The Panama Papers, e-discovery … and a murder in the afternoon sun

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Daphne Caruana Galizia




18 October 2017 (Valetta, Malta) – Daphne Caruana Galizia died this past Monday afternoon when her car, a Peugeot 108, was destroyed by a powerful Semtex-driven explosive device which blew the vehicle and her body into several pieces and threw the debris across a nearby field. Based on the damage to the crumpled car, the distance the car was flung off the road, and the distance her body was thrown the investigators estimate the assassins used around half a kilo of the explosive. The 1988 Lockerbie bombing used a similar amount of the same explosive. This wasn’t just an execution: it was a statement.

My wife is Maltese and she knew Daphne well. We all did. I have known her work for years.

Daphne was a fearless reporter, taking on the rich and the powerful. She was very well known among journalists (the Guardian had once called her a “one-woman WikiLeaks”). She led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta. Her most recent revelations pointed the finger at Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, and two of his closest aides, connecting offshore companies linked to the three men with the sale of Maltese passports and hundreds of thousands of euros in payments from the government of Azerbaijan, plus many other nefarious deeds such as sweetheart real estate deals for the Russian oligarchs who have decamped to Malta – opening their own banks.


And yet, despite a judicial inquiry into all of these allegations, Muscat won a snap election this past summer. Joseph Muscat: his revoltingly self-assured smugness, his schoolyard fixer wiliness, his supreme confidence that any revelation, any catastrophe will do nothing to damage his reputation with his party and his supporters for as long as the money keeps flowing.

Daphne had a blog that attracted more readers than the combined circulation of the country’s 4 newspapers. She was a thorn in the side of both the establishment and the underworld figures that hold sway in Malta, Europe’s smallest member state. She was, quite simply, fighting for justice in a country of cardboard institutions. It wasn’t just an attack on freedom of expression. It was a planned military attack that took out a leader of free opinion.

NOTE: many of my readers know Malta and/or have visited, knowing it only as “a charming holiday destination“. Park that. Malta is witnessing an unconscionable level of corruption and malfeasance by a government whose actions are causing irreparable economic and social harm. Much like Herr Trump in America. But the execution of Daphne Caruana Galizia … it was an execution … I lay this at the feet of the Prime Minister and his corruption and the ambient violence that trails his entourage. As one writer in the Times of Malta put it “this was a clinical act of elimination which required logistics and money”. As an attorney, I have spent enough time on the dark side to know the hallmarks of organized crime which more often than not operates on different planes. 


She was the 10th journalist worldwide to be murdered this year – and the second in Europe – in pursuit of finding the truth. The assassination of an investigative journalist, one who had unearthed serious allegations of money laundering and corruption in Malta, speaks volumes about the threat to freedom of speech in that country and the atmosphere of impunity and violence that has taken hold. And it wasn’t an aberration. It was a culmination. Other attempts had been made on her life, other threats made.

What is striking about Daphne’s reporting is how rotten the state of Malta appears. The EU’s smallest country, with a population of around 420,000, Malta held the rotating European Union presidency until earlier this year. It has been labelled an EU “pirate tax haven”, helping multinationals avoid paying €14bn. But the darker side is the 15 mafia-style shootings and bombings that have punctuated its last decade. Its main industries have been infiltrated by crime gangs. Earlier this month Europol detailed how the Calabrian organised crime syndicate, the ‘Ndrangheta, ran a €2bn money-laundering operation through Maltese online betting companies. Internet gambling companies account for 10% of the island’s GDP.

But Malta’s big money-spinner has been selling EU passports to the rich. More than 900 bought citizenship in 2016, which at €650,000 a pop means that they contributed nearly 16% of Malta’s budget revenues. Since many were taken up by Eurasian oligarchs, one can understand the accusation that Daphne was up against not a democracy but a mafia state.


And it runs deep into Malta society. While Malta ignored Daphne’s warnings I can imagine many would say the rest of the world will never mind the little the Maltese get away with in the big and global scheme of things. But their greed overtook them and they dug too deep. A feeling of “well yes, there may be a bit of corruption, maybe even a lot, and there may be some criminal connections in high places and the institutions, and the rule of law may be going to the dogs – with cronies, and “persons of trust” positions for those on the inside. Oh, so what if some things get hushed up and some people have to leave the island in a hurry. Well, wasn’t there always corruption? And besides: the economy and I are both doing well, so why rock the boat? Why change things? Oh, perhaps later on down the road, yes, perhaps there will be a price to pay.”

Her son, Matthew Caruana Galizia, is a journalist and programmer who works for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). As most of you know it was Nuix that supplied the document processing and investigation technology that was essential to the Panama Papers investigation which was conducted by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and (ICIJ). Both he and his mother were intimate with the use of the Nuix technology.

BACKGROUND: Süddeutsche Zeitung received an anonymous leak of approximately 11.5 million documents, totaling 2.6 terabytes of data, detailing the activities of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which helped clients set up anonymous offshore companies. While these offshore entities are generally legal in the jurisdictions in which they are registered, the investigation revealed that some were allegedly used for unlawful purposes including sovereign and individual fraud, drug trafficking, and tax evasion. Süddeutsche Zeitung and ICIJ turned to Nuix software to process, index, and analyze the data. More than 400 journalists in 80 countries around the world then investigated the data before publishing the first set of results on April 4, 2016.

Over the last three years I have turned my attention more to “data journalism” and the ways e-discovery software can help.  Plus its use in an in-depth study I am doing of the Russian social media manipulation monster. Last month I was briefed on the mathematical models Russian agents used to spread their false news on social media networks, and details on the true extent of the “computational propaganda” at work. We even had the opportunity to see the Russian training manuals for corrupting social media. I am having that material translated into English, all part of a series of subsequent posts.

