terms of winter heat when compared to the south.

Italian public opinion in the face of these projected economic challenges is still favorable to the continued defense of Ukraine. According to an April 2022 poll from the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), 86.6% of Italians supported reducing their family’s energy consumption. However, the poll also revealed that 37% of Italians believe the sanctions against Russia are hurting their economy. Furthermore, a second poll conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations in June 2022 saw responses from Italians nearly evenly split, between Russia on one side and Ukraine, The U.S., and the E.U. on the other, as to who was the biggest obstacle to ending the conflict.

Our Assessment

As the war in Ukraine and its potential economic consequences continue to begin to take effect, Overwatch analysts assess that the new government and Prime Minister Meloni will be under immense pressure to break with the current NATO response and work with Russia in some capacity to either secure them favored peace terms to end the conflict or lift economic sanctions placed on them by the West.

The pressure will come from multiple places. First will be her desire to keep her and her party from being viewed as the cause of the projected recession and gas shortage, especially as the shortage is likely to affect regions that are considered strongholds for her party. The second will come from her junior coalition partners. They have shown past support for Russia and may attempt to utilize the economic fallout to reclaim supporters from the Brothers of Italy. Either could pressure Prime Minister Meloni to reverse her support of Ukraine or the dissolution of the current coalition if the war in Ukraine continues through the winter.

Secondly, while it was not the focus of this brief, analysts assess that Russian influence operations will likely ramp up as winter approaches. These operations could play off existing divisions in Italian society and politics regarding conflict, blaming the E.U., the U.S., and Ukraine for continuing the conflict instead of suing for peace. The goal of these operations will be to influence the Italian population and, in turn, the governing coalition. The best course of action is to end the conflict in Ukraine as quickly as possible, likely by cutting arms supplies to Ukraine and supporting a peace settlement that favors Russia.

Sex Trafficking – The Real Story

Sex trafficking.  Everyone has heard of it, but what is it?  What comes to mind when you think about a sex trafficking victim?  The image of a young Caucasian girl in ropes in a non-descript room comes to mind.  For example, a search for the phrase “sex trafficking victim” on iStock generated 11 pages and 636 images of Caucasian females. In actuality, according to the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, between January 2008 and June 2010, confirmed sex trafficking victims were more likely to be “white (26%) or black (40%), compared to labor trafficking victims, who were more likely to be Hispanic (63%) or Asian (17%).”  Yet simple searches for images of sex-trafficking disproportionality show young white females.  While the statistics lean towards African American females being more susceptible to being trafficked, victims can be of any age, race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, nationality, immigration status, cultural background, socio-economic class, and education attainment level.

 

 

 

 

In this article, analysts focus on what sex trafficking is and the actual statistics surrounding the crime, as well as information on how individuals are exploited into the life and the psychology behind this exploitation, understanding who is perpetuating this crime, and what you can look for as possible signs of being trafficked and lastly what are some verifiable things being done to assist in the combating of this heinous crime.

What is Sex Trafficking?

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was created in 2000 and has been reauthorized five times since then.  According to the National Institute of Justice, “The TVPA was enacted to strengthen the ability of the federal government to combat human trafficking.”  The TVPA recognizes two forms of human trafficking; sex trafficking and forced labor.  The TVPA defines human trafficking as “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act (sex trafficking), in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.”  Florida statute 787.06 further defines sex trafficking as the “Transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.”

According to Polaris, examples of frequently used means of control include:

Force: Physical or sexual abuse, often in the form of repeated rapes by one or more people to create submission; confinement to the residence; restrictions on movement and communication to family and friends; forced abortions; lack of medical treatment or reproductive health.

Fraud: False promises of a better life through the trafficker presenting as a boyfriend or caretaker figure.

Coercion: Threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family; threats to shame the victim by revealing the commercial sex to their family and others in the community; confiscation of birth certificates and other identification documents; forced dependency on the trafficker; rumors of or witnessed violence at the hands of traffickers used as threats; the cycle of rewards and punishments; threats of police involvement and arrest.

