Podium: Solving drug crime with intelligence

From a speech by the Director General of the National Criminal Intelligence Service to the Chief Constables' Drugs Conference
THE DRUGS trade is global. It's big business, and exploits international opportunities. But unlike legitimate business, it doesn't recognise any rules, acts covertly and constantly forms and reforms alliances.

Recently, Interpol provided the following chilling strategic analysis of the global drug trade. The analysis indicated that the illicit global drug trade is exploding.

There is increasing demand met by an increasing supply. In 1997 between 300 and 400 tons of heroin was produced for illicit use. 150 countries reported heroin as a problem, either as a producer, transit or consumer country. Intelligence indicates that heroin reaching Europe emanates principally from South-west Asia, but also from South-east Asia and the Americas (Columbia and Mexico). In 1997 between 700 and 1000 tons of cocaine was produced in South America for illicit use.

We also know that cocaine is reaching western Europe directly from South America via sea and air routes and indirectly via eastern Europe and Africa.

Cannabis remains the world number one drug of choice. But the illicit use of synthetic drugs in the United Kingdom is high and increasing.

Interpol's analysis suggests that synthetic drugs will be the nightmare of the Millennium.

Synthetic drugs are relatively easy to make, can provide high levels of purity, make use of increasingly available precursor chemicals, are easily smuggled and are highly profitable. In 1997, the United States dismantled 1,200 illegal methamphetamine laboratories. In Thailand for example, there are one million amphetamine users, and abuse throughout Asia is growing rapidly. Within Europe, the UK is the greatest user of synthetic drugs.

I have not made these comments for effect or to dramatise, but to illustrate the size of the problem and the importance of information and intelligence in directing our law enforcement activity.

Those involved in trafficking drugs are flexible, innovative and increasingly sophisticated. For example, cocaine in canned pineapples in Venezuela was recently detected in Russia; in another case, drugs were sealed in lead ingots impervious to X-rays or external examination.

Drug trafficking is the kernel of organised crime in the United Kingdom. There are at least two reasons for this.

The first is the attraction of the vast profits to be made - between pounds 3 and pounds 9bn. Worldwide it is more than pounds 200bn.

The second is that the level of organisation required to participate in the market is considerable.

Experience in the UK has indicated that the intelligence led approach is more effective in tackling crime than other traditional investigative methods. This is undoubtedly true in tackling drugs. Top level criminals rarely get their own hands dirty; forensic evidence is not likely to be available; witnesses are few and may be intimidated to avoid giving evidence and admissions are extremely unlikely, particularly from the leaders of organised criminal groups.

The effective development and exchange of information and intelligence is therefore crucial. With good intelligence it is possible to identify opportunities for gathering evidence against them.

It won't surprise you that I think that gathering, developing and analysing information and producing intelligence is the most effective way forward for enforcement, particularly if we are to "stifle the availability of illegal drugs on our streets" - which you will appreciate is the aim of the Government's recently announced 10-year strategy for tackling drug misuse.

This approach is relevant to all levels of drug enforcement. The new strategy also acknowledges this, with each of the four aims emphasising the importance of making use of the best available information to direct and assess progress.

I suggest that NCIS is the intelligence exchange network that law enforcement should be using to tackle serious and organised crime. Our raison d'etre is to encourage and enhance the co-ordination and exchange of information and intelligence.

While we focus primarily on the criminal rather than the crime, I can report that at least 80 per cent of our intelligence development work is linked to drugs and, virtually without exception, each of these had an international aspect.

Information and intelligence exchange which drives operational activity is not an option; it is a necessity. The only option is how well we are going to do it. The solution, largely rests with us all.