Data journalism is reinventing itself, and adapting for a world which is rapidly changing again. Where networked communications and processing power were key in the 2000s, automation and AI are becoming key in the decade to come. And just as data journalism raised the bar for journalism as a whole, the bar is about to be raised for data journalism itself. Now into its second decade, the technologies that it was built on (networked access to information and vastly improving visualisation capabilities) are now taken for granted, just as the “computer assisted” part of its antecedent “Computer Assisted Reporting” was.

NOTE: I first heard the term CAR not as “computer assisted review” but as Computer Assisted Reporting, a phrase that originated in the late 1960s.

CAR saw journalists using spreadsheet and database software to analyse datasets, but it also had important political and cultural dimensions too: firstly, the introduction of a Freedom of Information Act in the U.S. which made it possible to access more data than before; and secondly, the spread of social science methods into politics and journalism.

Data journalism, like CAR, had technological, political and cultural dimensions too. Where CAR had spreadsheets and databases, data journalism had APIs and datavis tools; where CAR had Freedom of Information, data journalism had a global open data movement; and where CAR acted as a trojan horse that brough social science methods into the newsroom, data journalism has brought “hacker” culture into publishing.

But much of the credit for the birth of data journalism lies outside of the news industry: often overlooked in histories of the form is the work of civic coders and information activists (in particular MySociety which was opening up political data and working with news organisations well before the term data journalism was coined), and technology companies (the APIs and tools of Yahoo! for example formed the basis of much of data journalism’s early experiments).

And, of course … e-discovery software.  Its use to support investigative reporting is now common because it allows journalists the ability to analyze large data sets quickly and accurately. More and more reporters are trawling documents – whether emails, text messages, or files – to uncover the stories within. This is much the same process attorneys go through while building a case. Finding key documents and weaving them into a story is what sophisticated e-discovery was designed for.

And while ediscovery software isn’t new, until recently it’s been hard to use except for those with specialized training. Plus, users often needed to ship the data to a third party for uploading – a non-starter for reporters on tight deadlines. Not to mention the technology was slow and at times inaccurate – hardly what you need when you’re not sure what you’re looking for. But that has changed. There are many e-discovery vendors to choose from, although Nuix would be my first choice. Plus you really need to learn Python to slice through databases.

So where do we look for data journalism’s next wave of change? We need to look – again – outside news organizations to see changes in two areas in particular: on the technical side, an increasing use of automation, from algorithms and artificial intelligence to bots. On the political side, a retreat from open data and transparency while governmental organizations take on an increasingly role in policing citizens’ behavior and information.

And that, in a way, what Daphne was all about. Getting the truth out. I have been too much of a cynic. Daphne felt she could really change things.  Her last blog was characteristically trenchant, pithy and, unfortunately, more prescient for her than she could imagine. She had warned: “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.” Less than half an hour later, a huge bomb ripped her to shreds.

The charge is that Malta is turning into a state run by, and resembling, organized crime – which does not govern but disposes of positions, wealth and troublesome persons. Malta cannot be a sham EU state where elections, the rule of law and the courts are just for show. The continent’s citizens accept EU governance because every member state is a functioning democracy. When one of its own backslides on democratic commitments, when a life is lost in the pursuit of truth, then the EU must take action.

So I as a journalist must join the call.


The e-discovery and forensics industry has been in a race to adopt ever more sophisticated e-discovery tools, with advanced analytics technology that can take words, phrases and concepts and make connections across them to a level we have not seen before. But end users never seem to come close to using its full capability.  My colleague Jonathan Maas thinks it’s because in civil matters clients are never going to use the true analytical functions of that software because they are dogged by proportionality.  Only criminal and state investigations have the deep pockets required. Jonathan has an upcoming piece on this issue so I will let him elaborate.  But he and I are both agreed: the use of this technology outside its normal “neighborhood” is coming to pass. And many e-discovery technology companies are seizing the day.

It’s why, this past June, I spent two days in Zurich to attend the Digital InvestigationsConference, an event held annually for the last five years, where this year I was the keynote speaker. It gives you the opportunity to meet with experts in the e-discovery/forensics/cyber fields … lawyers, IT people, cyber experts, computer forensic experts, suppliers, etc. … to learn more about soft- and hardware solutions in the market and see the incredible, sophisticated analytics they have developed for the analysis and investigation of digital evidence from multiple evidence sources – a holistic view of your case. Vendors such as BlackBag Technologies, Celebrate, Elcomsoft, Nuix, Oxygen Forensics, Passware, Stroz Friedberg, Magnet Forensics, MSAB, and TEELtechnologies. For more click here.

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An invitation to vendors

The International Journalism Festival is a journalism event annually held in Perugia, Italy (in central Italy, about 100 miles, or 160 km, north of Rome). The 2018 Festival will be held 11-15 April 2018.

The Festival attracts journalists and journalism students, as well as scholars and media agencies, who get free access to keynotes, workshops, panels and discussions on media in society. It also attracts the big names in journalism and also attracts teams of IT and AI experts in the industry. The festival offers an extensive, incredibly varied program.

Over the last two years a number of e-discovery vendors have attended but not participated.  I am changing that next year. I have been asked to draft a proposal for a 1 hour session to explain how e-discovery software can assist journalists. If you’d like details and might like to participate please email my media team: I go to the Festival every year, or my team goes when I have a conflict. Next year it will be me plus a 4-member media team, and two film crews.  Let’s chat.

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