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking worldwide. But unfortunately, due to the lack of a centralized repository and the subversive nature of the crime of sex trafficking, the exact number of underage children being trafficked in the United States is unknown.  Statistics further state that children, women, and men are being sold for sex in cities in all 50 states; in 2014, the Urban Institute studied the underground commercial sex economy in eight U.S. cities and estimated that this illicit activity generated between $39.9 million and $290 million in revenue depending on the city with nearly 300,000 youth at risk of being sexually exploited, according to a University of Pennsylvania study. The DHS Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking states, “In 2018, the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline was contacted 41,088 times and reported 10,949 cases of human trafficking, a number that has increased annually. In the past five fiscal years, DHS received 6,171 reports to our Tip Line regarding suspected human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.”

In 2018 the Thorn Institute surveyed 260 survivors of sex trafficking survivors that stated the average age of entry into commercial sexual exploitation was roughly 12-14 years old. At the same time, the most frequently reported age of entry was 15 years old.  One in six persons surveyed reported being trafficked before the age of 12.  But according to numerous sources, including Polaris, they do not believe these stats are accurate.  The trafficking field relies on inaccurate and partial data obtained from small data sets until a more thorough and methodical examination is conducted.  According to Polaris, in 2019, of the 123 of the 292 survivors who disclosed their age when they first engaged in commercial sex to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTRC) or BeFree Textline, 44% of these survivors estimated that they were 17 or younger, and the average age of first participation was 19 years old.

The Exploitation Cycle

Through intensive manipulation, pretended affection, brutal violence, isolation, and emotional abuse, traffickers aggressively seek to destabilize their victims’ psyches and gain control over them.  Non-profit All Things Possible (ATP) explains that sex trafficking is a process that begins long before a victim is sold for the first time; to reiterate this point, ATP created the following graphic to explain how traffickers exploit their victims.

 

 

While each iteration of the cycle is distinct, they also blend. According to Jeff Tiegs, the COO of ATP, the “Assessment and Recruitment” and “Grooming” phases are “happening behind closed doors, they’re happening online, and oftentimes a law isn’t even broken yet.  To tell a lie is not against the law.  For me to pretend I’m a nice guy is not against the law, even for me to use fake names and things like, unless it’s fraudulent, is not against the law.”  In fact, he says, “it’s not until the Breaking phase that you have definitely crossed a line.”  To “Break” someone indicates that the trafficker has physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically broken down the victim into this crime.  Moving forward in the cycle to “Automatic” and “Assessment & Recruitment,” this is where, Tiegs explains, the trafficker wants the victim to be.  “He wants to put the least amount of energy into one of these girls that he has to for the most amount of return.”

Psychology of Exploitation

Each phase of the Exploitation Cycle includes tactics and techniques often unbeknownst to the predator they use that rewires the victim’s brain, sometimes called brainwashing.  According to Tiegs, “…that intermittent reinforcement is creating this imbalance with this individual.”  The Founder of RubiesLV, Samantha Summers-Rivas, explains that traffickers mentally use psychological tactics to enslave their victims. “We’re not seeing physical chains, but there are emotional, mental, and spiritual chains.”  These psychological tactics are why many of the trafficked girls don’t even identify themselves as victims.  The brainwashing has them oblivious to the concept that they have been/are being exploited, let alone have been/are being trafficked.  Traffickers have an innate ability to study the victim, to find out what she needs, and for some time, to provide for those needs.  Making the victim believe that the trafficker is the only one who cares, is the only one who will or can provide for them.  Another way to learn how a trafficker manipulates the victim, according to Mrs. Summers-Rivas, is to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  They understand how to ensure that the victim relies on them for each need.  For more information on the Exploitation Cycle and the Psychology of Exploitation, check out ATPs “Protect Your Family: A Counter-Trafficking Course.”

Understanding the Traffickers, Who Are They?

Some basic information, traffickers often share the same national or cultural background as the victim, and they can be of any gender and age, according to Florida State University’s Human Trafficking Project, sponsored by the Attorney General of the State of Florida. A recent analysis revealed that among those who trafficked minors for sex: The trafficker’s average age was 28.5, and 45.1% of traffickers knew their victims.

Echo Analytics Group consulted with Detective Joseph Scaramucci of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office in Waco, Texas.  Detective Scaramucci is one of the nation’s top consultants for human trafficking with law enforcement in America and abroad and federal and DoD agencies. Scarmucci said that the numbers reported by agencies combating Human Trafficking are often misleading. “They also call people attempting to pay for sex from a minor a trafficker (while it meets many statutes that person is a buyer, not a trafficker). Often numbers can also be misinterpreted because of state laws.  Many times sex buyers can be legally classified as a human trafficker, although they have engaged in the purchasing of sex.”

