It is great to be back again at RUSI, and I am delighted to be opening your inaugural Serious and Organised Crime conference today. The first of what I hope will be many.
Photo credit: Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)
Why? Because this conference - this mix of minds - brings together experts from a range of different professions and disciplines who can help improve our analysis of serious and organised crime and thus our response to it.
Our analysis has, in fact, improved markedly over the last decade; but I am very conscious there is more that we need to do, and that we cannot do it alone.
So this morning I will:
- say a very brief word on the threat and our strategy in response;
- explain how our analysis of SOC has improved in recent years;
- And finally, highlight where there are gaps and pose some challenges for the rest of the conference – and particularly the breakout groups - to consider.
So first, as context, the threat and our response.
We published our annual national strategic assessment in July, and the findings will be familiar to many of you - and also discussed further in the next panel.
In short, despite our efforts and many successes, serious and organised crime has continued to evolve and in some areas to increase.
All SOC threats involve a significant international nexus, and global instability creates both the conditions for those threats to increase and makes tackling them harder. And we occasionally see hostile states using criminals as proxies, as Lord Evans may touch on later.
Meanwhile, technology is transforming old crimes – with the use of the dark web, encrypted comms and crypto currency, to enable drugs, guns and illegal immigration. And technology is enabling new ones, in child abuse, fraud and cyber-crime, by giving criminals reach and giving them scale.
The impact can be seen in communities across the UK, on our streets and online. It is chronic; it is corrosive; and it is crucial that we address it.
Our response from the NCA is twofold:
- to lead the system response, by pulling together all our partners to ensure we have evidence-based, intelligence-led plans that cover the famous 4Ps of Prevent, Protect, Pursue and Prepare.
- And then secondly, within that response, to target our own operations where they will have most impact.
Our analysis led us to conclude that, to have the most impact, we needed to shift the NCA’s focus to areas the rest of law enforcement would struggle to reach, and specifically:
- Upstream – to disrupt those at the top of the criminal chain, those who enable them, and those how launder their money;
- Overseas – to tackle the threat at source and en route to the UK, working with our international partners; and
- Online – reflecting the fact that more crime takes place online or is enabled by technology.
I am particularly grateful to RUSI for structuring this conference around those three areas of Upstream, Overseas and Online.
In each of these areas, and indeed across all of serious and organised crime, it is vital that our efforts are underpinned by the very best evidence and analysis: of the threat and how it is developing, of the effectiveness of our response, and of best practice in the UK and overseas.
As I said in introduction, we have made great strides in recent years.
Let me give some examples.
- Waste water analysis has allowed us – with the Home Office and King’s College and latterly Imperial College - to better understand the volumes and types of drugs consumed in the UK, and showed it was roughly three times our previous estimates. As part of a basket of indicators, along with data on purity, price and deaths, it gives us a strong picture of the drug threat.
- Statistical modelling using a range of data sources, and using a ‘mark and recapture’ methodology borrowed from ecology and extensively tested, allowed us to produce the startling figures for the number of adults who pose a sexual risk to children: 680-830 thousand. Again a significant increase on previous estimates.
- Painstaking work with police forces across the country has closed what is known as the ‘ballistic gap’, so that we have a much fuller and more accurate understanding of firearms discharges across the UK.
- And we have recognised that for some crimes, others own the key data sets, and so we have pioneered sharing of transaction data between a few of our high street banks and our bulk data team in the NCA to give us all a better understanding of how money is laundered through cash rich businesses.
We also have a better understanding of our collective activity and impact against the threat.
Over the last few years we have been introducing ‘SOC system tasking’ and ‘APMIS’ (our Agency and Partner Management Information System).
When roll out across all of our partners completes at the end of this financial year, they will give us, for the first time, a comprehensive picture of:
- all of law enforcement’s investigations into serious and organised crime;
- the scale of criminality involved in each, assessed to a common set of criteria;
- and the number and impact of disruptions we are making against these criminals, again to a common methodology.
And we are not doing this just at the national level.
- In online child sexual abuse, the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of fifteen law enforcement agencies currently chaired by the NCA, assesses how the threat from child sexual abuse is changing, coordinates our response to it, and shares best practice.
- In cyber crime, the International Cyber Crime Operational Group brings together our Five Eyes and key European partners to ensure we have a common understanding of the threat, and coordinated campaigns to investigate and disrupt the most significant cyber threats such as ransomware.
We are also horizon scanning, with our partners, to anticipate changes to the threat, and either prevent or prepare for them. We are looking at:
- the risk of synthetic opiods taking hold in the UK, particularly as opium production in Afghanistan reduces.
- the development of 3D printed firearms as more traditional guns are harder to get hold of.
- At how next generation AI can facilitate child abuse or fraud, as well as help our response to it.
- how illegal migration routes might evolve as we begin, I sense, to constrict the supply of small boats and engines to northern France.
- And we are looking at how law enforcement’s ability to identify and investigate crime will be affected by changes in telecommunications infrastructure.
- There is a lot here that is world-leading and we should be proud of. We have made real progress, analytically, in understanding the threat and our response, and we are in a much better place now than we were five and certainly ten years ago.
And it gets better week by week, as our National Assessment Centre and TRACER teams churn out new assessments. All credit to those teams, and to often under-sung analysts and intelligence officers across policing and law enforcement.
But there are gaps, gaps in knowledge and gaps in analytical techniques. And that is finally where I want to turn. Let me set out seven analytical questions that we wrestle with in the NCA, and where we would really welcome your support:
- First, we have got better at assessing the scale of each threat, but some are better than others. Our assessment on money laundering – at least £100 billion laundered through the UK or UK corporate structures - is one of the weaker ones. Our assessment on ransomware attacks depends on reporting that we know is patchy, at best. How can we improve them?
- Secondly, how can we compare robustly the impact of different threats? How do you compare the deaths and acquisitive crime caused by heroin with the less acute but more pervasive impact of cannabis on communities throughout the UK? More broadly, what methodology do you use to compare the impact of drugs with child sexual abuse, with organised immigration crime, with fraud?
- Third, within our ‘pursue’ work, how do we compare the impact of expensive criminal justice outcomes – putting people in prison – with often less expensive alternative disruptions such as asset recovery or immigration action?
- Fourth, how do we balance between our ‘Pursue’ work and the very significant benefit to be had from the other 3Ps, from designing out crime, or dissuading people from a criminal path, where many of the levers sit with regulators, the private sector or the public?
- Fifth, while we now have a pretty robust way of assessing and comparing the tactical impact of individual disruptions, it is harder to be assess their cumulative impact, and to determine whether there is a causal link with changes to the overall threat. How can we better do that, and thus answer the question – are we winning?
- Sixth, within a field with a smaller data set, more variability, and longer timescales than volume crime, how do we test and evaluate different approaches and produce evidence-based best practice, from within the UK or overseas?
- Finally, how can we provide some sort of indicative metric of our collective ability to bear down on the threat from serious and organised crime. We have, within government, coverage levels and also public threat levels for terrorism. What would an equivalent look like for SOC?
I hope that is enough to get the cogs turning on a cold and wet Monday morning.
I will now close my remarks and look forward to the rest of this fascinating conference.
I hope you can all use it to create new relationships, networks and opportunities to advance the fight against SOC.
And I hope, by the end of it, we will have some answers to the questions I’ve set out, or least be able to chart a course to doing so.
It is, for sure, an interesting intellectual exercise. But it is a lot more than that. It is the means of ensuring we use the resources we all have to best effect in reducing the harm from serious and organised crime. The public, rightly, expects no less of us.