Dictator Alert is a Twitter bot that tracks the planes of authoritarian regimes landing and taking off from Geneva Airport. Now, we’re expanding this project to many African airports, and beyond.

This initiative is run by François Pilet (@FrancoisPilet), a freelance investigative journalist based in Switzerland, and Emmanuel Freudenthal (@EmmanuelFreuden), a freelance investigative journalist based in East Africa.

Do you have informations about dictators and their planes, or their activities in Geneva? Want to host an antenna? Contact us!

Please consider making a donation to support the project.

How it works

Nearly all planes around the world transmit unencrypted information about their location as well as other details which can be captured by ADS-B antennas. Dictator Alert uses one private antenna located near the Geneva airport.

The details of each plane captured by the antenna are compared every hour with a list of aircrafts registered to, or regularly used, by authoritarian regimes. When a match is found, a message is published on the @GVA_Watcher twitter account.

We need our own antenna because flight tracking websites like www.flightradar24.com or www.flightaware.com, censor the information of many of planes. This is especially the case for dictators who prefer to stay discreet.

This project is now expanding to Africa and beyond, with more antennas installed near airports, with support from OCCRP. This data is fed to www.adsbexchange.com and will soon be included in new Twitter bots. We’re looking for people to host the new antennas.

Who’s a dictator?

GVA Dictator Alert is tracking over 200 planes registered to, or used, by governments described as “authoritarian regimes” according to the Democracy Index (2016) compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Due to the slow erosion of Venezuela’s democratic institutions and processes, we decided to add the country to the list (as of august 2017).

The registration details of tracked planes is based on public sources and official registers. You can download the current list as an Excel file (please contact us for the latest version).

If want to add new aircrafts or if you think that there is an error in the list, please contact us.

Citations & reactions

On November 3, 2016, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, chief of the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) Criminal Division, mentioned GVA Dictator Alert during a conference about international corruption at The George Washington University (YouTube). Leslie Caldwell indicated that the tool was monitored by the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.

During the summer 2016, relying in part on information provided by GVA Dictator Alert, Geneva public prosecutors opened a formal investigation on Equatorial Guinea Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, aka Teodorin Obiang, for suspected money laundering of corruption proceeds. On November 31, 2016, the Geneva prosecutors seized 11 luxury cars owned by Teodorin Obiang at Geneva airport.

The project has already gained a worldwide media coverage, with articles published by The Verge, Le Monde, Wired, Tages Anzeiger, Newsweek, and many others.

Our bot’s latest tweets