Individual traffickers, more popularly referred to as “pimps,” are frequently the traffickers in street-based commercial sex scenarios. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a pimp as “a criminal who is associated with, usually exerts control over, and lives off the earnings of one or more prostitutes.” Most of the time, pimping does not entail consenting prostitutes to work for their own financial advantage, despite the widespread impression that it does.  Because victims may be sold and resold again, unlike with drugs or fake goods, sex trafficking can generate significant profits. Even though pimps receive significant profits from their victims, they frequently spend a sizable portion of their earnings on material possessions.  According to Louise Shelley, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, “pimps dissipate their large incomes of several hundred thousand of dollars annually on expensive clothes, jewelry, and automobiles rather than saving their money or laundering it into the legitimate economy.”  This displayed sense of affluence helps to convince their victims that they can provide them with a flashy celebrity lifestyle, going above and beyond on the Hierarchy of Needs referenced above.

Although the relationships between these pimps and their victims may differ, they all use the same strategies to find, manage, and take advantage of their victims. Some pimps might just be taking advantage of one or a few victims, while others might be in charge of a more significant number of girls and women.  Referred to in the streets as a “stable.”  It has been seen that pimps have forced victims to recruit, manage, and discipline other victims, which could make them appear to be traffickers.  These particular victims are referred to, in the trafficking community, as “bottom bitches.”  These victims are often brutally beaten, they are generally branded or tattooed, they are responsible for ensuring the other girls in the stable are bringing the money home, and they are the ones who receive the punishment if the others “misbehave” in any way.  She is in charge when the pimp is away.  This victim has been mentally manipulated so intensely that she goes along with everything for the reward of being the “bottom,” for being in his favor, hoping not to get hurt or beaten again.

A statement from Tiegs regarding the background of some of those in the pimp game, “While I have zero sympathy for pimps.  Some people have arrived at the place where they have a certain level of compassion because many of these pimps were abused also.  Many of these pimps, they’re acting out and lashing out because they were physically and sexually abused as young men.  I intellectually can go there, but still, as a person, I just can’t excuse it because of the levels that they’re bringing it.”

Numerous well-known and convicted pimps have authored and directed books and films. They frequently receive celebrity status and are highly regarded in certain parts of American society, even though their song lyrics and writings boast about their manipulation and abuse of women.  These propaganda products are fantastic instruments for understanding how these people think and behave. When properly examined, the depravity and mental manipulation they prefer to operate in are abundantly clear.

Indicators of Trafficking

** Not all indicators listed below are present in every sex trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any indicators is not necessarily proof of sex trafficking. **

The first step in identifying potential victims is recognizing some critical indicators of sex trafficking, including physical indicators and verbiage used.  Regarding verbiage, if certain words are said/heard, it could indicate being involved or becoming involved in trafficking.  Examples of some of this verbiage (not all-inclusive) include: being in the life, or the game, bottom bitch, wifey, wifey-in-law, stable, choose-up fee, exit fee, daddy/king (especially said by multiple girls to one man), two girl special, and girlfriend experience or GFE.

 

Samantha Summers-Rivas said people should keep in mind the following when it comes to verbiage indicators, “These terms have become popular within our culture.  A lot of young people use these terms, and they have heard them in the hip hop music that they listen to now and different forms of music, and so they may not understand or know what they’re perpetuating or what they’re putting out there, but they just might, and they might be in the life.”

Along with verbiage indicators of being trafficked, there are numerous physical indicators that anyone can look out for. Some more often seen physical indicators include tattoos and branding on the neck or chest that shows a crown, a name, or a king’s crown. A girl dressed inappropriately for her age or the weather.  A minor with someone at a hotel during school hours or late at night.  A sudden or dramatic change in behavior.  Often disoriented or confused or showing signs of mental or physical abuse.  Bruises in various stages of healing.  Not able to travel or not able to freely leave where they live or work.  Was doing well in school, but their grades started slipping, dressing in skimpy clothing, and becoming more depressed and isolated from friends and family.

 

What Can I Do?

Echo Analytics Group (EAG) and ATP have partnered to host a quarterly event called, Skull Games.  Skull Games is an event where vetted volunteers come together, in person and online, for 48 hours with the goal of identifying as many victims and perpetrators of sex trafficking as possible.  These volunteers crowdsource the collection of open-source Information (OSINT) to assist law enforcement in generating lead packets on trafficked victims, missing children, and persons of interest.

