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01 Dec 2022

Investigation into Europe’s Shadow Army: Exploitation of Refugees in the European Union

Maltego Team

In September 2022, Maltego had the pleasure to host the webinar, “Exploitation of refugees in the European Union,” with Bashar Deeb and Klaas van Dijken from Lighthouse Reports. Bashar shared with us the difficult and dangerous path they followed to complete an OSINT and Maltego-based investigation: Masked Men – A Lighthouse Reports Investigation into Europe’s Shadow Border Army.

Lighthouse Reports’ Investigation into Europe’s Shadow Border Armies 🔗︎

Unmasking Europe’s shadow armies was an eight-month-long investigation on masked men operating in Greece and Croatia. These masked men have been reported as having performed physical assaults, illegal pushbacks, reckless endangerment, and rights abuses on asylum seekers and migrants.

Led by Lighthouse Reports, the investigation started by gathering testimony from asylum seekers about the violence they suffered at Europe’s borders by men wearing balaclavas. The investigation aimed to uncover the organizations and their units responsible for these acts.

Investigation Revelation: Who Are The Shadow Armies? 🔗︎

Lighthouse Reports’ investigations led to the following revelations and consequences:

  • The Croatian government admitted to carrying out these activities and three of their officers are suspended and under investigation.
  • The Greek government denied allegations to any unlawful involvement at the Greek sea borders despite video evidence linking the masked men to a Greek coast guard unit.
  • Audio testimonies from both migrant witnesses and Greek police officers alleged that the Greek government recruited and coerced migrants to carry out illegal and violent asylum-seeking interventions.

The Lighthouse Reports findings were published in early October 2021, it received attention from the general public, but also from politicians in different European countries, and above all, Brussels. The European Parliament stepped in and looked into the topic by the end of October 2021. The European Commission of Home Affairs asked different ministers from both Croatia and Greece to explain themselves.

On a local level, asylum seekers who are still trying to cross borders and ask for asylum have reported that violence completely went down in Croatia. People are still being sent back, but it is now possible to claim asylum. This development is a direct impact of the investigation.

Investigation Methods & Workflows 🔗︎

Lighthouse Reports used a combination of OSINT and Maltego to conduct their investigations.

OSINT in Videos and Pictures 🔗︎

They gathered and examined videos and pictures provided by asylum seekers and refugees, on-site journalists, witnesses, and other sources that captured scenes where asylum seekers and refugees faced violence from masked men. From the videos and pictures, they identified unique objects that could point to useful information:

  1. Uniform jackets with identical diamond patterns and pocket placement (in the Croatian case)
  2. Speedboat with distinctive metal features (in the Greek case)
  3. Unique acronym printed on the uniform (in the Greek case)

This helped the investigators establish connection between the masked men in Croatian and the Croatian Intervention Police, and the masked men on Greek sea and the Greek coast guard.

Maltego and Social Media Intelligence 🔗︎

In the Croatian case, Lighthouse Reports then used Maltego and social media intelligence to confirm and further identify the actual police units operating in the same area. Starting from the Croatian Intervention Police’s Facebook page, they found 65 Facebook users who used this specific tag in their profile as their current employer.

From these 65 officer profiles, they eventually identified 200 officers working at the same unit or as border guards and obtained phone numbers of some of these officers through previously leaked Facebook data.

Witness Testimonies and Accomplice Corroboration 🔗︎

Lighthouse Reports also relied on witness testimony and accomplice confession to corroborate the information they collected and fact check their hypothesis.

They spoke to some of the officers working at the Croatian Intervention Police, who admitted to the findings of the reporting. They also interviewed refugees who underwent such violence as well as migrants who were recruited and forced to carry out illegal violent activities for the Greek police. Finally, they acquired confessions from the Greek police officers of using third-country nationals for illegal deportations of refugees.

Download this Case Study for A Detailed Investigation Walk-Through! 🔗︎

This case study documented in detail how Lighthouse Reports conducted all three of their investigations:

  1. Masked Men in Croatia
  2. Masked Men at Greek Sea Border
  3. Greece’s Recruitment of Migrants for Illegal Asylum-Seeking Interventions

Download it now to learn about their OSINT techniques and journalistic approach!

Download the resource

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Happy investigating!

About Lighthouse Reports 🔗︎

Lighthouse Reports is a non-profit based in the Netherlands that leads complex transnational investigations blending traditional journalistic methods such as freedom of information requests with emerging techniques like open source intelligence and specialisms like data science.

Read more about Lighthouse Reports’ findings here: Masked Men – A Lighthouse Reports Investigation into Europe’s Shadow Border Army

The Maltego Academic & Non-Profit Research Program 🔗︎

With the Maltego Academic and Non-Profit program, Maltego aims to encourage continued innovation within the Maltego community. We empower highly motivated and talented individuals who can help create awareness of our tool and create user-based knowledge around Maltego in relevant and important topics.

Maltego supported Lighthouse Reports as part of the Academic Program with the investigative resources required for this investigation.

Learn more about the Maltego Academic & Non-Profit Program here.

By clicking on "Subscribe", you agree to the processing of the data you entered and you allow us to contact you for the purpose selected in the form. For further information, see our Data Privacy Policy.