In 2008 the core team of Vortex Foundation began analyzing criminal corruption, co-optation, infiltration and reconfiguration of institutions in Colombia through the application of basic Social Network Analysis, to understand and visualize processes in which criminal structures infiltrated and manipulated lawful institutions. The analysis was possible when judicial authorities in Colombia confiscated the computer of a narco-paramilitary commander, revealing interactions between the criminal group known as Self-defenses United of Colombia [Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia], mayors, governors, national legislators and the head of the National Intelligence Agency of Colombia.
In fact, the information revealed that several active national legislators in the period 2002-2006 signed or had agreements with the narco-paramilitary group. Therefore, to understand the complexity of the situation it was critical to identify (i) the relevant agents -structural bridges and hubs-, (ii) the types of interactions between lawful and unlawful agents and (iii) the amount and types of sub-networks established within the criminal network.
Through a grant provided by Foundation Open Society, in 2009 the methodologies and concepts initially applied in Colombia were also applied in Mexico and Guatemala. As a result, the initial protocols were improved to identify social, economic and anthropological characteristics of the lawful and unlawful agents involved in each criminal network.
Those protocols were implemented through software and tools designed to maximize processing times while reducing human mistakes during the qualitative analysis. The tools have allowed journalists, researchers and scholars to process qualitative information and elaborate social networks graphs of domestic and transnational criminal networks, even when lacking training on Social Network Analysis.
As a result of the successful application of tools and procedures designed for understanding criminal structures, Vortex Foundation has lately provided technical support for judicial investigations and judicial decisions, and informed to enforcement agencies about the structure and complexity of local and transnational criminal networks in countries characterized by weak institutions. In fact, in Colombia, those methodologies were used to support judges who had to decide on cases of macro-criminality; as a result, the Colombian Supreme Court formulated a final sentence against an important narco-paramilitary commander, adopting the concepts of criminal networks and co-optation.
The methodologies and concepts initially used to identify and analyze criminal networks in Colombia have therefore been applied during the last years to understand processes of criminal infiltration, co-optation and reconfiguration of institutions in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Senegal, South Africa and Bulgaria.
A comprehensive list of activities executed by Vortex Foundation to promote transparency, inform the society about the structure of TCNs and support enforcement and judicial agencies, can be consulted in the website www.scivortex.org.