Clever Criminal Tactics, Matched By Investigator’s Wit

The explosion of communication technology has sparked many clever criminal tactics in recent times. From common criminal elements to syndicated criminal organizations have been early adaptors of cutting edge technology to leverage their illicit activities by directly exploiting the technology for gains or using it as a tool to further other criminal schemes—mobile phones comes immediately to mind.  Truth-be-told criminals have shown a propensity to adapt to technological advances faster than law enforcement organizations. The evolution of mobile networks from analog to digital has given way a number of platforms (SMS, e-mail, etc.) loosely connected and not-so-well guarded global data networks, which have been manipulated for illicit activities.

Public and private Investigators around the world have been forced to come-up to speed; often learning on the fly and adapting to these criminal tactics. One popular way many investigators have been able to trace communication leading to illicit or criminal activities is through the cell phone triangulation. Investigations that relay on a person’s exact location at the moment a criminal act is committed require access to cell towers, which must be obtained from mobile phone service providers—many jurisdictions require a court order to avoid running a fowl of due process laws.  Criminals are also aware that their activities can be traced in this way, so they actively try to thwart these efforts by using disposal SIM cards and other schemes.  Most recently criminals have also try to create alibis by false flagging SMS messages.  Police agencies are aware of these tactics and have made this information standard knowledge to look for during crime scenes investigation. How long before other criminal elements attempt to cover their tracks through this clever stratagem….

Text Messages on Rise as Alibis:

The International “Hostage Business”

By Francisco Mateo

             “Kidnappings in Mexico have fallen from 1.1 per 100,000 people in 1997 to 0.8 in 2008 — though the number may be increasing again.”  Eurasia Group

The masters of the dark arts have perfected their heartless, dirty craft in Mexico today.  According to experts, Mexico has been invaded by as many gangs of professional kidnappers as the many types of kidnapping they have brought with them or created; a true testament for men’s capacity for evil. As inhumane as it may sound, people are assigned a flexible dollar target number depending on their social-economic status. The following Dateline special “The Desperate Hours” details the story of a family’s ordeal being targeted in rural San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Learn More Here: “The Desperate Hours”

Kidnapping as we all know are not just a Mexican problem today. Statistics show that  Sub-Saharan and West Africa, including Nigeria, as well as Haiti, Pakistan, Venezuela, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq are also top kidnapping hotspots. How do you stay safe in light of the growing sophistication of these economic terrorist groups of kidnappers?  Remember that the name of the game is situation awareness, just keep in mind that in Mexico even kidnapping experts have their best efforts thwarted; therefore your defense posture needs to be sound.  Have a well thought out plan, abandon fear as a tactic as it would only lead you astray; instead be informed, seek advice from local experts and implement countermeasures according the prevailing kidnapping modus operandi. 

 I’ll leave you with these few bullet points in summary:

  • Kidnappers always look for target of opportunity. 
  • Simple things like changing your routines;
  • Keeping a low profile
  • Having a plan when you detect you’re being followed
  • Keeping in contact a trusted person or family on speed dial on your cell phone; can really go a long way to keep you save. 
  • Criminals thrive on fear, so show confidence and resolve that you would not be made a victim 
  • Above all be reasonable about your actions and decisions and you would move beyond fear

Globalization Boosts Europe’s Gangsters

Much has been written about globalization and organized crime evolution, but rarely do we see mainstream media focus on the boom that trade liberalizations has had on the illicit economy the following BusinessWeek article touches on very significant trends.  As I have described in previous posts, the global illicit economy would rice to challenge legitimate business.  Notice how organized crime has been structured to profit under any economic circumstances.  The effect is akin to Darwin’s natural selection or more appropriate survival of fittest.

