The hardest weapon to defuse
October 16, 2013 – In 2011, a small group of journalists and researchers from Italy, led by journalist Giovanni Augello and researcher Sandro Donati, author of studies on cocaine production and trafficking for the association Libera, monitored the global seizures of cocaine. The rest of the team consisted of Ilaria Roberta Sesana, Monica Caboi, Lorenzo Bagnoli and Christian Giorgio.
365 days, over 100 different sources. The monitoring was carried out daily, from January 1 to December 31, 2011. Information on cocaine seizures was collected from over 100 different sources. Media coverage was compared with official data issued by government agencies of countries most affected by trafficking. Throughout 2011, the team worked tirelessly, collecting data on more than 5,000 major drug operations that had led to significant cocaine seizures.
The record year of cocaine seizures. Analyzing the data, we estimated that cocaine seizures of high purity had totaled over 774 metric tons in 2011. After the record year of 2005, when 769 metric tons of cocaine were seized (according to UNODC data), seizures had kept a constantly lower level. In recent years, however, seizures started to steadily rise again: 708.782 metric tons in 2007, 727.174 in 2008, while the cocaine seized in 2009 amounted to 738.937 metric tons.
In addition to the 774 metric tons of cocaine seized in 2011, Narcoleaks also kept track of the drug sunk at sea or destroyed by narcos (about 21 metric tons); of coca leaves ready to be processed that had been discovered and destroyed by the police forces in clandestine drug laboratories in Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru (equivalent to 25-30 metric tons of cocaine) and, finally, of the amount of cocaine estimated by investigators performing judicial inquiries completed during the year in various countries and referable to 2011 (over 400 metric tons).
Methodology. Throughout 2011 we gathered information on cocaine seizures from news articles and official press releases. We only took into account the cocaine seizures above 10 kilograms. All dubious cases were discarded. Every single detail was checked (e.g. name, age, and origin of suspects arrested by the police forces; license plate, model, color of vehicles used in crime, etc.). We catalogued information on seizures that took place on ships, submarines, at airports and in many other different ways, without ever taking into account seizures of small quantities. In numerous cases, the dispatch confirmed the high purity of the cocaine seized. On many occasions, it was even possible to distinguish the sealed packages. We also contacted several experts to ask for their opinion.
Disagreement with official data. On December 7, 2011 our team published a press release to announce that the quantity of cocaine seized had surpassed the amount of cocaine produced. Our research showed, in fact, that data on the quantity of cocaine confiscated by police forces worldwide exceeded the U.S. and UN official estimates of cocaine production. This can only mean that cocaine production is underestimated by the international bodies. By December 31, in fact, cocaine seized during the year had exceeded 774 metric tons. The official reports by the U.S. State Department, instead, estimate the annual production to be about 700 metric tons. How can seized and destroyed cocaine exceed what is produced? Where is the mistake? In the press release, Narcoleaks also pointed out the existence of other inconsistencies in official data, and asked the U.S. President Barack Obama several questions, that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) publicly answered on its website. However, we were not persuaded by these official replies, and with another press release we refuted each and every point. No response came after our reply.
Obama’s responsibility. The first press release by Narcoleaks was titled ‘Obama’s lies about the international cocaine trade’. We don’t think that President Barack Obama has direct responsibility for managing the data, but we believe that he has the responsibility to control them and to make sure that they are true. Moreover, President Obama, as a member of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (SFRC), addressed in detail, in December 2005, the issue of counter drug trafficking, working to produce the official document ‘Plan Colombia: Elements for success’. President Obama knows what we are talking about, but despite everything he has continued to sign documents that tell a truth that has already been proved false by the collected data.
The objective of Narcoleaks. Since the beginning we knew that this was going to be an extraordinary challenge. We worked without retribution to prove a point: that governments worldwide are not doing enough to tackle the criminal economy. But also that, above all, they don’t want to do enough. We did this in a somehow original way. Cocaine is the illegal substance that generates the highest returns for worldwide mafias. It can be easily monitored, since its production is geographically circumscribed, and it has an enviable global market. The discovery of this inconsistency in the official data had the sole objective of contributing to truth about international drug trafficking. We don’t have financial sponsors. We didn’t take any position on the possibility of legalizing drugs. Ours was only a journalistic work.
Effects of our study. During the days when we released the results of our research, there was little attention from the media, despite the interest aroused in the White House offices. Some local media have covered the topic, but the combination of drug and mathematics has originated some sort of mental disconnect. However, since we have continued to work on the issue, we have noticed that the following annual reports released by the U.S. Department of State and by UNODC have undergone some changes that have made them hard to compare with those from previous years. Data on estimated production has essentially disappeared, or is difficult to calculate relying only on data provided by the reports.
No secrets. We didn’t break any rule, nor we did leak any classified document. To conduct our research, we didn’t look for any whistleblower. We only used our head and documents that are available to anyone. Nothing else. We haven’t received any award, or pat on the back, or compliment. Most of the journalists from big media outlets who contacted us vanished after asking their editor for permission. Nobody wants to set foot on this minefield, although we have always left the door open to anyone who was curious. We don’t rule out the possibility that our data can be wrong or not correct. However, to this day no one has proved us the opposite of what we showed. But moving this project forward has proved to be too onerous for young journalists like us. This is why we have decided, for the time being, to suspend the activities, until when we have the necessary strength to take up this matter again. Silence is the hardest weapon to defuse.
October 16, 2013