Why is the operation called Skull Games?  An infamous pimp called “Iceberg Slim” was once quoted as saying, “Pimping isn’t a sex game; it’s a skull game.”  This is an example of the manipulation and the inherent demoralizing of the victims that those in the trafficking industry display.  Calling the operations “Skull Games” is a way to take back some of the power he and others like him have taken away from the numerous amounts of victims stuck in the life.

If you are interested in learning more about Skull Games and perhaps volunteering for the effort, please go to https://echoanalyticsgroup.com/skull-games/.

If you would like to know more information about ATP’s counter-trafficking efforts, please go to https://victormarx.com/trafficking-solutions/.

 

 

 

Echo Analytics Group Partners with All Things Possible for Fifth Skull Games Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

ECHO ANALYTICS GROUP PARTNERS WITH ALL THINGS POSSIBLE FOR FOURTH SKULL GAMES INITIATIVE

Counter Human Trafficking Event Coincides with Open-Intelligence Conference in Tampa

TAMPA, FL (October 13, 2022) –Echo Analytics Group (EAG) is partnering with All Things Possible (ATP) to host the fifth Skull Games event this Saturday-Sunday, October 15-16. The event coincides with Tampa hosting the eighth annual OSMOSIS (The Open-Source Intelligence Skills-Building) Conference for the first time, with industry experts attending from all over the world.

The Skull Games program crowdsources the collection of open-source intelligence (OSINT) to enable law enforcement with leads on trafficked victims and persons of interest. The two-day event brings together vetted volunteers who have experience in open-source intelligence (OSINT) to aid in the identification of victims and persons of interest to help combat sex trafficking. The volunteers work together at the EAG Operations Center and online across the country to partner and provide information and support to law enforcement. At the conclusion of the weekend, EAG and ATP send detailed reports to law enforcement with a path of discovery for them to obtain warrant or probable cause to find victims or criminals. To date, Skull Games has identified 45 girls and 20 persons of interests.

Jeff Tiegs, who served as a U.S. Army Ranger and Delta Force Operator, is the Chief Operating Officer of All Things Possible Ministries. Tiegs uses his expertise and experience to counter human trafficking with the help of Echo Analytics Group and their research platform, TORCH.

“The ability to recruit and groom victims is at an all-time high,” said Tiegs. “Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are riddled with predators. They are all over Minecraft and Roblox. They use mediums where you can share photos and videos. They are on Whisper and Scout, and they are on all the dating sites.”

“We are thrilled to combine Skull Games with OSMOSISCon, and work with ATP to help save lives and put an end to human trafficking,” said Buddy Jericho, CEO of Echo Analytics Group. “The work that Jeff and the team at All Things Possible is critical to helping law enforcement across the country.”

OSMOSIS is an annual Open-Source Intelligence Skills-Building Conference featuring experts in the field of open-source intelligence. These experts will present and demonstrate some of the most in-depth insider techniques and training. Jericho will also be speaking at the conference raising awareness on how OSINT is used to counter sex trafficking, and the success of Skull Games.

Media interested in Skull Games should contact Jeffrey Kamis at 813.784.3642 for more information and interview opportunities this week and weekend. In addition, media are invited to an Open House at Echo Analytics Group this Sunday, October 16 from 3-6 pm. Please RSVP HERE.

About All Things Possible

The mission of All Things Possible is to identify, interrupt and restore those affected by trauma. This is done through law enforcement support and enablement. For more information, visit https://victormarx.com/.

About Echo Analytics Group

Echo Analytics Group (EAG) is a veteran owned and operated intelligence firm based in Tampa, Florida. EAG brings military grade intelligence to the private sector, combining publicly available information with advanced research methodologies to empower businesses and people to make informed decisions. With the overwhelming amount of content created daily, EAG provides best-in-class research resources from tools, case management systems, investigations, education and even analysts to make real-time decisions. To learn more, visit: echoanalyticsgroup.com.

 

The Catch Behind Illegal Fishing

More than 3 billion people depend on fisheries for their food security and jobs according to USAID, with U.S. consumers spending more money on seafood than any other nation. To date, the U.S. is the largest single-country market for fish and fish products, the fifth largest exporter, and the third largest wild seafood producer. Needless to say, the United States is vested.

