'Ndrangheta, how the algorithm to track it down really works

'Ndrangheta, how the algorithm to track it down really works


The dirty business of the 'Ndrangheta knows no borders. One of the latest reports by the Anti-Mafia Investigation Directorate (DIA) puts it on paper. "Even abroad - the investigators write - the gangs are able to exploit all the opportunities offered by the different regulatory systems". They do this "by favoring settlement in less active states in terms of judicial cooperation" with Italy, the report continues, and where it is easier to reinvest "illicit capital". Even the " long periods of inaction spent by the Calabrian bosses abroad " are for the investigators a litmus test of the " capillary ramification of the 'Ndrangheta outside national borders ".

And it is precisely on this unstoppable expansion that wants to shed light on a computer system currently under development by Italian law enforcement. A complex database governed by numerous algorithms able to extract and arrange information from multiple sources in order to identify recurrences, connect the dots, connect traces. And find what the prefect Vittorio Rizzi, deputy director general of the Public Security Department of the Ministry of the Interior and director of the criminal police, calls the " warning signs of this expansion ".

But it is not a machine capable of predicting crimes as in Philip K. Dick's story Minority Report, which predicted the possibility of preventing a crime before it even happened. According to sportsgaming.win , which spoke with numerous sources involved in the project, the most technological part of this computer system, included in an international collaboration program against the 'Ndrangheta called I-Can , will be characterized by an infrastructure that enables investigators to interactively explore information from millions of different sources: it will be the detectives' nose and the application of the rules of classical statistics that will transform them into investigative leads or real transnational investigations.

The key points of the project:

The alliance against the 'Ndrangheta How the program works How the data is analyzed The map of mafia power Teamwork Robot investigator Yes, the mafia is a real danger in the coronavirus emergency

The alliance against the 'ndrangheta

The I-Can project, an acronym for Interpol cooperation against 'ndrangheta , was presented at the beginning of 2020 in Reggio Calabria by the prefect Rizzi and the then Chief of Police Franco Gabrielli. The result of the agreement between Interpol (the International Criminal Police Organization, which has 195 countries) and the Department of Public Security of the Ministry of the Interior, it has a three-year duration, is entirely financed by Italy and is based in Rome. The goal of I-Can is to strengthen the collaboration between Interpol, carabinieri and police, ensuring a better sharing of information and investigative resources in order to hit the Calabrian gangs. Thirteen countries are participating in the initiative, led by Italy: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Spain, the United States, Switzerland and Uruguay.

So far, the various police forces have exchanged information on the 'Ndrangheta in an attempt to track down the fugitives and block the expansion of the gangs. But in mid-March, during a summit between the various I-Can managers of the countries in Rome, the Viminale went one step further. The project, which has already made it possible to bring 36 fugitives to justice, “including Rocco Morabito, the number one of the 'Ndrangheta and the second most wanted mafia fugitive after Mattia Messina Denaro ”, says Rizzi, will make use of an instrument that of the police defines "document analysis capable of correlating police information with that collected on the web, even automatically. In the last stage of its evolution it will be endowed with predictive capabilities ”.

The biggest trial against the 'Ndrangheta of the last thirty years has begun in Calabria

How the program works

Still under development, the infrastructure is the result of the Research Center for the analysis of the multimedia information of the State Police (Craim), established in 2015 to fight terrorism, of the National Research Council (Cnr) and of Leonardo, the national defense champion.

In 2020, in a meeting at the end of October organized by the Central Directorate of the Criminal Police, Rizzi and the general secretary of Interpol Jurgen Stock draw up a set of questions to be shared with the countries involved in the I-Can operation. Objective: to monitor the infiltrations of the only mafia present in the five continents and capable of insinuating itself within the economic fabric, the logistics chain, import-export operations or airport operations.

The 14 countries of the I-Can alliance regularly exchange information, but what if you connect the dots? What if documents, images, videos and audio collected by the various police forces were analyzed to identify recurrences, correlations, indicators of the movements of the 'Ndrangheta? It is on the basis of these considerations that we work on a data analysis software. Only at a later stage would machine learning techniques come into action in order to identify the most significant variables, even at a temporal level, which distinguish the criminal design of the 'Ndrangheta. And therefore be able to "predict" a move of the gangs.

" These are the typical methods of the analyst, who also relies on statistics to discover correlations and auto-correlations that allow us to guess what could happen tomorrow - explains to sportsgaming.win the criminologist and state police officer Carlo Blinds -. When prefect Rizzi called us he wanted to know if we were able to speed up these processes, and that's what we are trying to do with the support of technology ”.

Not a technology that governs the investigation, but a tool capable of accelerating the reasoning and analysis of those who conduct it, automating the search for clues and links between the information that is archived daily by the Interior Ministry.

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How data is analysed

“ The main problem concerns the extraction of data, which arrive daily at the central criminal police directorate and which, in addition to being in multiple languages, sometimes they can also have dialectal content,” explains Bui. To help in the fight against the 'Ndrangheta was first of all the suggestive evolution of search engines which, increasingly precise and flexible, are now able to understand not only what the user requests, but also what he actually meant to ask.

This is the case of Bert (Bidirectional encoder representations from transformers), a component developed by Google in 2019 and progressively inserted "under the hood" of the most used search engine in the world, which for some years has allowed a huge leap forward of this technology. In short, Bert is the reason why if the user searches for the word “ moon ” (moon ) the results will also return content that includes the adjective “ lunar ” (lunar ) instead of - for example - the drummer's name of the Who (Keith Moon).

