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In this blog, Rasheed Hamdan explores the increased risk surrounding security vetting and visa application assessments and how open-source intelligence (OSINT) can help reduce this risk and streamline vetting processes. 

Security Vetting for Public and Private Sector

Both the public and private sectors must improve security vetting processes surrounding visa applications and approvals to reduce the risks related to “golden passport” and visa-for-investment programs – where individuals can obtain residency visas or full citizenship through the investment of capital. These risks include visa scams surrounding criminal activities such as fraud and human trafficking – along with the constant effort by fugitives and Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) to circumvent watchlists and frustrate the comprehensive enforcement of sanctions. This is an issue not just for government vetting agencies but for any public or private sector entities with potential exposure to sanctioned entities – including financial institutions, money transmitters, and foreign exchanges as well as correspondent banks or other intermediaries used to access global financial systems.

For example, golden passports in certain countries can be a means of avoiding anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing controls that exist in other nations with more robust or stringent visa application processes. OSINT can be an essential part of the intelligence took kit to help identify fraud, trafficking, and national security risk in the visa process.

Visa Assessment Risks

The need for nations, public-sector facing institutions, and private companies to enhance efforts to safeguard the integrity of passport issuance and assessment protocols is only increasing as international travel and business increase in our post-COVID world. Additionally, these entities should strengthen the due diligence and enforcement requirements associated with visa reciprocity and waiver programs to avoid detrimental societal and reputational impacts which include money-laundering, financing of terrorism and national security risks. Basic risk mitigation steps include leveraging the power of OSINT resources and platforms to support complex sanctions regimes targeting entities, assets, financial institutions, and government officials.

Security Vetting in a Pandemic World

While security vetting and visa application assessments present a challenge to vetting agencies during the best of times, these have been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic and the resulting societal and geo-political changes. These changes include a lowering of the barriers to entry for visa investment programs due to economic stressors and a desire to boost tourism after travel plummeted during the early stages of the pandemic. The reality is that while visa and investment programs do provide substantial benefit when properly implemented with strict due diligence controls, some programs fail to implement adequate safeguards and prioritize boosting GDP or tourism over security concerns.

This only increases the need for both private and public sector organizations to understand the risk associated with these ‘visa for purchase’ schemes and utilize the technology tools available, including OSINT, to help uncover and address these risks as quickly and effectively as possible.

OSINT For Uncovering Visa Risks

While individuals may go to great lengths to bury ultimate beneficial ownership behind shell corporations, foreign-flagged vessels, and far-flung ports, OSINT can reveal key elements of information, establish patterns of life and associated networks, and aid in peeling back obfuscation by helping users conduct network analysis, uncover directional flows of communication, and identify incriminating evidence unwittingly posted by the individuals themselves or their family members and associates. Armed with robust OSINT programs, public and private sector entities can avail themselves of the immense power and potential of publicly available data to aid in their efforts to identify, track, and prevent sanctioned entities, criminals, and corrupt politicians from hiding ill-gotten gains and evading the global regulatory network.

Fivecast is a world-leading provider of digital intelligence solutions that enable the world’s most important public and private organizations to explore masses of data, uncovering actionable insights which are critical to protecting global communities. Purpose-built to address the highest priority use cases in the national security, law enforcement and defense markets, Fivecast deploys advanced data collection and AI-enabled analytics to solve the most complex intelligence challenges.

Based in Australia and with an established presence in the United States and United Kingdom, Fivecast is part of the trusted Five Eyes alliance and was born out of a unique collaboration between government agencies and world-leading research institutions to tackle big data challenges in national security and law enforcement.