As a result, the U.S. leads and partners with nations who have a shared interest to regulate global waters. This becomes challenging when dealing with nations who do not adhere to international maritime regulatory programs or practices in place. Nations who challenge regulations tend to practice Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing also known as IUU. It is estimated that one-third of today’s global seafood harvest comes from fishing operations engaged in IUU fishing practices. In 1992, the U.S. enacted the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act, requiring the U.S. to provide nationals to Congress who practiced IUU fishing. The 2021 report identified 31 nations, including repeat offenders like China, The Russian Federation, and Mexico. In the 2019 report to Congress, there is a section calling out the concerns of China’s illegal fishing practices.

In this week’s Overwatch, analysts investigate the ongoing IUU practices, the ongoing struggle for regulation of global waters, the correlation IUU has to human trafficking and the counter narrative from China. This is all contributing to a larger impact threatening sustainability, the resiliency of the fishing community, economies, and the oceanic ecosystem.

Illegal Fishing Invites Human Trafficking

Illegal fishing is a prosperous business that depletes near-shore fisheries, perpetuating forced labor through human trafficking in seafood sectors because the vessels need to travel out further and stay at sea longer to catch enough fish – all raising operational costs. The unattractive conditions also make it difficult to recruit and keep costs down, further enticing forced labor tactics.

Last May, the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act was enacted to not only remedy IUU, but also human trafficking, as more stories are released about the inhumane conditions on the vessels and the disinformation campaigns used to recruit workers. Many incidents target individuals vulnerable to making money quickly, only to discover long 18-hour workdays, poor living conditions left to eat fish bait with unclean water and being isolated at sea with monthly salaries turning into annual salaries.

A Mongabay article shares a personal account of vessel Long Xing 629, where deckhand Sepri never made it to the end of the catch. This story of Sepri was published by the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) this year and won an Excellence Award. Like most deckhand stories, Sepri responded to a Facebook ad recruiting deckhands. The position was attractive to Sepri, who only had a middle school education. The ad boasted a compensation of $350 per month, twice the minimum wage in South Sumatra province, where Sepri lived. The dream was short lived though, with hard labor 18 hours a day, as he was forced to eat the same bait fish hooked onto fishing gear, along with desalinated seawater. Sepri fell ill, leading to his death. Sepri’s sister, Rika, shares, “He wanted to make a lot of money. He wanted to make his cousins and me proud. That was his wish. Even though I always said the important thing was finding a job.” Unfortunately, the fate of Sepri on Long Xing 629 (owned and operated by the Dalian Ocean Fishing Company) is not uncommon.

Facebook photos posted at Lakemba Perkasa Bahari show, clockwise from top left, men training with fishing lines; a sign outside Lakemba’s office in Bekasi, a satellite city of Jakarta; Lakemba recruits; and coffee and cigarettes. Mongabay.com

The Dalian Ocean Fishing Company has many aliases and also goes by its formal Chinese name Dalian Yuan Yang Tuna Yu Ye Co., or by “China Tuna,” or Liaoning Dalian Ocean Fishery Group Corp. 辽渔集团有限公司, ‘State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of Liaoning Provincial People’s Government.’  A Customs and Border Patrol Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) investigation led to a Withhold Release Order (WRO) after finding evidence of forced labor aboard 32 of Dalian’s vessels.

Based on the current bill of lading shown below, the Dalian Group is still active with a ship currently heading to the Port of Long Beach.

Polarizing Narratives

With the U.S. spending more money on imported seafood than any other nation, consumer campaigns were created to raise awareness about illegal fishing and the threat it plays on sustainability and the oceanic ecosystem. An example is through the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ consumer campaign last June to educate the public about the impact of IUU. Without traceable resources to understand where your fish is coming from, the campaign encourages consumers to ask a simple question, “Where is this fish from,” whether fish was being purchased from a local market or ordered at a restaurant.

Outside of protecting food security and the ocean ecosystem, the U.S. is a global leader in protecting human rights issues. Much like the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act earlier this year, the U.S. takes a stand for peace, security, and human dignity. The definition of human dignity continues to be subjective, with the Chinese narrative, guaranteeing human rights sentiment of the Chinese people to have notable increases in their sense of fulfillment, happiness, and security. The portrayal from China is that the U.S. has a track record of being the biggest human rights abusers in the world, citing examples such as the death toll in the U.S. for COVID-19, the Forced Labour Convention, and rising numbers of gun violence.

