Mind the gap: How to align the UK’s response to serious and organised crime with other homeland security threats
The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (the Integrated Review) recognises that strengthening the UK’s homeland security ecosystem is critical to protecting the public from transnational security threats that continue to grow and undermine the interests and values of UK citizens.
Within these threats, the impact of serious and organised crime (SOC) should not be underestimated. It costs the UK economy £37 billion a year, and sees more loss of life than war and terrorism combined. Economic crime, illicit finance and fraud are not only the lifeblood of SOC, but also fund terrorist groups and hostile state activity. It is a pervasive, interconnected threat, as seen through the adversarial use of financial tools that undermine the UK’s economic and security interests.
The Integrated Review’s focus on a strengthened response to all homeland security threats shows that SOC has been elevated to the top table alongside counter-terrorism (CT). However, the Integrated Review also advocates continued strengthening of historically better-funded responses such as CT. For example, the review announced the formation of the UK’s first joint CT Operations Centre (CTOC), which will transform how CT integrates partner working and data sharing. This continued investment risks a growing gap between SOC and other homeland security threats.
Given the scale, impact, and interconnected nature of the SOC threat, delivering a truly integrated homeland security capability calls for clear, balanced investment decisions. At the same time, both new and existing homeland security capabilities need to be shared to achieve an information advantage.
Align the SOC response with other homeland security threats
To successfully strengthen the SOC response, there needs to be much closer alignment with the approaches used in areas such as counter-terrorism, intelligence and cyber security. The National Crime Agency (NCA) and regional and local policing will need enhanced capabilities and new legal powers to equip the UK to meet rapidly changing threats.
To achieve this, homeland security leaders need to swiftly decide and determine:
- whether a strengthened NCA becomes an ‘FBI-style’ fourth intelligence agency, a more closely aligned partner to regional and local policing, or a hybrid of both
- how best to balance the development of collaborative capabilities with international partners and maintain sovereign capabilities
- when to develop unique capabilities to tackle SOC, and when to leverage and tailor tools used against other threats
- how to strike the right balance of investment between world-beating technology and nurturing next-generation talent.
Build shared capabilities to achieve an information advantage
The implications of scarce funding are that, wherever possible, new capabilities should be designed and existing capabilities shared to serve everyone. This not only requires trust, but also capabilities that are designed with sufficient adaptability to respond at speed to complex, interconnected threats. This will provide officers with high-quality shared intelligence, enhanced investigative capabilities and greater interoperability – in doing so, seizing the information advantage. This will enable the UK to react to changing circumstances faster than terrorists and criminals, ensuring its homeland security response is both in-step and one step ahead to keep the public safe.
This approach will call for sacred cows to be banished – not least the desire of local leaders to ‘own’ their own intelligence capabilities. New levels of co-operation between operationally focused organisations and the departments that govern them will be required. This co-operation can be achieved by replicating the high levels of trust generated when investigators are working to a joint imperative and common purpose, as was done so successfully during Operation Venetic, so that they make best use of opportunities to share and collaborate as a matter of course.
The Integrated Review has rightly placed SOC at the top table of homeland security threats; ensuring it now has the right level of focus and alignment is where the hard work begins. The challenge must not be underestimated. Through the actions above, homeland security leaders can make the tough calls to drive change, align the homeland security response and achieve information advantage. In doing so, they will reduce both SOC and the pernicious, far-reaching consequences of this threat.