Same crime: different effect?
25 Sep 2013|
Hamish Hansford’s response to my recent post adds to the explanation of the relationship between organised crime and security—his list of effects is a reminder that crime affects security in a number of ways. I’d like to build on that list by showing how organised crime has detrimental impacts on different referents of security (in other words, who or what’s to be secured).

In the diagram below (click to enlarge), I’ve identified four related referents that feel the effects of organised crime. The explanation will take time to build, so let’s start at the centre. The black oval represents the enablers of organised crime. These enablers have been taken from the ACC report (see p. 13), and feature traditional criminal tools such as violence, corruption, exploitation and money laundering. The ACC also highlight modes with emerging prominence, including identity crime, shonky business structures and misused technology.

Relationships between organised crime and society

Organised criminals use these tools to create different effects, which are displayed on the outwards-pointing arrows from the oval. The diagram is simplified for ease of understanding and so mentions only a few effects, and only once each. Some criminal effects are linked to the next stage of analysis and to other referents. It’s also worth noting that these are probably only some of the possible effects of organised criminals—more will be added as new vulnerabilities in society emerge and are exploited.

‘Public safety’ is perhaps the best known referent, and is the one most closely associated with organised crime in Australia at present. It’s where criminals steal, inflict violence and sell illicit goods to the community at large. This is the visible part of Hamish’s metaphorical iceberg and gets the most attention.

The top right referent is ‘human security’. It’s closely related to, but distinct from, public safety because human security also captures broader concerns such as political repression, systemic gender violence, and unequal access to services. These problems exist to some degree in developed countries, but we and other advanced economies rely upon our (fallible) governments to address them. Elsewhere, especially in authoritarian, failed or failing states, governments either cannot fix the human security challenges, or cause problems themselves.

‘International security’ speaks to the relationships among the society of states and the most significant non-government and inter-government non-state actors. That leaves ‘national security’, which in this case means the protection of state institutions and the cohesion of society, as well as the advancement of the state’s sovereign interests. We already know that organised crime has compromised some aspects of the border security system, as well as other public bodies. However, there’s no evidence that criminals have penetrated institutions such as the judiciary or parliament, where any influence would most certainly threaten national security.

The interrelated nature of these referents means that problems in one area have the potential to be harmful to others. So the last element of the diagram is the description, presented in italics, of how organised crime creates linkages between the referents. I was tempted to link human security and public safety because the actual impact of crime is similar in both referents. But the model defines public safety as concerns over events in Australia and human security as our concerns overseas.

So why’s this model important? Firstly, the model helps us understand jurisdiction and responsibility. If it’s a public safety issue in Australia, it’s probably a state lead, although the Commonwealth has responsibilities too, especially if it involves border protection (e.g. action against illegal gun and drug imports), or involves exploitation of the cyber domain (based on the Commonwealth’s responsibility for communications) or other offences against Commonwealth law (such as money laundering, tax evasion or passport forgery). If organised crime affects human security overseas, then Commonwealth agencies—including AusAID, Foreign Affairs and Defence—may become involved. And if organised crime is a threat to national security, we need to see close Commonwealth and state cooperation, especially in the areas of legislation, regulation, intelligence, investigation, and ultimately disruption or arrest and prosecution. Of course, the incarceration and subsequent case management of organised criminals is a state government responsibility, even if it might be funded by the Commonwealth.

Secondly, the tools that can be employed against organised crime increase in number and violent potential as the referent changes from public safety and human security to national and international security. Law enforcement tools will always be applicable against organised crime—this is strongest in the case of public safety, but also for protecting national security. Law enforcement, often through cooperation by police forces, remains relevant in the international dimension too. And in a human security situation, effective law enforcement may need to be established after the failure of a state; rebuilding the rule of law is often a fundamental task for stability interventions. But when states face a risk to national or international security, they’re often justified in using extreme violence, through their responsibility to protect themselves (known as the ‘crown prerogative’ in Australia). The Commonwealth is also more able to use executive powers, rather than relying upon legislative or judicial powers, against the threat. This means it can be harder for judicial or even parliamentary review of government actions.

It’s easy to accept organised crime as a threat to public safety in Australia, and so a security challenge. The ACC’s report is compelling on this. But this model raises some questions:

  • Is organised crime undermining national institutions in Australia today?
  • To what extent does organised crime prevent Australia from advancing its sovereign interests?
  • When will a challenge like organised crime move from being a law enforcement problem to one of national security here?
  • When and how should authorities act to stop organised crime from becoming a broader threat to national security?

Before we call organised crime a threat to national security—and so change both the locus of responsibility and the means that might be used to promote security—we should have good answers to these questions.

David Connery is a senior analyst at ASPI.

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