What is #NarcoFiles: The new criminal order? All you need to know

What is the NarcoFiles project?

NarcoFiles: The New Criminal Order is an international investigation into the current situation of organized crime and those who fight it. This collaboration of more than 40 media is the largest research project on this issue that was born in Latin America, a region hit by drug trafficking, as well as the trail of violence and corruption it leaves.

The project originated with a leak of emails from the Attorney General’s Office of Colombia. The leak was shared last year with OCCRP and with several Latin American media, including Cerosetenta / 070, Vorágine and the Latin American Center for Journalistic Research (CLIP).

OCCRP collected that data and invited media from 23 countries in America and Europe to analyze its content. The resulting investigations offer a unique window into how criminal groups collaborate, communicate and innovate in a globalized world.

What is the origin of the leak?

In 2022, a group of ‘hacktivists’ known as Guacamaya He obtained the emails after infiltrating the Microsoft Exchange server, a platform used by the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office. In a press release attributed to that group, Guacamaya explained that he targeted the institutions that he accuses of favoring corruption and organized crime.

Microsoft had asked its customers to make a security update earlier that year, but numerous companies and institutions in Latin America did not carry them out. Guacamaya was able to take advantage of this vulnerability to hack the Prosecutor’s Office as well as other military and police institutions, regulatory agencies and companies throughout Latin America.

Guacamaya shared the data with two organizations: Distributed Denial of Secrets, a collective that distributes and archives leaked data of public interest and Hacktivist Link, a website that publishes information regarding hacker tools and news. These two groups shared that leak with OCCRP and with several Latin American media.

In October 2022 The Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation into the attack. The institution assured that it also opened an administrative process against the contractor in charge of the digital infrastructure. In January of this year, Deputy Prosecutor Martha Mancera said that the institution was taking measures to strengthen cybersecurity.

OCCRP and its partners in Colombia sent a questionnaire to the Prosecutor’s Office and requested an interview regarding the leak. At the time of publication, The Prosecutor’s Office had not responded.

What’s in the leak?

With a size of five terabytes, The leak contains more than 7 million emails from the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office, among them correspondence with embassies and authorities from all over the planet. The files – which also contain audio, images, PDFs, spreadsheets and calendars – date back to 2001, although most of them are concentrated between 2017 and 2022.

Documents in the leak reveal unique details about the inner workings of criminal gangs as well as the efforts of law enforcement to dismantle them. In their investigations, reporters explore six main themes:

Criminal Empires investigates how organized crime groups have expanded all over the planet, how they have penetrated economies, corrupted authorities and extended their presence beyond borders. Narcos SA is a look at how criminal gangs are innovating and evolving their business models in the face of new economic incentives and opportunities.

Shipwrecked in drugs, he immerses himself in the murky world of commercial ports, that have become hotbeds of criminal activity, from Antwerp and Rotterdam, passing through Gioia Tauro, Guayaquil, Santa Marta and Limón.

Dark Money investigates the underground flows through which the benefits circulate generated by drug trafficking and focuses on the financial professionals who facilitate these crimes.

Ecocrimes exposes the environmental impact of organized crime and how their activities are destroying wildlife, polluting rivers and threatening protected areas.

Cops and Thieves focuses on the role of security forces officers who are on the front line of the fight against organized crime – although sometimes they are part of the problem.

How have journalists verified the information contained in the leak?

To confirm the authenticity of the leak, the reporters compared the data with other sources, e.g. cross reference numbers of court cases with information that is available publicly. Identification numbers can be confirmed in public databases, while company names and property information appear in registries. The names of prosecutors and agents were also checked on the websites of the different agencies.

To further verify the information they found, reporters submitted public information requests, reviewed hundreds of public and private documents as well as databases, They interviewed authorities, convicted criminals, experts and victims of drug trafficking.

After classifying the leaked information, the reporters identified topics of interest in the emails that they used as starting points to investigate further. In most cases, the leak documents ended up being only a small portion of the sources that were used for each story. Measures were also taken to protect third parties and avoid disturbing ongoing investigations.

Why have OCCRP and its partners decided to exploit this leak?

The orginazed crime It fuels corruption, devastates the environment, sows inequalities and slows economic development. That is why it is essential that investigative journalism exposes the people behind drug trafficking and other criminal activities and explains how they operate.

In Colombia, citizens have the right to access information of public interest, and the media have the right to publish this information, regardless of the source. One of the highest courts in the country, the Constitutional Court, has stressed that no source is inherently off-limits to journalists.

Jonathan Bock, director of the Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP), a Colombian organization that advocates for freedom of expression, told OCCRP that “the right to freedom of expression means that the media has the right to disseminate information according to their own editorial criteria, as long as they act in compliance with the Law and under journalistic responsibility.”

James O’Brien/OCCRP

How many media outlets participate?

Journalists from more than 40 media outlets publish investigations within the framework of the NarcoFiles project. These means are:

Ocote Agency (Guatemala)
Aristegui News (Mexico)
Armando.info (Venezuela)
Berlingske (Denmark)
BIRD (Bulgaria)
Cerosetenta / 070 (Colombia)
Latin American Center for Journalistic Research (Latin America)
CNN in Spanish (United States)
With Criteria (Guatemala)
Countercurrent (Honduras)
Public Issue (Colombia)
De Tijd (Belgica)
The Standard (Austria)
The Darkroom (Austria)
El Universal (Mexico)
Expresso (Portugal)
Frontstory.pl (Poland)
Het Parool (Netherlands)
InfoLibre (Spain)
InSight Crime (Latin America)
Investigace.cz (Czech Republic)
IrpiMedia (Italy)
Knack (Belgium)
La Prensa (Panama)
Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (Mexico)
Miami Herald (United States)
Mongabay Latam (Latin America)
Narcodiary (Spain)
Non-Fiction (Guatemala)
Ojoconmipisto (Guatemala)
OjoPúblico (Peru)
Paper Trail Media (Germany)
Piauí (Brazil)
PlanV (Ecuador)
Public Square (Guatemala)
Profile (Austria)
Fifth Element Lab (Mexico)
Siena (Lithuania)
SVT (Sweden)
Univision (United States)
UOL (Brazil)
Open Truth (Colombia)
Voragine (Colombia)
ZDF (Alemania)

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