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Combating Organised Crime in the 21st Century
March 2, 2005
Boyana Conference Center

Speech of Mr. William Hughes, Director General (designate), Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), UK

The Serious Organised Crime Agency - the future of Law Enforcement in the UK

Where are we starting from?

What will success look like?

How do we get there?

The organised crime market is a highly lucrative market and the criminals involved operate globally. If law enforcement does not also operate globally, how can we expect to impact upon organised crime enterprises. I want to outline to you today where I think international law enforcement should be moving, and to link that with the development that I am leading within the UK of the new Serious Organised Crime Agency.

As the Minister has stated, the UK Government is committed to reducing the harm which organised crime does to the UK and its citizens. To help achieve this SOCA will:

• reduce the opportunities for organised criminals to make money

• disrupt and dismantle their enterprises, and

• raise the personal risks they run by successful targeted prosecutions of the major figures.

It has often been said that law enforcement in the UK is widely regarded around the world. This is especially the case in respect of combating serious and organised crime, and in recent years the relationship between the various agencies has improved immeasurably. Where the police and Customs treated each other with undisguised hostility, they now work together in joint operations. In the case of the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Immigration Service and HM Customs and Excise, they now even share accommodation in some parts of the UK, and they train together in the acquisition of the specialist surveillance and intrusive investigation skills necessary to deal with the most serious organised crime groups.

Multi-agency working has become very much the norm for law enforcement, and examples of successful joint approaches include CIDA, Reflex and CICFA. Not only has this been the case at the national level, but there are also numerous examples of local police forces working closely together with the national agencies.

So why a Serious Organised Crime Agency and why now?

The Serious Organised Crime Agency will enable us to make a step change up from the plateau that I believe we have reached in the UK. Our law enforcement approach is, despite the multi-agency approaches that I have described, still fragmented, focused upon targets of opportunity, not intelligence-led and its performance skewed by simplistic targets and unrealistic expectations.

The reason I refer to law enforcement having reached a plateau is because we have become very good at “cops and robbers”. Chasing and arresting the bad guys has become something we enjoy and we are quite good at. But we can play that game for evermore, because we continue to address the symptoms and not the causes. For every organised crime enterprise that we take out, another fills its place. Worse still is the fact that whilst we are engaged in long investigations, case preparation and court proceedings, organised crime continues to cause massive harm to the UK and our fellow citizens.

We now have the opportunity that many of us in law enforcement have sought for a long time. The Serious Organised Crime Agency is to focus upon reducing harm caused to the UK by serious organised crime. In order to achieve that, we will need much better strategic analysis of the harm being caused, by whom, and how. The Government will then prioritise those areas of greatest harm so that across all government departments, those will be the priorities in regard to serious organised crime. All the apparatus of the state is therefore now part of the answer to the issue, and it is for all of us to work together, under the lead of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, to reduce the harm, and to prevent serious organised criminal enterprises from flourishing in the UK.

The role of the Serious Organised Crime Agency must be to act as a coordinator of activity against serious and organised crime groups. We cannot act against all of them alone; we need to marshal the resources of the UK against these criminals.

SOCA will send out a clear strong message to those who think they can promote organised crime in the UK. It will work with partners towards the development of integrated harm reduction strategies between regional and national levels and provide an operational perspective on the powers and approaches required. It will be an integrated agency, not an elite agency.

This new agency will also be a global player, indeed it will fail if it is not. That means that we will be seeking wherever possible and with all countries to pursue the aims that I have just outlined. This new agency has been brought together, not to be the sum of its parts, but to be much more than that.

To reduce the harm caused by serious organised crime means that the focus of our activity is not simply to investigate and obtain evidence for a prosecution. We will seek ways to disrupt, destabilise and defeat organised crime enterprises that will use other methods. This will include prevention, for example in focusing upon those who facilitate money laundering and realisation of assets. We will seek to strip the assets from organised crime so that the rewards are removed.

We will increase the risk of arrest, and increase their fears within their own enterprises that other gang members will give evidence and inform against them. For the heads of these enterprises, we will root them out and prosecute them. We will seek judicial and political support to ensure that they are incarcerated for very long periods, and remove all of the assets that they have obtained, wherever they have placed them in the world.

We shall be ruthless and relentless in this approach, and we shall adopt an ethos of being “lawfully audacious”. That means that we will always explore better and quicker ways of defeating organised crime, but always operating with probity and ethical responsibility. Those are not simply hollow words; there is no point in seeking to defeat organised crime by any method that is not acceptable in a democracy. If the legal and political system permits organised crime to flourish, we must identify that and properly evidence to those in government so that they may remedy the defect.

