Last week's large international drug operation that caught a bunch of New Zealanders in its net was curious for a number of reasons. Many of these reasons have been well canvassed, but a couple have only been touched on and are worthy of examination.
The amounts of drugs and firearms seized in this operation – in this country, at least – were relatively modest because the timing of the raids was dictated by international partners. But the size of the take does not diminish from the preventative outcome of the operation, and the co-operation between New Zealand agencies and their international counterparts is without question an important highlight.
But by far the most intriguing, and movie-like, aspect of the operation was the planting of communications devices. In short, the organised criminals were duped into using phones with an application they thought was secure. In reality, the devices were an ingenious plant by the FBI, and all of the communications were being recorded.
It was akin to whispering secrets into a megaphone. That this plan was hatched over a beer in an Australian pub makes the story even more suited to the big screen.
The obvious implication of these recorded communications is that the evidential basis for the prosecutions is likely to be watertight. But more than that, authorities now have intimate details of exactly how these organised crime groups were operating. Their strategic plans and tactics are now known. It's an intelligence boon.
Imagine Samsung being given the plans to Apple's next iPhone; it's like that. Law enforcement are now that much smarter about what the other side is doing, and if that information is collated correctly it will be invaluable to understanding future operations.
But it's not all about the future, there was also a little hat-tip to the past. As part of the asset confiscations, a boat was seized. Police say this boat was to be used to ferry drugs from ships offshore in an effort to circumvent the prying eyes of folks at customs.
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Those of you with a little more grey up top – or with a bent for crime history – will be aware that using boats to import drugs has an infamous Kiwi pedigree. The Mr Asia crime syndicate of the 1970s cracked it big with an importation of close to half a million buddha sticks on board a yacht they used named Brigadoon.
That illicit cargo allowed the then-relatively small-time New Zealand crooks to build a massive drug empire, which they went on to run out of Australia. One of the vital enablers of their Australian operations was the corruption of officials – notably within the police. And here is a lesson in caution and why busts like this recent one are so important.
Organised crime thrives in an environment when corruption is rife. When criminal groups can grease the palms of people in airports, ports and law enforcement agencies, they are given huge advantages. I would argue that New Zealand's enviable lack of corruption is one of our primary fillips to drive against organised crime in this country. We must do everything to protect that.
While the overall demand for drugs will mean supply will quickly return to meet the market after successful police operations such as this one, they do, however, knock the guts out of crime syndicates and reduce the chance of them establishing the financial base that makes corruption more likely.
So while the haul in New Zealand was modest, the operation was nevertheless incredibly important.
• Dr Jarrod Gilbert is the Director of Criminal Justice at the University of Canterbury