The Bottom Line Up Front

Exposing how state actors pursue national security objectives within licit systems of transportation, finance, and communications.

Increasingly, illicit actors act on behalf of States through non-military means that fall below the threshold of war. Called “gray zone operations,” these activities are often conducted throughout licit systems of trade, transportation, finance, and communications. To fly under the radar of traditional intelligence, “gray zone operations” are ambiguous and vary in scope and complexity, whether it’s registering a front company with a foreign passport or conducting sophisticated revenue operations through proxy forces across Africa and South America.

C4ADS examines how countries like China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia use sub-state networks to advance national security objectives within the commercial system. We leverage diverse sources of information such as corporate databases, maritime signals intelligence, port records, academic publications, and satellite data to accurately map the entangled networks driving state-sponsored illicit activity and find the exact actors driving malign behavior amid this complexity. By drawing on data from over 100 jurisdictions, we demonstrate how open source information can be used as an early indication of state conflict in the gray zone.


How a mysterious ship helps North Korea evade oil sanctions | Visual Investigations | New York Times