Globalization Boosts Europe’s Gangsters

Trade liberalization, fewer borders, and cheap air travel all are contributing to a rise in organized crime from the south and east of Europe

By Leigh Phillips

Security Practitioners, The Neo-Centurions

By Francisco Mateo, CPP, CFE

The decline of the Roman Empire preceded a gradual breakdown of the Roman Empire’s economy; thanks in part to the constant barbarian invasions; this demonstrates a striking similarity to the watershed moment we are witnessing today. Globalization has created empires of wealth around the world, but an economic decline and the rise of a global illicit economy, threaten to impose new regimes based on intricate, interlocking networks.

To protect the legitimate global economy the 21st century security practitioners would resemble more a Centurion from antiquity.  Able to command legions of other security practitioners across networks, co-opting their services based on expertise and results orientation; banding together to tackle their clients’ toughest asset and people protection challenges across geographic boundaries. 

The rise of these Neo-Centurions is predicated on the growing risk of highly organized; vertically integrated (But flexible) criminal syndicates, which would continue to rise and challenge the global economy as we know it today.  Since organized crime actors maneuver in the shadows, aided by geography, often in so-called failed states, it superimposes the need for a more astute, defensive player to counterbalance the onslaught on corporate entities and business in general.  What it calls for is a network of well trained security practitioner networks to become significant stakeholders (in the raise for profit assurance) and engage organized criminal networks in asymmetrical conflict at a superior level.    

Centurion qualities like being “vigilant, temperate, active and readier to execute the orders he receives than to talk; Strict in exercising and keeping up proper discipline among his soldiers” are well suited for today’s security practitioners. We’d operate like a fleet of agile ships navigating through rough waters, through discipline and well timed execution.  For some time we have ponder the skill sets needed to triumph on the business battlefield, much like the centurions did throughout their conquest campaigns.  It has been said that:

“In addition to law enforcement and military skills, a security leader must understand his or her firm’s business from finance and strategy to business continuity, competition and profits. The security leader must employ executive leadership skills appropriate to the corporation as a whole. He or she must be able to communicate, manage large projects, create strategies, assemble cross-departmental teams, execute plans and more.

A security leader must understand IT security and must maintain an awareness of emerging issues that may affect the company. He or she must follow legislative and regulatory trends, developments in globalization, trans-national crime, security research and development, and other trends that may one day alter the corporation’s fortunes.”  

Much like the centurion, the security practitioner must be able to both apply the knowledge and skills aligned with the next-gen security leader and teach its team how to implement them in their execution. I recently saw a precise description suited to the new practitioner “A security leader is a visionary, someone who can drive strategy and who understands the levers of power in the corporation, and someone who can clearly articulate his or her vision. He or she must also exhibit the ability to produce results, lead people, delegate and develop employees.”   

Our civilization is undergoing an epochal change requiring the restructuring of economic, societal and overall power structures.  The transition could be tortuous for many organizations.  Security organizations are not exempt.  We must respond to a fragmenting world by developing new paradigms in operations.  The redesign is already underway, sadly without much input from business security professionals.  But is not too late, security practitioners can still take the helm by postulating new protection schemes. If our future is headed towards neomedievalism than we must hone in the skills of the next-gen security practitioners to create those networks of cross-skill professionals that can nimbly tackle security issues our organizations would face.

A new global security operating model would require both the nimbleness and leveraged that a contract security center of expertise (Shared Service Center).  Whether it is on a retainer or charged per service the aim is to reduce shared service cost, by simplifying what support functions we’re expected to deliver and eliminate nonessential activities by focusing on what’s most important to the business.  The key here is to focus on the most essential processes, eliminating steps that don’t truly contribute to the business.  Many security-related services could be effectively conducted on a need-to-be-in-situ basis.  Of course, some security practitioners will always be sourced locally from strategic locations overseas to handle particularly sensitive, specialized, or high-risk tasks.  As a recent RAND report stated “Although globalization is promoting homogenization in some sectors, significant cultural, language, political, and societal factors still make each country unique. Our need to understand these countries in their true complexity is increasing, not diminishing.”

