Day 1 Keynote: Strategies behind international journalism collaborations
4:30PM Jun 20, 2023
So with that I would love to welcome our first keynote to the stage. So we have a series of three keynotes this morning looking at international, national and local collaborations and so I'm honored to first welcome to the stage Fergus she'll of the International Consortium of Investigative journalist Kevin Hall of the organized crime and corruption reporting project, and our host and Brianna Lee of central Desi in Jersey. So come on up, welcome.
Hello, okay. Welcome, everyone. Welcome to the 2023 Collaborative journalism Summit. This is the first time the summit is being held in Washington, DC. And I think it's only appropriate given that we are sitting in this incredible seat of power for us to start the session with these two gentlemen and the work that they do to hold that power to account.
Fergus Shiel to my left is managing editor of The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. He's overseen the biggest investigative journalism collaborations in the world. Before that, he was the editor of the tablet edition of the age the newspaper in Melbourne, Australia. I tried to practice my pronunciation of Melbourne before I got here.
Very good, well done.
And then Kevin Hall is the North America editor of the organized crime and corruption reporting project. Again, Kevin joined OCCRP in 2021. He oversees the organization's investigations in the US, Mexico and Canada. And he's a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who worked at McClatchy Miami Herald The Journal of Commerce and UPI. So, as I mentioned, you know, the work that they do is incredibly important on a global scale. And I would say arguably, that these gentlemen in the organizations that they work for are behind the most impactful collaborations on the planet. From the Panama Panama Papers, defensin files, Pandora papers, just to name a few. These investigations have caused top politicians to be impeached to lose elections, countries to change their laws, launch investigations, and financial institutions to face greater scrutiny and accountability for the covert monetary monetary traffic that, you know, occurs around the world and continues to to this day. And when we talk about collaborations on a global scale, we're talking about massive collaborations. So the Pandora papers included 151 media organizations, 600 journalists working in 177 countries, oversight overseen by ici j. So we get to learn a little bit today about how you do collaboration at that scale. And it's an incredible opportunity. When I was doing a little background research on this, I was really excited to see that USAID after the Pandora papers came out wrote an 84 page report on Kleptocracy, and there were some really juicy quotes for us journalists in there. So one of the things that the report said was that supporting investigative journalism is often the single best possible investment in the development of a country beset by repressive kleptocracy. Like, how cool is that right? independent reporting that reveals the truth about corruption provides crucial information and motivation that citizens and authorities need in order to make government serve the people. And the report also references the collaboration between these organizations and the other media organizations that were part of that. It says that while newsrooms traditionally guard their scoops from competing journalists, collaborators on iCj projects, radically share findings with each other over secure channels to build on each other's work before publishing. So I kind of want to start there and ask you Fergus is collaborating, collaborating in this way, radical?
I think in philosophically it is sort of appends the traditional journalism model of hoarding information to yourself in in the pursuit of a scoop, what we do is completely the opposite. We work together for months or years, in order to ensure every piece of information that we come up with to produce the best stories.
So that I mean that is a radical departure from the tradition. The second thing is, the benefit of it rather is is is is substantial, not only in terms of impact, because if you want to change the world and ici J's motto is stories that rocked the world and our intention with every project we do is to change the world and with Pandora papers We helped to produce the enablers Act, which is going to transform the whole money laundering sphere with FinCEN files we helped with the Transparency Act, which is similarly is going to transform it would literally transform the world and transform the way money moves around the world and who has to account for that money moving around the world. What we set out to do is to examine broken systems, to show how those systems can be improved for the benefit of the world. But we don't, for a moment, contemplate that we can do it alone. So the huge benefit of collaboration the massive the impulse for is the impetus for is that reporters in their own countries have the best knowledge of their own countries. So we cannot tell somebody like Ignace in in Benin, what the what, what? What matters in Vinay, and or Guillermo and Iroquois. What matters in in, in Uruguay or Pavla. In the Czech Republic, we don't for a moment presume that we know as much about Brazil, or Ireland or New Zealand as the people who are living there. And that's why collaboration matters so much to us.
