Turf wars that stop gangs being brought to justice

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The Independent Online

Despite all the modern talk of "joined-up policing" and "shared intelligence", old- fashioned rivalry among certain parts of Britain's intelligence agencies and police forces appears to be alive and kicking

A confidential report by the late Sir David Spedding, the former head of MI6, has found that suspicion and distrust among the various agencies has led to instances in which potentially vital information has not been shared. Sir David's report says this threatens to damage the country's fight against organised crime.

Everyone is now agreed that the way to crack serious and organised crime ­ from cross-Channel alcohol smugglers to Turkish heroin importers ­ is to gain information about their movements and manpower. Intelligence is seen as the key to bringing down Britain's crime bosses.

But with three secret services, Customs and Excise, the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and 51 British police forces, there is a lot of information to go around.

Precisely because of fears that there were holes in the intelligence-gathering process or that information was not being disseminated effectively, the Home Office asked Sir David to carry out the review last year.

While Sir David, who was Chief of MI6 from 1994-99, found much to commend, and praised the managers of the various law enforcement agencies, he also found evidence that not everyone has grasped the new philosophy of open access and shared intelligence.

It seems that the wounds from previous turf wars still run deep among some operational teams.

The secret services ­ MI5, the Security Service, MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, and GCHQ, the Government's spying centres in Cheltenham, Cornwall and Scarborough ­ have been a source of mutual suspicion ever since they supplemented the dwindling work against republican terrorist and Cold War foes by muscling their way into the fight against organised crime.

However, after some initial ill-will against the "spooks", police forces, NCIS, Customs and NCS have come to greatly value their expertise. Their role in helping the police tackle organised criminals that have a national or international threat still takes up a comparatively small amount of their workload, but they are becoming increasingly involved in operations against drug trafficking and people smuggling.

The Spedding report, which all agencies signed up to at the beginning of this year, did highlight some members of Customs and Excise as holding old-style attitudes. Customs, with a £1bn budget that includes about 350 intelligence and 1,500 operational officers, has recently been through a reorganisation, but has maintained a reputation for jealously guarding its patch from "outsiders".

The National Crime Squad ­ £123m budget for 1,300 detectives and 400 support staff ­ an élite police team that focuses on and combats serious and organised criminals, admits there has been reluctance in the past for everyone to share information, but believes great improvements are being made. A spokesman said it had seen a four-fold increase in joint operations in the past year and was working more closely with other agencies than before.

The biggest beneficiary of the Spedding report appears to be the National Criminal Intelligence Service, whose main task has been to provide law enforcement agencies with intelligence on Britain's top 200 criminals.

With about 1,000 staff and a budget of £58m, Sir David's report recommends that it take over the lead role in drawing up strategic intelligence analyses of almost every type of organised crime.

The organisation says it has now accepted all the recommendations and set up a new department of strategic intelligence. NCIS is expected to increase the number of intelligence reports it compiles on subjects such as synthetic drugs and counterfeit money from about four a year to one a month, and to put more resources into its annual "threat assessment".

A spokesman for NCIS said the exchange of information had greatly improved. He commented: "I think that's a matter of growing confidence in organisations with different cultures and different modus operandi and the greater realisation that we all have a part to play."