Panama? Forget the reporter collective — Who built the database?

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Ronald ZONCA
In Boulevard Voltaire, April 6, 2016

Translated from French by Tom Winter

The case involves a selection of public persons whose social status requires us to look at the causes and the source of the revelations, to say nothing of journalistic ethics.  11.5 million documents, even supposing each is just one page, would stack more than a kilometer high. It is impossible to deal with such a volume with simple humans, even for super journalists. The work had to be done by other people fully equipped.

Faced with such a mass of data, very powerful computers are needed and one asks first, who was able to provide them. For each offshore company name, you must first determine all the actual people. This presupposes a well-populated database and means way beyond the simple request for information from the authorities.

Once spotted, an individual name must be found with whom there were linkages in the past or today. This requires a huge, well fed, and extremely well managed database.

One way to lighten the workload is to reverse the search direction. Rather than starting from an unknown individual involved in the offshore company, and seeing all the relationships he may have or may have had with persons known, one can begin from a selection of famous potentially troublesome people to see if they match up to materials in Panama. In this case, it is a load instruction. 

There are few organizations that can instantly have all the information about privacy extending to any sportive misadventures going back 50 years, or on the details of the family unit. We are descending into the Big Brother realm and, addressing the Panama Papers folder in this way, we can easily guess who was able to provide such work.

The organization that produced the revelations has the capability to feed a database effectively, that is to say by spying and tapping, classifying billions of real-time data, and has powerful tools for extraction. The contenders at this level of expertise are few, especially if one takes into account that no American – or at least no known American – is cited in the dossier. 

The distribution of this colossal work was done by a group of journalists. Maybe so, but it is still rare to find actual philanthropy in organizations funded by patrons such as USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and Open Society. We all know the disinterestedness of such donors to the journalist collective.

Pausing from these investigations these journalists could, for example, reveal 

  1. the sponsor of this revelation, 
  2. the real reasons why these people are listed, 
  3. who performed the correlation, 
  4. who built the database, and 
  5. how the information got put into it. 

In short, we should stop gazing at the finger while the moon smiles down on our naïveté.

[“When the sage points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger” — Confucius]

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