Yeah, and Kevin, I should mention, a shares that 2017 Pulitzer Prize as the lead us partner in the Panama Papers, the earth shattering, I would say Panama Papers. And Kevin, would work like that even be possible without collaboration.
Absolutely not. And since this, was the crossfire stage, am I supposed to throw something insulting at ICI je now and take a dialogue from there?
No, I mean, we're collaborators, not fighters. It's funny kind of the evolution since the Panama Papers when I think the Panama Papers broke the mold, I think, similar events that have done with this with Fergus, his predecessors, they had always said, you know, the lone wolf models that he described that, you know, one person has all the information, you can't do that with Panama Papers, correct me if I'm wrong, I thought at 1.7 terabytes of data around there, it would have taken you more than a lifetime to read every document in there. We're on a project right now that I can't discuss. But I can tell you, it's five terabytes. So it's rough almost three times the size. Imagine navigating something like that two or three people you can't. So you make partners, ICFJ and OCCRP have many of the same partners around the world. You know, they're the established newspapers in Europe and Africa and South America. And it's a, it's a growing pool, but a pool fairly limited of people who specialize in this, and then we all collaborate together. And then the idea is you can't do this stuff by yourself, you need other eyes who know their own countries, and regions better, we all put out a better product as a result of that. In my case, here in North America, my job is to try to find smaller news organizations and try to pull them into our international network is a little distinct from what Fergus does was more internationally focused, I think we're trying to give a little more outreach to smaller outlets, say in Utah or buffalo or places like that and connect them to our global network, we have a proprietary database that allows anybody who joins it, and a lot of you are free to join it as a whole free component that is not unlimited access. But it's access to most of the important databases, where you can go in and see if your your guy locally might have a an offshore some of the our data points to Nicaea. JS to databases. And they're just a lot of ways now that you can connect a small town and Canada, United States to the global corruption network and find out real details. And that's kind of exciting and would have been impossible without the Panama Papers.
Let's talk about how that works. And you know, we have a lot of collaborators here in the audience. And maybe they're not used to collaborating at your scale, but definitely experts in that. So I think it would be helpful to hear kind of what role you play. And maybe you can talk about that in the lens of some of these important collaborations that you've done recently.
Kevin makes a very good point. The collaboration overcomes the tyranny of distance during the of language, and tyranny of complexity. So collaboration, is it on a grand scale, like the projects that we do is the way to do it is really simple. It seems complex from the outside, but it's really simple. So I'll check Pandora papers, for example, we have 11 point 9 million documents. So what you do at 11 Point 9 million documents, how can you possibly sift 11 point 9 million documents when you're an organization and iCj has case that's 100 times smaller than the New York Times? So the obvious way to do it is to initially troll those to find out which countries they impact upon. And so the very first thing we do is we see which countries we need to reach out to. The second thing we do is we store the documents in a way that people can access them around the world. I see today is slightly odd in that we're almost a data company, almost an IT company and a journalism company at the same time. So we have the capacity to store we, at the moment, we have something like 100 million documents in our system. And, and the great advantage that we have is that people can read all those documents at the same time, so people can come around from all across the world, and fish in those documents 24/7. So the first thing I would say to you is, if you want to do collaboration, and it's based on documents, find out you have a really simple way that people can read those documents around the clock, that it doesn't have to be complicated. It could be a Google Drive, or it could be but something that every again, everyone can access at the same time. The second thing that you need, and again, it's it's not rocket science, it's really simple. It's just somewhere where people can work. And then that could be a Facebook page. If you don't have a complicated internal system, you know, where people can work, share their information, set up a Facebook page and let them work there, make it a closed page, and then people can use it. So there you have two advantages. One is that people can read the data all the time, and can work all the time and can share information all the time. The third one is you want confidential communications, so WhatsApp or signal or good Telegram, so that you can send messages that nobody is going to read. And then lastly, there's the most important thing is you need a network of collaborators that you trust. In our case, we are we have the great fortune, good fortune that we've built up a network over the last 20 years. In the last three weeks, I started a projects, and I think I brought on about 100 reporters in 26 countries. And it took me two and a half weeks. And that is because I can ring them. They know who I am, they trust me. So without trust, you can't do anything with trust, you can change the world.
