You wouldn't know it from the pictures of scrawny, hungry-looking men chasing after mammoth commercial ships in faded-white speedboats with outboard motors, but Somali pirates operate what experts believe to be a sophisticated international network, complete with its own intelligence apparatus and PR flacks. Piracy is a multi-million dollar business, after all, taking in an estimated $150 million in 2008 alone, and is the only growth industry in Somalia, offering starved fisherman a taste of the good life. It's doubtful, however, that so many pirates would driving around Somalia's dusty roads in luxury cars without their coterie of undercover operatives in some of the world's busiest commercial ports.
That they have eyes and ears in key locations is not a new revelation, but a European military intelligence report, obtained by the Spanish radio station Cadena SER, lays bare the current thinking on the network's structure and function. Pirate "consultants" based in London, says the report, coordinate intelligence on ships bound for the Suez Canal by satellite phone, allowing the pirates to strategize individual hijackings long before ships enter the attack zone.