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Countering serious and organised crime: getting the NCA off to a flying start


By Chris Maguire and Martin Dannhauser PA security experts

The UK government is stepping up its fight against serious and organised crime, a national security threat estimated at costing the UK several billion pounds each year1. To this end, it launched both the National Crime Agency (NCA) and a new Serious and Organised Crime Strategy2 in late 2013. Based on the cross-government framework used to fight terrorism, the Serious and Organised Crime Strategy aims to stop people getting involved in crime, to protect people against crime, and to pursue criminals ‘relentlessly’.

The action against serious and organised crime is the latest in a series of strategies – along with counter terrorism, cyber security and defence – that define national security in the UK. Because the NCA is the successor to the frequently criticised Serious and Organised Crime Agency and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, it will find itself facing heightened scrutiny. In implementing the Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, the NCA will need to deliver tangible operational results quickly.

Aligning the UK’s serious and organised crime response with the other major ‘homeland’ national security challenges – defence, terrorism and cyber security – will increase the NCA's agility and improve results across the national security landscape.

Achieving this alignment represents a significant challenge, but there are several steps that the NCA should look to take in the immediate future.

Make the most of shared characteristics with the UK's counter-terrorism strategy

The Serious and Organised Crime Strategy builds on the four pillars of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST3. These are to:

  • pursue organised criminals
  • prevent people becoming criminals
  • protect the public against serious and organised crime
  • prepare to reduce the impact of crime.

As such, those charged with translating the Serious and Organised Crime Strategy into action have an opportunity to learn from and collaborate with their counterparts across the counter-terrorism community.

For Pursue, the NCA should work with the wider counter-terrorism policing structures and the intelligence service to build an intelligence-led model that mirrors their proven model for intelligence development and evidence gathering. Opportunities to share tools and techniques should be exploited. For Prevent, the NCA can seek to replicate CONTEST’s work in prisons to counter radicalisation with parallel measures to Prevent recruitment into gangs and organised crime groups.

At the same time, the NCA would learn from the Centre for the Protection of the National Infrastructure’s personnel security measures to Protect against terrorism. Finally, while defining new partnerships such as that between the NCA and the new Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT UK), the NCA can learn from the successful joint working and improved interoperability of the emergency services under the Prepare strand of CONTEST.

Redesign the UK cyber security strategy around the 4Ps

The UK Cyber Security Strategy4, published in 2011, focused on strategic ‘cyber security’ measures, but there is a growing awareness of the scale and impact of cyber crime and the need to provide a co-ordinated national response. A recent Home Office report5 indicates that the cost of cyber crime could reasonably be assessed to equate to at least several billion pounds per year. Unhelpfully, the term ‘cyber’ has quickly become jargon and the new National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) will struggle to make a visible difference in countering a threat that is poorly defined.

There is, however, a helpful emerging distinction between ‘cyber dependent crime’ which exists only online (such as malware, denial of service and hacking attacks) and ‘cyber-enabled crime’ (such as child sexual exploitation and much financial fraud), whose scale and reach is transformed by the internet. A third category, ‘internet-facilitated crime’ acknowledges the specific investigative challenges posed by old crimes using new technology. 

The challenge is to communicate these differences clearly while demonstrating how the various departmental strategies are delivering a coherent and complementary portfolio of capabilities to counter evolving threats. A simple and effective remedy would be to redesign the national Cyber Security Strategy in line with the 4Ps of CONTEST and Serious and Organised Crime Strategy.

Engage with defence to realise the benefits of closer collaboration

The coalition government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in 2010 included a joint MOD, FCO and DFD strategy for building stability overseas. This showed how upstream prevention of threats to UK national security should be coordinated to mitigate impact on the UK mainland. Transnational organised crime poses similar challenges, which present a further opportunity for the NCA to work with other government departments to align the new Serious and Organised Crime Strategy with mature international approaches.

As planning begins for the next SDSR in 2015, there is a perfect opportunity to reassess how the UK’s defence, security and law enforcement organisations should collaborate to make the best use of the scarce resources. The MOD has been engaged in more than two decades of transformational change since the end of the Cold War, and the intelligence agencies have made step changes since 9/11 and 7/7. For the police and wider law enforcement agencies, this is the beginning of a generational change to find a new balance between front-line ‘boots on the ground’ and more proactive, intelligence-led operations.

By understanding where the Serious and Organised Crime Strategy aligns with existing defence and security strategies, the NCA has an opportunity to introduce greater agility in the way it tackles new and emerging threats to the UK’s national security. Shared capabilities and collaborative working across the defence, counter-terrorism, and crime-fighting organisations provides new approaches for responding to national security issues, and opportunities to share resources and save costs. If the NCA embraces these opportunities, it will have truly got off to a flying start.

To discuss Serious and Organised Crime Strategy with one of PA's security and policing experts, or to find out more about our expertise in this sector, please contact us now.

1 Home Office Research Report 75 ‘Cyber Crime – A Review of the Evidence’ dated October 2013.
2 Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, October 2013.
3 CONTEST: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism, July 2011.
4 The National Cyber Security Strategy: Protecting and promoting the UK in a digital world, November 2011 (updated December 2013).
5 Home Office Research Report 75 ‘Cyber Crime – A Review of the Evidence’ dated October 2013.

PAnorama Organised Crime Govenrment

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