Crime, terror fears drive border clamp

By Greg Ansley

As evidence of increasing links between sophisticated, high-tech organised crime and global terrorism continues to emerge, Australia is about to consider more tough measures to protect its borders.

The proposals include compulsory photo ID checks for all passengers on domestic flights, and a new crime of travelling under a false name.

They also advocate a big increase in security camera surveillance, including automated facial recognition technology capable of producing images good enough to be used as evidence in court.

And more dogs will be used to sniff out illicit currency and drugs at airports.

If recommendations by the Federal Parliament's joint committee on law enforcement are accepted, these measures will be backed by much wider transport laws that tie terrorism to crime, enforced by new "flying squads" and specialist taskforces.

The committee also recommends a review aimed at beefing up intelligence-swapping between law enforcement agencies and private organisations, and the development of "stealth" methods to investigate suspect containers so insiders working with organised crime do not learn of the surveillance.

"The committee has received significant evidence of infiltration of the aviation and maritime sectors by serious and organised criminal networks," its report on maritime and aviation security, issued this week, said.

The Federal Police warned the committee of national security threats, supported by intelligence identifying port workers with links to crime syndicates, including ethnic groups and motorcycle gangs.

Most were at container ports in New South Wales and Victoria.

The Australian Crime Commission said the threat was growing because of increased convergence between international crime groups and terrorists when their interests overlapped.

"Failed, failing and rogue states provide safe havens for organised crime, impetus for the production and distribution of illicit commodities and an environment where organised criminal activity and the interests of extremist or terrorist groups can converge," it said.

The committee was also told that gaps in border security uncovered by organised crime could be exploited by terrorist groups, some of which were already mimicking drug smugglers' methods.

Terrorists involved in the Bali and Jakarta bombings used drugs and armed robberies to support their operations, and al-Qaeda had tapped into Afghanistan's heroin trade.

Organised crime is a vast threat even without terrorists.

The committee's report said transport networks were being targeted by sophisticated crime groups, often wielding immense power.

"The power, networking ability and opportunism of sophisticated transnational criminal groups means they now operate at an unprecedented level around the world," the report said, quoting a Crime Commission study.

"The reach and influence of leading members of the larger transnational crime groups stretches far beyond their home country ...

"Mexican drug cartels, for example, now have a foothold on most continents and profits that rival the GDP of some of the world's smaller nations."

Potential profits in Australia are huge - even bigger than other major markets.

Cocaine wholesaling in Colombia for US$2348 ($2946) a kilogram sells to wholesalers in Australia for between US$150,000 ($175,200) and US$250,000 ($313,700), and retails to users for between US$300,000 ($377,600) and US$1 million ($1.17 million).

The drug's street value in the United States, Britain and Canada ranges between US$10,000 ($11,716) and US$70,000 ($82,000) a kilogram.

The Crime Commission puts the direct cost of serious and organised crime in Australia at between A$10 billion ($10.4 billion) and A$15 billion ($18.6 billion) a year.

Organised crime is also branching out, and new ventures are opening potential gaps for terrorists.

Law agencies see Australia's struggling fishing industry as "fertile ground" for organised crime - more than 20 crime networks are known to be already involved in it.

This is expected to grow with rising world demand for high value, low volume seafood such as abalone, shark fin and rock lobster.

Foreign vessels are already involved in crimes such as large-scale drug importing and people smuggling.

"In Australia, fishing vessels have previously been used to import drugs, and there is a significant risk that they will be used in the future to move people, money, weapons and other illegal commodities into or out of Australia," the Crime Commission warned in a document cited by the committee's report.

Within Australia's borders, domestic flights operating from almost 2000 airports and landing strips are seen as a growing risk, especially small fields where security is much looser than at the big centres.

West Australian police said research had identified four cases in which 13 offenders used false names for travel involving money laundering and the distribution of "significant quantities" of illicit drugs.

The committee's report also recommended tightening controls on security cards issued to port and aviation staff, originally designed to tackle terrorism but not organised crime.

The Crime Commission said organised criminal groups had exploited gaps, weaknesses and inconsistencies in official systems to gain or maintain employment, disguise criminal interests and undermine access controls on restricted areas.

Holes in the screen: what slips through and how it is done

The crimes

* Drug importing and distribution; money laundering and the illicit movement of currency and other valuables; smuggling weapons, flora and fauna; illegal tobacco imports; importing misdescribed or counterfeit goods; tax or duty evasion and theft.

At airports

* "Internal facilitators", individuals or small groups with access to secure areas and systems who have links to outside crime groups.

* Networks confined within the aviation sector, usually involved in long-running crimes such as tariff avoidance, excise fraud, theft of air freight or narcotics, and which often employ specialists whose access extends to areas such as bond stores outside the airport.

* The "rip on/rip off" scam in which

At ports

port staff slip illicit goods into already-packed shipping containers for retrieval before customs inspection.

* "Piggybacking" in which crime gangs use the identity and credentials of a legitimate importer to clear the shipment through customs, riding on the back of the unsuspecting consignee's reputation.

* The use of nominal consignees, allegedly the importer but in fact a middleman concealing the identity of the true recipient.

* Stealing containers, most filled with tobacco or other high-value, high-duty goods.

On the web

- NZ Herald

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