Along along the lines, and we have our own model too. And both of our models, I think, are a little more altruistic, right, ours is takes a network to fight network. And these criminal gangs and corruption have criminal networks. And we try to organize journalists in a like minded way to kind of combat them one on one like that. A little different than all the news fit to print, which seems a little old now given the history of the Iraq War and all that and sitting on information for a book that the public should have known. So with that, dig aside, you know, we're, we're voluntary nonprofits, I got in trouble with my old employer for making that joke up in Canada one saying I work for involuntary nonprofit. And it got back to the CEO, he didn't find it so funny. But we are by design nonprofit organizations. And one of the things that maybe we're a little different from ICI J. And we do get some of the same funding, but we also do a lot of grant funding for specific topical areas. So whether it's, you know, somewhere in Moldova, or tobacco or you know, range of things, so we do a lot of specialized reporting, that's somewhat grant driven. And then we have the broader anti corruption initiatives, but in our our focus is narrowly on crime and corruption. So we want where a conventional media organization wants eyeballs and how many hits did you get on this page? Which, of course, we welcome that too. But our mission, we're judged by whether or not the reporting leads to an action, right? Can Can a prosecutor come in and bring a case? Can someone do a Magnitsky filing can transparency, you know, bring something in London or here in the US. So that's a little bit of a different way of doing business. And then the challenge now, in my sense, here in the North, in North America, one of the things people think is crazy when I say it, is that corruption is legal in the United States, right? So think about what we've just seen with a Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas is travel, that would be considered corruption and almost anywhere else in the world. It's not in the United States. It's part of a process and the dark money and things of that. And I don't mean this in some sort of radical way. It's just matter of fact, a lot of things that would be treated as subversive or non transparent, and the rest of the world is legal here in the United States. And it's why the US doesn't do well on the transparency rankings, or does more poorly than you'd suspect in the transparency ranking. So little off topic, but Oh,
that's so interesting. And it reminds me when I was reading about the Pandora papers that it said that on your website that the US itself is a tax haven And, you know, I think when we think about tax havens, we think about far flung islands and places like that. But it's so interesting to learn that even in the US, you know, so many of these loopholes exist. So we talked a little bit about both organizations, you also work closely together on a lot of investigations. So what does that collaboration between organizations look like? And how do you, how does that get initiated? And how does it play out?
So it's probably best to give you an example. Two examples, maybe first one, China cables, we did a project that uncovered the foundations for the Uighur camps. It was we had the first telegrams showing, showing the way that the Chinese were using apps to detain 1000s of people's and funneled 10s of 1000s of Uyghurs and funneled them into camps, and that they were detaining them involuntarily, and, and it was everything that you feared about the camps. And the difference between what we were reporting and what had been reported before it was, was that it was all in the Chinese government's own words. So if you get such documents, and there are very few documents there, so it wasn't a Pandora papers, there was in Pandora papers that said it was 11 point 9 million records in China cables, it was five telegrams and one separate document. So it was tiny, you know, you could fit it in a in a folder, and it sat under my bed for for quite a while. As I worried about the Chinese government coming to visit me, the so the thing there, so you have these Chinese documents, you have to work out, what are you going to do with them? Firstly, you have to make sure that they are what they what you think they are, because if they're not what you think they are, you're in deep trouble. You know, if for a moment you get it wrong, if you get it wrong, that's your that's your reputation go on. If your reputation is gone, you don't get it back. It's all over over. So for an organization like us, we take on oligarchs and oligarchies and kings and presidents and prime ministers, we've toppled I don't know four prime ministers, we've discomforted a king, several kings, we've, you know, had more than, you know, I think something like 1.4 $1.5 billion, returned to Exchequer is because of the Panama Papers alone, we've taken on some of the biggest criminals in the world, the biggest