Our Assessment

With the global demand for seafood continuing to grow alongside illegal fishing, regulation combined with consumer awareness is the answer. However, compliance proves to be an ongoing challenge as narratives and definitions continue to be a debate. As the debate continues, the coastal environments and forced laborers are at risk of the greatest vulnerability.

Overwatch analysts anticipate the U.S. will continue to make strong ground domestically through matching consumer campaigns that extend awareness and tracing products from sea to table. According to David Schorr, the Senior Manager for Transparent Seas, Oceans, WWF:

On a global front, the U.S. will continue to build alliances with nations who have common values in protecting the lives of both humans and marine life, impacting IUU. As recently as October 7, 2022, State Secretary Antony Blinken launched a new project, the Por la Pesca (for fishing) Project. The effort is to support sustainable fishing like Peru and Ecuador through artisanal fishing.

As alliances on land and sea attempt to regulate the sea, tools such as the Global Fishing Watch’s map will help the U.S. Coast Guard and analysts discover hot spots where IUU vessels are, identify vessels and owners that are suspect, and monitor their movement and transponder activity to make strides in our effort for greater sustainability.

The Missing Narrative Behind Sex Trafficking Statistics

 

 

 

 

 

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking worldwide. Statistics further state that children, women, and men are being sold for sex in cities across the world, indifferent of age, race, ethinicity, gender, nationality, socio-economic class, or education.  

In 2014, the Urban Institute studied the underground commercial sex economy in eight U.S. cities and estimated that this illicit activity generated between $39.9 million and $290 million in revenue depending on the city, with nearly 300,000 youth at risk of being sexually exploited, according to a University of Pennsylvania study

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking states, “In 2018, the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline was contacted 41,088 times and reported 10,949 cases of human trafficking, a number that has increased annually. In the past five fiscal years, DHS received 6,171 reports to their Tip Line regarding suspected human trafficking and child sexual exploitation. 

As alarming as these statistics are, the challenge is their accuracy. Due to the sensitivity of the crime, early grooming ages, a lack of a central repository for law enforcement to work together, and the speed at which communication evolves based on the digital landscape, the margin of error is significant and the numbers just scratch the surface. Detective Joseph Scaramucci of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office in Waco, Texas, one of the top consultants for human trafficking within law enforcement, said that the numbers reported by agencies combating human trafficking are often misleading. “They also call people attempting to pay for sex from a minor a trafficker (while it meets many statutes that person is a buyer, not a trafficker). Often numbers can also be misinterpreted because of state laws. Many times sex buyers can be legally classified as a human trafficker, although they have engaged in the purchasing of sex.” 

In this Overwatch brief, analysts partnered with All Things Possible (ATP) to share the reality behind sex trafficking numbers as analysts continue to utilize #OSINTforGood (open-source intelligence for good) to combat the numbers you see above. The brief investigates how individuals are exploited into the lifestyle, the psychology behind it, individuals perpetuating such crimes, and early indicators of grooming.

The Perception of Sex Trafficking / The Missing Narrative to Sex Trafficking

In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was enacted to strengthen the federal government’s ability to combat human traffic. The TVPA recognizes two forms of human trafficking: sex trafficking and forced labor, and defines human traffficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act (sex trafficking), in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.” Florida statute 787.06 further defines sex trafficking as the “Transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.”

By definition alone, it is not surprising the perception of sex trafficking is visualized like the mood board below:

The video mood board contains the 635 results when searching the key term “sex trafficking.” The majority of images are a female in a non-descriptive setting with a hand raise, ropes around a female’s wrists or money being exchanged. Overwatch and All Things Possible analysts who are subject matter experts on sex trafficking will share this is not an accurate depiction and is a more generalized representation of female victims. Many sex trafficking victims do not consider themselves as victims. 

The Exploitation Cycle

Through intensive manipulation, falsified affection, brutal violence, isolation, and emotional abuse, bad actors aggressively seek to destabilize their victims’ psyches and gain control over them. Our partner, All Things Possible (ATP), illustrates the sex trafficking process, which begins long before a victim is sold for the first time. Below is a graphic created by ATP to explain how traffickers exploit their victims:

Each phase of the exploitation cycle includes brainwashing tactics and techniques often unbeknownst to the predator, rewiring the victim’s brain. According to ATP COO Jeff Tiegs, “…that intermittent reinforcement is creating this imbalance with this individual.”  

