A handful of anonymous computer experts who say they can employ their technical skills to wage war on the mob have made headlines and raised eyebrows in equal measure.
Now one of the founders of the anonymous whistle-blowing Mafialeaks site, which aims to take on Italy’s feared mafia groups, has told The Independent what they hope to achieve and why they are feeling so confident.
The activist, who identified himself as Bobby, added that the site, which was inspired by Wikileaks, had already received and passed on important evidence to investigators and journalists. “We believe it can work. In fact, I can reveal to you now that it is already working,” he said.
He added that Mafialeaks aimed to significantly expand contacts with law enforcement agencies and media outlets by December. The central strategy is, of course, to shatter the thing that has shielded the mafia for decades – omerta or the code of silence.
Mafialeaks is supposed to allow witnesses, and particularly victims of the mob, such as shopkeepers or businessmen forced to pay protection money, to report organised crime and send information to the site, which is accessed through the untraceable Tor anonymity network. This high security site protects the identity of both witnesses and Mafialeaks staff, who are thought to number less than 10.
Organised criminals are depressingly numerous in Italy. But so, added Bobby, are the people well placed to shop them. “We want Mafiosi to understand that in any given moment, even right now, someone’s aware of their trade and sooner or later it’s going to come out into the open.
“Our message is: ‘If you’re a Mafioso and participating in organised crime, desist or someone will denounce you and you’ll never know who it is.’ The mafia cannot function without doctors to treat them, electricians and builders to make their hideouts and lawyers and accountants to hide their money. All these people have the evidence in hand.”
The arrival of Mafialeaks received a mixed response from people working in traditional roles in the fight against organised crime.
Magistrate Nicola Gratteri told La Repubblica newspaper that in principle, he welcomed the site. “Mafialeaks could be a good way of spreading a certain type of information and shattering the wall of silence surrounding organised crime”, he said. Corrado De Rosa, a psychiatrist who provides expert evidence in mafia trials was less certain. “This has been done for noble reasons and I wish them well. But we need to remain aware of the risks,” he said.
“There’s a danger we’ll see a reduction in the quality of evidence that emerges. And we should not forget that the mafia clans are already computer and internet-savvy.” He added the system might be used by people to settle scores and by some Mafiosi in order to harm rival criminals.
Bobby said if rival Mafiosi shopped each other, that might not be a bad thing. And countered that false or useless evidence “would end up in the trash” when examined by journalists and investigators. He noted too, the proliferation of digital equipment could work to the mafia’s disadvantage.
“We believe smartphones are a real weapon and every citizen has one in his pocket. With it you can record a call, you can copy messages or emails, and photograph documents. As such every citizen is a potential whistleblower,” he said.
But Amalia De Simone, a journalist who has for many years reported on the Camorra in Naples for Corriere Della Sera newspaper, said: “An initiative such as Mafialeaks that appears to be done for all the right reasons could easily turn into a boomerang.”
Bobby and colleagues’ safety is likely to rest on their computer skills and to their credit, they have acknowledged some of Mafialeaks’ potential weaknesses, and remain upbeat. “We need the media to make people realise there’s a new method for combating the mafia that doesn’t risk the life of those who blow the whistle.
“If citizens want to do this, Mafialeaks will prove an effective weapon in the war against organised crime,” Bobby said.