Ponzi Ponzi schemers in the world. And so in order to, in order to do that, you have to get it right. If you don't get it right, you're in deep trouble. So what you have to do, then, going back to China documents, is you have to select your partners cautiously, because you know that when you're doing, you're going to have to work confidentially, she cannot suggest to select a partner to work with you on that, unless you know that they are trustworthy, and that they are not going to leak the documents or go to the Chinese government or, you know, committed some other faux pas. And so what we did, simply very simply, in that case, was we went around the world, I went around the world, and contract contracted, I think it was about 28 media organizations that's had speciality in China. That's so when you do each project is different. So you don't have to have the same partners in each project. But you do have to, you have to base it on geography, language, and expertise. And in the case of the China cables, we need people who could speak Chinese who had seen Chinese documents before because we had to work out if they were the real thing, and could handle them in a sensitively sensitive way that didn't endanger our sources. And that didn't spook the Chinese government too early. And I think that kind of sums up each and every project. If you have a project, it's bad Africa, you obviously need African expertise. And this is with OCCRP, where we have the great privilege of working with OCCRP because one of the things that obviously our CRP is expert down is Eastern Europe. We have some expertise in Eastern Europe. But OCCRP is expertise. It goes beyond ours. And also places like Turkmenistan, and his Pakistan. OCCRP is absolutely brilliant on and their new boss is gone when it comes to those countries.
I'll take that as a cue to say nice things about Miranda, the true Drake who is our new top editor and she has come up from within OCC RP OCC. RP was founded almost 16 years ago in Bosnia. It had focused originally on the Balkans and To a lesser extent, and more recently, under her leadership on the stands, you know, Central, we call it a Eurasia I guess more broadly than the former Soviet republics has been our strong point. But we've expanded pretty aggressively into Latin America. But Russia is Russia and its environments continue to be our strongest suit. As Fergus has mentioned, we are on the organizations of persona non grata, which is more than just non grata nowadays, with how Putin's behavior has changed towards journalists. So security is a real issue. And both of our organizations, China is is a massive story waiting to be tell told, and I think all of us news organizations, both profit, for profit, and nonprofit are all in the same boat of trying to figure out how to staff up how to find Mandarin speakers. Security is a real issue, one of the kids I was at a Columbia University workshop with prospective journalists and the kid who I thought would have been just a slam dunk for us a perfect fit, really bright kid was worried about his family back home, he had no intent of going back to intention is going back to China, but the reality that association with us could harm his family. Those are real things that we have to deal with on a day in day out. The Times in the post have to deal with it with their translators and staffers and things of that sort. But, but Miranda's is fearless. And I think she's a perfect leader. We, we have grown. Like many organizations that grow quickly, you know, you're struggling to kind of keep the trains running on time, because we've grown so much we have about reputation to follow up on Ferguson's point, you know, the old takes years to build a reputation minutes to lose it. And I think there's a lot of truth to that we have a pretty rigorous fact checking process as they do, we both do a lot of footnoting, we tend to be longer, much longer stories that go into detail, because of the idea that we're going to bring someone behind us to have judicial action. So we're a newspaper might focus more on a narrative form, I think both of us organizations try to get as much information out in a story as well, because there are a lot of elements that would go into a prosecution or human rights investigation, and things of the sort. But I like to joke that our fact checking process is like a colonoscopy without anesthesia. So it's unlike a conventional newsroom process is very, very rigorous.
I can imagine and there's I hear both of you talking about how important trust is and how they're very serious risks involved, you know, in the work that you do, and in the people who collaborate with you, especially those that are in country, face a lot of backlash, you know, when when the people in power are being told them, you know, that their secrets are getting out. So how do you manage that piece of it the legal and kind of the safety concerns that all your collaborative collaborators kind of share with you when you work on these investigations?