And Bert is one of the components of the software being developed at the Viminale, which among other things will allow you to search for terms, names, places or dates by inserting them in the right context and providing information faster than otherwise they would remain trapped in a mass of data that is difficult to explore. “ No one has ever specifically applied models of this kind in an investigative context, moreover as specific and peculiar as that of the 'Ndrangheta - continues Bui -. Training a network to understand a phenomenon that is very complex in itself means first of all understanding the phenomenon, then you have to make the network understand it".

At that point, intuition and investigative experience are sufficient to bring out from a mass of data inform a trace that can be followed to promptly activate an observation service or an interception. “ Some events may not even be of a criminal nature - adds Bui - Such as the movement of people of interest who move for a birthday or on a specific date, which allows us to know about any important anniversaries and to infer what could happen in the future to the occurrence of such dates".

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The map of mafia power

Rizzi explains to sportsgaming.win that the software project to support I-Can “ arises from two conditions . The first is that over time we have witnessed a colonization abroad of the 'Ndrangheta. There are about 40 countries in the world where the 'Ndrangheta has a structural presence with characters of criminal importance ".

“ The second - continues the prefect - is that the international operations room, the hub that collects all the information from the world, processes 700 messages a day, against 400 from Interpol ”.

In fact, Italy investigates the gangs by exchanging information on the basis of bilateral agreements, such as the one with the Congo. Hence the idea of ​​transforming "very fragmented data into explorable data, reduced from 3-400 basic categories to some macro-categories", says Rizzi. And through these data trace and anticipate the expansion of the 'Ndrangheta. That seems unstoppable for the moment.

According to the latest Dia report, “ the 'Ndrangheta is present in Girona and in the province of Madrid, in Murcia and in Catalonia ” . And “ exponents of the 'Ndrangheta, initially established in Liguria, moved to the French Riviera, seen as a natural continuity along the coast of the Ligurian Sea, settling in cities such as Nice, Menton, Cannes, where there is currently a second generation of mafiosi Calabrians ”. And again the United Kingdom, “attracted by the ease of laundering money offered by the Anglo-Saxon economic and legal system”.

Belgium is useful for the role that the port of Antwerp can play in drug trafficking from South America. As well as Holland, where the 'Ndrangheta " is mainly dedicated to activities related to drug trafficking and money laundering ". And again Germany, Austria, Albania, Slovakia to stay in Europe. In Canada, “in Toronto, the 'ndrangheta would operate through structures of an intermediate nature with coordination and supervision functions, such as the “commission” or “control chamber”. These structures, despite the indissoluble link with the province of Reggio Calabria, would have greater autonomy than in the past ”, then Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil. And Australia, where it is believed there is a local structure that is a copy of the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta.

" The 'Ndrangheta is not an Italian problem but a global one - observes Giovanni Bombardieri, Public Prosecutor of Reggio Calabria -. He has hired the best professionals to infiltrate the legal economies through the proceeds of illicit activities, he dialogues and does business with the most dangerous criminal cartels around the world".

It is no coincidence that I-Can sees all the countries most affected sitting at the table. “The I-Can project is aimed at making people understand the danger of the mafia threat, which Italy has paid for at a very high cost - says Rizzi - because in the jurisdictions of many countries there is no specific provision against the mafia ”.

Prefect Vittorio Rizzi  ANDRE PAIN/AFP via Getty Images


For Bombardieri, “until recently, international police cooperation was implemented only in the final stage of the investigation, in the execution of arrests and in the capture of fugitives. Today, coordination takes place much earlier because the investigations need to be carried out simultaneously in the various countries of the world".

The alliance against the 'Ndrangheta is bearing fruit. The most striking case is that of Rocco Morabito, arrested in Brazil on May 25, 2021 and extradited to Italy last July. Morabito was for years one of the wanted men at the top of the Italian law enforcement agenda, as he is considered one of the kings of drug trafficking. In Italy, he must serve a definitive sentence of 30 years in prison.

In the first twelve months of activity alone, I-Can made it possible to arrest 14 fugitives from the 'Ndrangheta, in Albania, Argentina, Costa Rica, Santo Domingo, Switzerland, Canada, Spain, Portugal and Brazil. Handcuffs have also been released for Vincenzo Pasquino, who is also on the Viminale's most wanted list.

Robot investigator

The project for an analytical software to track down 'Ndrangheta it's the only technology Italian law enforcement is looking to, to win the war on organized crime. This is demonstrated by the archival data of the Internal Security Fund (a financing channel of the Interior Ministry) for the years 2014-2020. At the time, the Anti-Mafia Investigation Directorate had already shown interest in the acquisition or creation of systems for the prevention of mafia criminal phenomena.

As can be read among the proposals published on the site, in 2018 it had received funding of more than 2 million euros (of which 996,470 euros provided by the State) to make "the investigative action faster and more effective ”, also through the acquisition of “ technologies for the implementation and creation of IT systems aimed at analyzing social media ” which will then be integrated with Dia's internal and external databases. Today it appears that less than half a million euros of the planned funding has been disbursed. The latest purchase linked to the project includes 52 video editing workstations and 4 workstations for the "creation of a machine learning system".

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