The Beat
19 Mar 2015|

A United Nations report has revealed criminal gangs to be the biggest threat to Colombians today.

This week on The Beat: drug use and gambling, Colombian organised crime, Taliban funding from organised crime, Facebook cracking down on extremists, the PJCIS declaration of the al-Raqqa province, US Homeland Security recommendations, Australia’s Muslim television studio and AUSTRAC’s latest report on the remittance sector.

Drug use and gambling

Victoria’s Sentencing Advisory Council has revealed that nearly a quarter of Victorians convicted for the cultivation and trafficking of drugs have severe gambling problems. Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula expressed concerns that drug kingpins were exploiting vulnerable members of the community to become part of the supply chain, whilst Council chairman Arie Freiberg commented that efforts to catch cannabis growers were only catching those at the lower and middle ranks rather than those at the top.

Organised crime and Colombia

A United Nations report has revealed criminal gangs to be the biggest threat to Colombians today. ASPI’s newest visiting fellow, Cesar Alvarez, told us that the demobilisation of more than 32,000 paramilitary militia members during the Alvaro Uribe government, which held power from 2002 to 2010, accelerated violence and human rights violations:

‘It’s important to acknowledge that during the late 1980’s and 1990’s these right-wing and “counter-guerrilla” movements basically arose with the financial support of drug cartels with the aim of protecting their narcotic-based industry.

‘These groups, mainly embodied by AUC (United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia), grew in numbers and took control of strategic drug-related territories. Perhaps unintendedly, this led them to keep a significant share of the drug market; something neither the cartels nor the Government foresaw.’

We’re looking forward to Cesar adding to his recent work in areas including border security and transnational crime.

Organised crime funding the Taliban

In Afghanistan, a new UN report claims the Taliban are increasing their dealings with narcotics traffickers, illegal mining rings and kidnappers. The report details that the Taliban extort an estimated US$16 million annually from ruby mines in Jagdalak, with another $16 million coming since 2005 from hostage ransoms.

Extremists and Facebook

There’s been plenty of discussion of how Islamic State has successfully harnessed social media to attract followers and gain recruits. In light of that, Facebook has updated its community standards to prohibit pages of criminal organisations and taken the opportunity to further clarify what this means in the context of different countries’ laws. One example is the social media giant’s commitment to ‘remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety’.

PJCIS declaration of al-Raqqa

Also on IS, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has supported the declaration of the province of al-Raqqa, in Syria, for the purposes of s.119.2 of the Criminal Code. (That section makes it an offence to enter, or remain in, such a declared area.)  Committee Chair, Dan Tehan, commented that the Committee’s ability to review declarations would be a significant additional safeguard for the declared area offence:

‘Through its reviews, the Committee will focus on ensuring that declarations are justified, that the boundaries of declared areas are appropriately drawn, and that declarations are clearly communicated.’

Parliamentary oversight may assist in relieving concerns that such laws would impinge on the rights of individuals, namely the reversed burden of proof.

RAND report on Homeland Security

A recent RAND Corporation paper, Assessing DHS’s Performance, provides watchdog recommendations to homeland security. This is an interesting piece, highlighting why we’d never recommend a Department of Homeland Security in Australia—an issue ASPI’s previously discussed in the context of our ministerial arrangements for national security.

AUSTRAC and the remittance sector

AUSTRAC has defended use of its power to cancel or suspend the registration of remitters, showing this has been highly effective in reducing the risks associated with money laundering, terrorism and financial crime.

But there’s community unease about the measures being taken by Australia’s big banks  to reduce the risk of funds being diverted to terrorist organisations. This is an issue to watch.

Clare Murphy is an intern working within ASPI’s Strategic Policing and Law Enforcement Program. Image courtesy of Flickr user Alex Eylar.