Thanks for that metaphor, Kevin. So, yeah, it is it is Amblin. It's, it's it constant worry. So with China cables, we had somebody who was arrested in Beijing in the middle of the project, and we delayed the project until they got out of jail. Because we didn't know if they had been arrested because of us or not. So that's one example with Pandora papers. Many of our colleagues, both our colleagues in Russia, fled the country. So just before Pandora papers came edge AI stories, which is run by Roman shelana. And Roman and Ian, who are good colleagues of ours, did a story. That was a preamble to the Pandora papers. They knew that when that story went there, that they would be at risk. Sure enough, they were at risk, and so 16 of them fled Russia in one weekend, with the assistance of OCCRP and ourselves and others. And they aren't they haven't gotten back. They're not back in Russia yet. Hopefully, they will be one day. And this goes on all around the world. So we have Venezuelan reporters who are in Miami, northern Venezuela. We have Nicaraguan reporters who are in Costa Rica and not in Nicaragua. With each and every project we do. Sadly, very sadly, you see, the, you know, essentially the forced migration of reporters from their own countries to others. You'll also see another thing that's two other things that are alarming. One is news organizations that have worked with us refusing to publish their stories that they've done a waitress. So we saw that in Panama, where the Panamanian partners worked for two years on Pandora papers, and then it's her own publication refused to publish it. So that was really disconcerting. And she's now left that publication. We're not going to work with that publication again. And the stories, this is the great thing about collaboration, those stories were published elsewhere. stories that weren't published in Bolivia, were published next door to in Peru and elsewhere, stories that couldn't go out and Liberia went out and Ghana. So collaboration is is is, it's like a heat shield. It protects reporters, enables them, allows you to do more complex work. And it allows you to do one other thing, which is really striking and which you don't think about law. So you most of you here if you've know anything about Australia, I lived there a long time for four years, or Ireland where I'm from, you think they're sort of Western democracies, they got, you know, they've got the rule of law. They've got good. They've got good newspapers. But what you won't appreciate is that both there, and in UK, there are these brutal libel laws, just those two, they're just they're so so depressingly restrictive. That story after story doesn't get published. Publications literally can't publish the truth. Because they will, they will be, they will be sued, and they'll lose and the great advantage of collaboration, and this I think, can work anywhere, the greater ventures collaboration is that allows you to get past libel laws to because you can publish a story about Australia, in America, and then you can bypass the libel laws.
That's incredible. You would think that I planted that question, but you heard it collaborate. Collaboration is the antidote in this environment. Go ahead, Kevin.
Yeah, I want to add, I guess, this might be a good place to segue to the slap slides, too. But the we have a movie out right now. We have a documentary division. And we actually have a documentary out called the killing of a journalist, which was our Slovakian reporter on Kubrick. I believe he worked with you guys too, right? Yeah, yeah.
Yeah, that was great. John pablor, we were took out, we brought down the Czech Prime Minister with Pavel.
So we, you know, it commemorates now five years since the pet his passing, the businessman who is widely believed to have killed him managed to just get off, notwithstanding the pressure from the movie and the international attention. But these are front and center risks is the point I'm trying to make that it really is in the Panama Papers in the aftermath, we know the story of Daphne Khurana. And that terrible in that she met Malta, and these are very real, real dangers. And then recently, our Africa, bureau chief at a South Africa had to help I believe it was in Botswana, one of our guys had a 24 hour notice that he was going to be killed. And we had to get him and his entire family across the river and out of the country. I believe in Congo, actually. And quite a harrowing event as well. So it's not the kind of daily hassles you have in a newsroom about, you know, did I get a parking ticket or something? I mean, it's real serious in the original question on security, it's on the front end of every conversation we have. So when we get in a big project, we don't wait to like the very end to think okay, now, are we gonna get people out of the country? What are we going to do? It's on the front end of the planning, because so much of this stuff really is life or death type reporting.