The Founder of RubiesLV, Samantha Summers-Rivas, explains that traffickers mentally use psychological tactics to enslave their victims. “We’re not seeing physical chains, but there are emotional, mental, and spiritual chains,” said Summers-Rivas. 

This is why many of the trafficked girls do not identify themselves as victims. Traffickers have an innate ability to connect with victims, identify their needs and establish trust because their backgrounds are often similar to the cultural backgrounds as the victim, and they can be of any gender and age, according to Florida State University’s Human Trafficking Project, sponsored by the Attorney General of the State of Florida.

The Superficial Pimp Lifestyle

Individual traffickers, more popularly referred to as “pimps,” are frequently the traffickers in street-based commercial sex scenarios. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a pimp as “a criminal who is associated with, usually exerts control over, and lives off the earnings of one or more prostitutes.” Most of the time, pimping does not entail consenting prostitutes to work for their own financial advantage, despite the widespread impression that it does. Because victims may be sold and resold again, unlike with drugs or fake goods, sex trafficking has significant monetary gains and a business that allows pimps to live a lavish lifestyle filled with material possessions. According to Louise Shelley, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, “pimps dissipate their large incomes of several hundred thousand of dollars annually on expensive clothes, jewelry, and automobiles rather than saving their money or laundering it into the legitimate economy.” This displayed sense of affluence helps to convince their victims that they can provide them with a flashy celebrity lifestyle, going on to write books, direct films and write songs. 

Although the relationships between these pimps and their victims may differ, they all use the same strategies to find, manage, and take advantage of their victims. Some pimps take advantage of one or a few victims, while others might be in charge of a stable. The consistent theme is pimps forcing victims to recruit, manage, and discipline other victims, which could make them appear to be traffickers.

Tiegs states, “While I have zero sympathy for pimps, some people have arrived at the place where they have a certain level of compassion because many of these pimps were abused also. Many of these pimps, they’re acting out and lashing out because they were physically and sexually abused as young men. I intellectually can go there, but still, as a person, I just can’t excuse it because of the levels that they’re bringing it.”

Trafficking Indicators

Social media has granted greater mobility for traffickers. After reading this brief, you may scroll through social feed and may recognize some critical signs of sex trafficking both through visuals and captions. There are certain words that are said/heard/written, that could indicate being involved or becoming involved in trafficking. Examples of some of this verbiage (not all-inclusive) include: being in the life, or the game, bottom bitch, wifey, wifey-in-law, stable, choose-up fee, exit fee, daddy/king (especially said by multiple girls to one man), two girl special, and girlfriend experience or GFE.

Summers-Rivas said people should keep in mind the following when it comes to verbiage indicators, “These terms have become popular within our culture. A lot of young people use these terms, and they have heard them in the hip hop music that they listen to now and different forms of music, and so they may not understand or know what they’re perpetuating or what they’re putting out there, but they just might, and they might be in the life.”

Along with verbiage indicators of being trafficked, there are numerous physical indicators that anyone can look out for. This includes tattoos and branding on the neck or chest that shows a crown, a name, or a king’s crown. Another is a girl dressed inappropriately for her age or the weather. It could also be a minor with someone at a hotel during school hours or late at night. Oftentimes, a sudden or dramatic change in behavior could be another sign.

** Please note: not all indicators listed above are present in every sex trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any indicators is not necessarily proof of sex trafficking. **

Our Assessment

Through this assessment, sex trafficking in the United States will continue to rise with digital technology making communication across the world easier and without dedicated resources to centralizated information, these criminal acts will continue to be a flourishing business. Although the statistics are inaccurate, the numbers are significant as traffickers continuously trolling through social media and chatrooms to find potential targets prey on the expressive vulnerabilities on social media, prime for grooming. Read more in our previous Overwatch brief, “Trafficking and Why Grooming on Social Media is a Major Issue“.

Analysts dedicated to #OSINTforGood and organizations like All Things Possible will continue to flourish and enable law enforcement with the resources needed as open-source intelligence (OSINT) becomes a critical skill set. Echo Analytics Group and All Things Possible have seen this success through Skull Games, an effort to bring the OSINT community together. Over the past year, the partnership has conducted 4 Skull Games resulting in identifying 45 girls and 20 persons of interest. The next Skull Games is scheduled the weekend of October 14th. To learn more about open-source intelligence and Skull Games, we invite you to attend our upcoming Open House on Sunday, October 16th from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. RSVP here.