Allegations of dark and shady meetings inside World Bank headquarters have turned out to be much harder to hide than initial reports suggested. Now the latest blockbuster data dump is beginning to build a detailed picture of how and why deals were cooked up behind the scenes.
In an over two year saga that included FBI and congressional investigations, WikiLeaks published 2.2 million leaked documents from 2013 to 2017, beginning the fall of Angola’s president and ending with the removal of his vice president. The documents alleged that the World Bank had engaged in shady transactions that benefited president Jose Eduardo dos Santos and aligned the US-government-controlled institution with security and investment groups closely associated with him.
Now, the search for conclusive answers could be getting underway, thanks to Quartz. In early January, the tech company used AI to uncover vast amounts of information (now available on the database of analytics platform KnowtheScore) in a month’s time that hadn’t been previously accessible to journalists, say its founder, Nitin Chugtai.
In November, the hack happened again. Once again, Chugtai tells Quartz, “there were almost no problems getting our client seats on KnowtheScore, and their marketing got us in front of several high-ranking sources within the bank’s Asia operations” during December. The company’s LinkedIn groups in the financial service sector were emptied of its numbers.
Data from a new AI-based anonymized database on the World Bank added since last November includes more than 8,800 records. “We might still be getting more than 1,000 records each day,” says Chugtai. The database includes 7,000 files of structured data and 200,000 additional unstructured files, mostly uncollected from financial data providers in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
An AI system known as SQLBOAST, which is focused on energy, finance, and oil, analyzes the raw data for patterns, matches phrases, and patterns of commonness. One section that is developing quickly is a list of bank employees who worked on the Angola issue (link in Portuguese), which is a mixture of figures, HR schedules, correspondence, and employee numbers.
An actor can represent themselves anonymously in different ways. It can post their name to a comment thread, write a personal letter to a company, or even pass on their own anonymous comment in a news publication, such as Quartz.
Concerns that the data could be misused are a common theme among developers. Before the release of the very first documents in June 2017, developers were trying to find a safe place to store and encrypt them while keeping them fully unaltered. “I was really shocked when the same media tried to cover the file stealing, which turned out to be very exciting news, while simultaneously taking the bait for a social media campaign to start encrypting the documents,” said a foreign-based developer who works on data analytics at a startup.
After WikiLeaks released the 1.5 million documents from Angola’s finance and energy industries in December 2017, the issue expanded into the banking industry. Last June, the IMF found itself under the spotlight when some of its papers were leaked. In the end, some IMF officials told Quartz that staff were clearly out of touch with their peers at its sister institution. The World Bank has since fired two employees, including those involved in drafting Angola’s loan.
Angola’s case has also sent a message beyond the region, with many wondering if leaks of public and private information are acceptable. The question remains to be answered.