Yeah, I mean, when you think about young kids, Yeah, cuz you should see, obviously CRP film. It's really chilling. It's amazing. It's, it's, it's corruption. And it's what you don't think of corruption. You don't think the police chief is going to be corrupt. You don't think the lawyers are going to be corrupt, you don't think the judge is going to be corrupt. But when you see it in action, you see how Jack Yan died, a young reporter and his and his girlfriend shot dead by assassins. You can see corruption before your very eyes in a visceral way, in a western democracy, and it's same with Daphne Caruana. Galizia, whose son Matthew was worked with Edward ICFJ. For years. You can see you know, Malta, you know, a beautiful Mediterranean island in Europe. Again, you don't you don't presume that corruption is endemic. But it was. And this is why the work that OCCRP does and the work that ICI J does is so important because, you know, to use a whoreo cliche, shining alarm, light and dark places is often the only the only thing you can do in the face of manifest evil that is enabled by the entire structure of government.
I want to allow everybody to ask questions if you have Then please just line up at the microphone in the center. And we'll just start taking those questions. And while people do queue up onto the slides, I think Joe will do his best I can see him up there. Okay,
great, because this is something that is relevant to what they do day in and day out.
Yep. This. So next slide is, is there a specific one, Kevin, let's just keep going until we get caught. Just go through them slowly. Okay. And I just want to ask, you know, for everybody that's in the room, you know, if they want to get involved in some of these kind of mass scale collaborations and investigations, what is kind of the way to get started? Is it just reaching out to organizations? Or is there anything they can do to kind of start to investigate what's going on in their local towns? And?
Yeah, I guess the answer I'm doing is a, to do what matters most to you. So I mean, I really don't see a huge benefit to somebody in Utah working with ici je, it's just doesn't make sense, unless there is a particular angle that stretches beyond Utah. I think what really matters now is that everyone does journalism that matters for their own communities, it's essential, I can't deal with this whole parts of the United States that don't have any journalism anymore. And then this is this is staying in parts of Australia. Now that does no journalism. So if you're getting up every day, and doing work in your stage, and collaborating with people in towns near you, that is a far more importance and significance to the world than what we do it is in your world, it's really vital that you keep the flame alive in your towns and your cities and your states. If, if your what you're seeing goes beyond your stage, that's great, then you can collaborate with the next stage. If it goes internationally, then of course, please call us. If you have a data set that you think crosses borders, if you feel that there is work that can be done, to shine a light in your area that don't reaches across the world, to an offshore jurisdiction, or to, you know, a faulty medical implant or whatever, please call us they will we talk to people all the time I talked to, I don't know, five or six people a week. And typically what we do is we we ask, whoever it is, what the story is, and then we try to help we try to help I tried to help I say, Well, this story isn't for us. But it might be for your neighbor, this story isn't for us. But it might be for The Washington Post this story. This is how you do this story, this is what I would suggest you do. So I'm always happy to chat to reporters around the world, around the country and around the world. But, you know, genuinely I feel that the state of journalism, journalism is in such a perilous state, that if you're just getting up every day, and you're doing it, you deserve rich, congratulations.
And here's the good news and all that and keep us on the speed dial. And it's okay, if you put us right ahead of Isaiah j and the speed I don't know. But we'll. But in all seriousness, we both refer people to each other regularly. And the same thing if it's something that we think we can't handle, but somebody else is a better fit, ProPublica or a cyber publication or whatever. We all do that every day, what I wanted to briefly mention, the slides aren't showing up there. So we'll just do it this way. Everybody know what a strategic slap is a strategic lawsuit against public participation. We've got dozens of suits against our people all around the world, they're never going to win, the idea is to inflict pain costs, etc. So we've launched a new initiative, where we have something called a reporter shield, and it's a new nonprofit here in the United States. And it's, we provide it's kind of a form of self insurance so that smaller media outlets in the US and abroad can insure themselves against these and get a measure of legal protection. We have that work with Osiris fans center up in New York. And among the took some notes just in case the slides didn't go up there. So basically, what you need to do to be eligible, you need to be legally registered, you need to have nonprofit status, voluntary nonprofit, and be independent of political influence and clear lines between editorial lysing and reporting. So we're not going to back you up if you're, you know, a hate group, you know, pushing some idea or whatever. But for legitimate news organizations, smaller news organizations, particularly in Latin America, and Eastern Europe, but here in the United States as well, because the Aspen is anybody here from Aspen? The audience here, the Ask Spin paper was nearly shut down on a lawsuit from a Russian who was upset about the use of the name word oligarchy associated with his name. And pretty much bankrupted this, this publication forced out all the editorial leadership. So these the these kinds of things contributed to the idea of creating this this mechanism of self funding. We're a nonprofit, I believe it's either Maine or Vermont, where the USA ID helps fund some of this for the non US companies who media outlets, we're trying to get a measure of protection. And we have private donors for the US component. But if you're a US Publication, and you're being threatened with these nuisance suits that are trying to bleed you talk to us because we the whole idea is to provide this measure of protection, because it's very easy to bankrupt a news outlet these days.