We will be under intense scrutiny of our methods, because we offer the first real threat to serious organised crime and those who profit from it. They will ensure that their legal support focus on our methods to seek to overturn our successes, and they will seek to misinform those in positions of influence that we are operating in breach of their human rights.

In order to achieve this there will be three main operational portfolios within the Serious Organised Crime Agency - enforcement, intervention and intelligence.

intelligence operations delivering improved knowledge and understanding about organised crime, reporting to Government and leads for police forces and other operational agencies and regulators, and driving SOCA’s own operational decision making;

enforcement operations designed both to detect, detain and prosecute successfully the most serious organised criminals, driven not principally by the opportunities presented, but by an intelligence led appreciation of where and how most impact can be achieved; and to provide specialist operational support to police forces;

intervention operations aimed at undermining criminal businesses through seizure of their cash and assets, international cooperation against criminal networks, exploitation of knowledge about the techniques used (such as firearms, IT, transport, identity fraud, operating from prison) and the issuing of alerts and warnings to potential victims.

From source to street

However, our business focus must be to understand the crime businesses from source to street. Once we understand enough about how their business works, we can then tackle the organisations by applying the military principle of overwhelming force at their vulnerable and weakest points. In addition, and this again is the step change effect, once we have disrupted and penetrated their business flow, we must roll-up both ends and put them totally out of business. The rolling-up process will also deal with the peripheral players, the lieutenants and minor thugs. We will need to ensure they are not promoted to take over from the main targets.

Throughout the process, the Serious Organised Crime Agency must focus on reducing harm as its main outcome. To that end SOCA’s activities will be genuinely intelligence-led, and it will seek to reduce harm through a considered strategy, based on enhanced intelligence, of understanding criminal activities and disrupting them (e.g. through putting criminals out of business by imprisonment for other offences or confiscating their assets) as well as through a new approach to enforcement and prosecution.

So how will we know that we are having an impact?

If we successfully understand the crime business, then we should also know when the commodity supply is altered, or the organised crime enterprises change their methods of operation. For example, if we are successful at land-based interdiction, will they move to maritime smuggling?

If we understand the business from source to street, we should know that street prices have changed, or purity levels have changed, that supply is difficult, that distribution centres have altered or disappeared. The intelligence does not stop when we put the operation in place to attack. As law enforcement officers, we have not seen the benefits of continuing intelligence gathering and analysis as the operation occurs. Our fixation has been on the arrests, seizures of drugs and the subsequent prosecutions, and not upon the harm caused, and the overall picture of the problem. If we are not preventing the business of drugs getting to the street, then no matter how many arrests and however many kilogrammes of drugs we seize, we are failing in our mission.

Law enforcement has a strong determination to succeed, and has become better at learning from experience. However, we are subject to restrictions that the organised criminal can ignore: intelligence sharing protocols; data protection; authorities for surveillance and human rights legislation to name but a few. We need to use all of the intelligence available to us to read the market and we need to start introducing some restrictive practices into the criminal environment for a change!

In the business world, hostile takeovers are commonplace. Predators will conduct a detailed analysis on the target company’s business. They will know the site of every individual outlet, the management and workforce structure, profits and losses, productivity rate etc. The individual analysis for each of these areas will contribute to a composite from which the predator will identify the vulnerabilities, both at individual sites and as a collective whole. It will inform and formulate its take-over strategy, which will be tailor made with specific tactics to attack individual sites.

Apply that idea for example, to the drugs market. If we know the composite structure of the heroin or cocaine market from strategic assessments, we must apply a simultaneous strategy of enforcement, using all our resources, to weaken and disrupt Organised Crime PLC and thus destabilise the market. The alternative is that we simply attack individual silos. If so, then whilst we might impact significantly on them, we are probably not doing much to fragment the drugs market in the UK.

If we really hope to shatter and fragment organised crime in the UK, we have to be radical, and not rely upon law enforcement alone, or even the old tried and tested methods. Every time we bust a major Organised Crime Enterprise (OCE), another one steps in because the rewards are high and the risks, by comparison, are low.

We have to reverse that, so that the risks become much greater than the reward, or the rewards are disproportionate to the risks. The UK has to be perceived as a hostile place to do business.