That's great. I think I saw somebody stand up and sit back down. So if you have a question, please come forward. And you can ask it.
I was curious to hear more about how you do trust building because I think about like I work in a mid sized local nonprofit newsroom. And if I want to collaborate with another newsroom on the other side of town, like I got to build some trust, and I speak the same language they do. And we can go have lunch in person. But like you find out you've got some story and you need a journalist in Mogadishu. How do you start building trust with someone who is you know, a total unknown to you like that.
So firstly, we train them. So that's the first thing so we train them in our systems. And then once people are trained, they have expectation from the outset, we have very limited, or we don't expect a lot of people except for that they publish at the same time and they publish ethically. So that's it so that we don't interfere in people's editorial direction. But what we can do, and we're in this great good fortune is it's not it's not a it's not a one night stand. It's a long term relationship, you know, and in the same way, as in a long term relationship, you build trust, as you wouldn't anyone else around you can. So we we work together privately in something called the eye hub, which is not unlike Facebook, but it's our own, and over months. And so you can see immediately, if somebody is working, you can see if they're working in a way that makes sense. Or if they you know, some of their concepts are off beam. And you can chat to them. But But I would say in relation to trust that we've been immensely fortunate, and I can only think of two instances where it was went wrong. So it's three instances. So one was where a corporate intelligence guy got access to the BBC to a BBC team, and tried to work on an on an offshore project and was booted out after 15 days because he was wrong. So that was it. He was he was planning to sell our documents. That was one. The second one was were reporter a reporter handed over some of our documents to a lawyer that was an advocacy lawyer. So it wasn't critical. It wasn't egregious, but it still was beyond the pale as far as we're, we were concerned, it was not acceptable. So that was the second. And the third one, which was very, very, very annoying was somebody published a rival project a week out from one of our projects and didn't tell us and as a consequence of that, we have not worked with them again.
Touch on the first part of your question, and it's how do you how do you vet people, for instance, I had an example recently of someone who I had worked with in the past for quite a while, who I thought was was more like a blogger wasn't a formal publication, but was a researcher slash blogger type. Very good had actually given me information that turned into some award winning series when I was still at the Miami Herald. And as I went to bring this person into a broader project, I had to do a little more due diligence on them. And at that point, I found had ties to a political family back home. And even though this person wasn't part of that, it was enough appearance does matter. And you know, oftentimes perception is more important than reality. And we just thought it just wasn't worth the read. risk of being accused of having a political influence or political axe to grind. So that would be a case, we do vetting. But what we, what we do is try to establish beforehand, we hope to have relationships. So like I said, this ally, if you go to our website, occrp.org, think of it as oh crap without the A. And our name is an accusation. So if you get a call from us in a worry. But in all seriousness, this Alef is our database, we can think of it as you know, you got a tip of the iceberg where everything underneath the iceberg, whether it's California corporate records, or Luxembourg DATA register business Registry, or the French Land Records, we've got a whole range is massive amount of data there. And that's open to journalists of all sorts, you don't have to be collaborating with us in a project to get access to this. So I would encourage you to go to the website, fill out the form and get access to LF ici je publishes a stripped down version of the same of their data to the reason neither of us put out just raw form, here's all our data is because it has social security numbers, passports, you don't want to be the guy who gave somebody an address, home address or someone who you know, a rival goes and offs them over that, you know, somebody breaks into the house and holds them hostage or some horrible thing like that. So we're all very sensitive, this is sensitive information. And oftentimes, we can't share an actual document, we might be able to tell you a little bit about it. But one of the reasons why you have to be real careful with these documents. And iCj does a really good job of patrolling this is if I give you a document, and then you use it in a lawsuit, and I've never written about it, it's not a document that became a journalism journalist product, then that's open to discovery. And that can you can get iCj or US pulled into some other lawsuit. So we limit the access to documents to people who are using it for journalistic purposes. And that's that's a real sensitive issue. But we work with a lot of interesting people. One great collaboration we did recently, there was a seafood publication at a London real bright guy ran a seafood industry type publication, not the kind of normal thing we would collaborate with. But they had information on a Russian macro off in Jackson, Florida, who has massive real estate holdings around the world was a champion cycler for the Soviet Union before the collapse. We helped him and Fergus kindly allowed us to share documents with them, and through two organizations together helped him do a really powerful story that ended up resulting down the road in Australia and some other countries imposing sanctions on the guy that us hasn't, but other countries have. And that's the kind of collaboration where we couldn't have just given somebody a document, because we're not involved, and we run the risk of being sued. So it's got to be a journalistic project.
I imagine that's the hardest part of the job is figuring out who you trust, how you how you manage, you know, trust, how you manage the information that you have. We are about to wrap up. If if there's a last question, we can take that
he has given this the size of the databases that you have in place, I'm wondering what role AI might play in helping to sort through the material.
I'm so glad you asked that, that I had that on my list and really want to test to your new collaborator AI. Tell us about that.
We do use AI, it's a minute. We'll use it for set functions. One thing that helps is Kevin mentioned passports when you have a large amount of documents. The very vital first task is to make sure that the person that you're identifying is the person that you say there. This may sound simple, but it's really not simple, because you can get things very badly wrong by having a Mr. Say mal after the F the oligarch and a Mr. Mallya who is a taxi driver in Moscow and mixing them up. You know, it's just it's, it's absolutely treacherous to there are countries in the world which absolutely, you know, at the forefront of our mind all the time because their names are so similar that they they throw up this issue so Middle Eastern names there's so many people share the same name so many Muhammad's in Russia have the same thing. And China, it's absolutely perilous to get it wrong. And so what AI can do is go through these documents and and throw up the passports for people and once you have the passport related to the offshore company in Oh, it's the right person. Once you know it's the right person, you're almost there. And so that that is this kind of task that I can do very simply which we can't. But AI is a double edged sword AI could bring to its knees, the whole journalism project. And if I was a young reporter, I would be worried about AI. Because AI can do things like cover sports, and cover canceled, you know, cover lots of things that young reporters do to train themselves on. AI can do instantly, and you're already seeing copy editors and others lose their job because of its I am not overwhelmingly enthused by AI.
Just briefly close by saying the Paul Rand who are co founder did his night fellowship on AI in the newsroom, little head of these get a jet GT and all that, but, but it's been front and center and our focus, and it's a double edged sword and re emphasize what Fergus said about the dangers of not knowing a name and the Panama Papers. We were working on a guy named Michael DelVecchio, if you remember. And it was kind of a middleman enabler. He was in Malta, he was in Mexico, he was in Spain. And he was a former Air Force guy with a specialty in ballistic missiles. Well, there was another Mikoto Vecchio, who spelled his name the same way he had the same middle name, and worked at Northrop Grumman had a bit of former CIA person. So for almost the entire project, we were working on an assumption that this is the guy who's the former CIA guy who's now doing, you know, a middleman and helping set up shell companies. And it turned out two guys with the exact same name, same fields roughly, and not the same guy. We caught it in time, but boy, that would have been
amazing. All right. Well, thank you all so much for being so attentive. Thank you, both of you for giving us your time today. Thank you. Thank you.