Therefore when we remove an organised crime group, we must review and understand how their business was constructed and why they were successful so that we can destroy the facilitation support structure. This will allow us to provide evidence to government and to professional institutions and regulatory bodies, so that, instead of relying upon anecdote, we can give chapter and verse on how these businesses work. More importantly, how they thrive and are facilitated by the infrastructure set up for business and especially for the criminal justice system, where they are able to take advantage of a system designed for the 19th century.

CICFA, CIDA and REFLEX are three positive examples of how prioritisation of investigations is more scientific and intelligence-led. Our options are more comprehensive than in the past but are still focused upon tactical intervention.

Furthermore, this means adopting unconventional methods, which is not always easy because our natural skill base, experience and resources mean that we often default to conventional law enforcement techniques – we feel safe in our comfort zone. We need to look at methods of disrupting and dismantling those businesses that support organised crime, either overtly or by turning a blind eye.

This can be achieved in many ways, from asset seizure and use of the Recovered Assets Incentivisation Fund through to prosecution, or from ensuring that any professional who assists organised crime loses his or her professional standing, i.e. is struck off, or forbidden to practise. We need to focus on those who, in the criminal law are known as handlers or receivers of stolen goods; the “fences". Exactly as happens when dealing with level 1 burglary, we need to focus on the handlers and facilitators. If you cannot dispose of the stolen goods or liquidate the assets, than the crime committed is pointless. We also need to make sure that the activity we undertake against OCE PLC will impact significantly upon the local and middle market where our fellow citizens most keenly feel crime.

Consideration should be given to the use of “ethical propaganda” to disrupt organised criminal activity both in a public arena and individually against management and workers of Organised Crime PLC. We should seek to influence consumer demand and attack the criminal infrastructure. We should also be aware of market conditions and use them against the suppliers of illegal commodities.

SOCA has a vital role to play in proactively warning UK citizens and businesses of the ways in which they are vulnerable to serious and organised crime. An example of this is the warnings that NCIS have been giving recently in the light of the tsunami disaster, where organised crime looks to profit in the most wicked way possible from those who wish to do whatever they can to assist those suffering from this disaster. On a separate note, I also continue to be amazed at the number of otherwise intelligent people who fall for the 419 scams, which originate primarily from west Africa. That is primarily down to their own greed and to a certain extent the old adage that a fool and their money are soon parted is true. How often do we have to remind people that if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is!

It is still an important role for SOCA to prevent fools being parted from their money. Whilst I make no apology for that statement, the history of confidence tricksters demonstrates that they prey not just on the greedy, but also on the naïve and the gullible, in order to succeed.

So proactive warnings highlighting potential dangers for the citizens of the UK will be a major part of SOCA work. It is vital that the intelligence function provides high quality, accurate and timely information on which these warnings and activity to prevent the success of those involved can be mounted.

We will work with criminal justice partners nationally, including local police forces, through operations, intelligence and spreading best practice and will be ruthless in tackling organised crime. We will take a radical approach to combating the activities of OCEs and will focus on disruption and dismantling and other interventions as well as arresting and prosecuting.

The overall message is that we will be lawfully audacious in the UK to destabilise, disrupt and defeat serious and organised crime.

We will build upon and develop international partnerships.

International and multi-agency working is not a new concept and there are many examples of effective partnership initiatives at all levels of law enforcement, whether it is operations against illegal drugs or human trafficking or an international counter-terrorism response. Some have developed naturally through the recognition of a need for such an approach; others have developed in an ad hoc fashion to meet a specific need. Recent legislation in Europe is facilitating the formal establishment of joint investigation teams to work on specific operations within a legal framework, supported by Europol and Eurojust.

International co-operation between law enforcement agencies is essential to effectively disrupting and dismantling criminal organisations that do not recognise national or international borders. Mutual understanding of legislative and operational capabilities and constraints imposed upon each other and the ability to make the best use of the capabilities we do have are a key to our success. We must seek to influence governments to ensure that we are given the necessary powers and have the networks in place to exchange information and have regular ‘on-the-ground’ contact when undertaking investigations and operations.

We need to look wider than may have been done traditionally and seek strategic alliances, not just in the USA and Europe, but also in countries such as Colombia and Thailand for example.

Through enhanced and effective international co-operation and global strategic partnerships we must ensure that organised criminal enterprises are not able to operate in any country at minimal risk from law enforcement agencies.

To facilitate that co-operation we have to do the following:

• Set out a clear strategy that describes our aims and goals and a clear expectation of what all parties expect to get out of any joint initiative. This strategy must be based upon mutual understanding of our respective operational and technical capabilities and legal constraints. This is a transparent, open statement that our respective countries and governments see, and accept.

• We develop a clear intelligence gathering and analysis strategy with timely and accurate two-way communication of intelligence.

• When we understand the business, we set out clear, well-defined operational plans agreed in advance by all parties, taking into account all elements of the operation and rehearsing all possible scenarios that could arise during that operation. To avoid time lag, these plans can and should be worked up in parallel with the intelligence-gathering operations.

• We conduct the operations and we analyse the results.

Challenges of International Joint Operations

Providing legal gateways must be a priority and our understanding of other legal systems and processes is critical in considering the options available for any investigation. This is particularly the case where sensitive methods of investigation, such as acquiring telephone intercept material, are being considered or implemented. Whilst we all operate as law enforcement professionals under different legislative frameworks, with different powers and remits, the complexities of partnership working are one of the challenges that we must and can face together.

We can learn from operations in other areas of law enforcement. The UK National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, which will also become part of the new Serious Organised Crime Agency in the UK, saw the establishment of strategic and operational partnerships between global law enforcement agencies and private industry to tackle international crime involving technology and the internet. The strategic partnership involves over 40 different law enforcement agencies worldwide, including the Australian Federal Police, Russian Police, FBI and RCMP. It is an excellent example of the benefits from working in real time in partnership. Joint approaches that allow us to only view organised crime from an historical perspective are useless. They must work now. We must know what the situation is at this moment and, more importantly, where it is going. Telling us what the drugs trade looked like last year, six months ago, or even yesterday, is not good enough for law enforcement.

The benefits of a strong strategic partnership were illustrated in a recent operation in Eastern Europe where within 48-hours, as a result of intelligence gained by the NHTCU, joint operations were conducted that closed down a sophisticated internet extortion racket.

Such close working requires one further significant improvement in our strategic alliances. The role of international organised crime liaison officers must be reconsidered. They are an expensive resource, but one which ensures and facilities effective co-operation.

The currency of successful international co-operation is information and intelligence. Liaison officers need to become more than simply a liaison resource between countries, but an active tool within law enforcement agencies. That means they must become part of the host organisation, be trusted within it, and be able to ensure effective co-operation by their parent agency.

How do we get there?

Starting in April 2005, one year before the Serious Organised Crime Agency official start date, a virtual Serious Organised Crime Agency will start operating. The core group of the constituent agencies meets under my chairmanship at monthly intervals to work on the issues involved in coordinating development towards Serious Organised Crime Agency and to oversee how the agencies will work together. As we go through 2005 and into 2006, we will work ever more closely, eventually becoming the new agency in what I hope will be a seamless transition. During this period, there will be great opportunities to develop our working practices that we will follow in the Serious Organised Crime Agency.


So where does all this take us?

Law enforcement has to review its role and tasks. It is about focusing on the entire business of serious organised crime, and ensuring we have the intelligence support that properly tells us what is happening and how it works.

We must develop international approaches and strategic alliances across the world. This is more than simply liaison and attending conferences together. This is real co-operation and joint working, and sometimes it is difficult. Egos and status can sometimes intrude on good working relationships. Sometimes, we will be constrained by political and legal factors. They are there to make life more interesting and challenging, and we will seek to work with them, and wherever possible, seek to change them, properly and with well reasoned arguments, supported by evidence. That evidence will be based upon high quality, timely and accurate intelligence.

We will operate jointly and effectively to disrupt, disable and defeat serious organised crime. Not by spectacular operations aimed at large seizures or arrests, but aimed at breaking into the crime business, and smashing that business so that it cannot continue. So that its crime markets are removed from its grasp. So that the assets accumulated from its activities are removed, and the main leaders, whether in your country or, more likely, not, are prosecuted and jailed. They should fear law enforcement and our methods. We will, properly and ethically, turn their lieutenants against them, whether to give evidence at their trials, or, even more importantly, to tell us how they operate and succeed, so that our intelligence picture is complete.

Our successes will be common successes for us all. The impact upon serious organised crime should benefit all of our countries. If serious organised crime enterprises operate freely from your country and prey upon other countries, and you are not seeking to defeat them, in partnership with those countries that are affected, then you must change. Your benefit will be that you will become part of the global strategic alliance against organised crime, and others will support you when you need it.

Serious organised crime is a business. Our business is to put their business out of business.
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