Why centurions and not the Knights which are more appropriate of the medieval age protection professionals?  The answer lies in a conceptual interpretation and allegory I’m attempting to draw. I know that I’m generalizing on one of the most significant period in the history of human kind, but bare with me on that part; my focus is to turn the security organization on its head as we project forward to events over the horizon.    

Under the new operating model economies-of-scale would require a reliance on teams of security practitioners that assemble for specific protection projects.  The teams are assembled from the legions of global security practitioner networks being formed today.  These flexible organizational structures are more inline with the way Centurions skillfully organized their fighting units to protect conquered territory.  They were essentially leaders of small, nimble division of a larger army.  Likewise the security practitioner would lead small, independent teams of professionals paired together based on their subject-matter-expertise, applied to the protection needs of organizations from disparate industries, across boundaries.

History has important lessons. I’m sure that centurions were instrumental in protecting even the far flung reaches of the Roman Empire. But even their discipline and superior knowledge of warfare were not enough to offset the larger economic and social forces that prompted the decline.  Today the operating risk environment is changing dramatically and complex issues (global illicit economy, regional wars, etc.) affect global businesses.  The neo-centurion (Security Practitioners) applies acquired analytical abilities to postulate new organizational designs, which lead to competitive protection of people, assets reputation and brand services.

Rogue use of Nascent Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Technology in the Future

By Francisco Mateo, CPP, CFE

Many progressive police agencies around the world are already considering the use of the nascent Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology for community policing and intelligence gathering purposes.  UAV’s will have many of the capabilities of UGV’s, such as cameras and sensors, but they are not terrain limited and can scrutinize much wider areas from their higher vantage point (Farivar 2005). A much more economical alternative to helicopters, UAV’s can fulfill many of the same missions at a fraction of the cost. By 2020 UAV’s will provide law enforcement with a wide variety of flying assistants tailored to fit many different missions. Types will range from large fixed wing platforms for aerial surveillance over a city to vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) UAV’s that can hover and maneuver low over a specific point or area and provide continuous monitoring of an individual. Very small “micro-UAV’s” may be capable of flying into a building or room undetected and record activities either audibly or visually, sending their information back to police officers monitoring events in real time.

But like the narco semi-submersibles regularly used by organized drug cartels to shipped drugs from distant places across the sea, the UAV technology would also be available to criminal organizations to enhance their own operating capabilities.  It peaks my curiosity what uses, beyond drug runs and surveillance, organized crime may give this technology.  I can think of perhaps using the technology to spy on rival gangs and perhaps carryout a hit on rival gangs or against law enforcement as witnessed in the Mexican drug war today.

I posit that if it’s possible for the Mexican drug cartel’s enforcement arm to get their hands on military-grade weaponry to fight each other as well as Mexican law enforcement, than it is also possible with their burgeoning financial resources they would be able to acquire UAV technology.  

Oh! you don’t think the bad guys would be able to breakthrough the technology challenge.  Logically, it is possible since they’ve done it before.  In fact, some organized crime gangs live on the cutting edge of technology.  I think they would be able to co-opt this technology rather quickly and even developed their own clever hacks to evade law enforcement. 

The thought alone has given senior western defense officials the initiative to include UAV technology in multilateral non-proliferation treaties including the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the Wassenaar Agreement.

That said, how would law enforcement combat this potential threat?  I’m out of my element here, but I’d go out on a limb to ponder if much like the weapons used in drug aircraft interdiction, electromagnetic weapons, or other directed energy weapons, currently under development could perhaps be applied to neutralize rogue UAV’s. How do you see this playing out?

July’s Counterfeiting By The Numbers

Did you know that approximately $90 million in pirated and counterfeit goods have been seized in July 2009 alone?

Italy seizes millions in Chinese counterfeit goods ($28 Million approx.)

BoC seizes fake imported goods from China ($5.7M approx.)

HP and Dubai Police seize fakes worth Dh70 million ($19 million approx.)

Police seize $340,000 in counterfeit clothing from Newport News merchant

Customs seizes $1.1 million of counterfeit jeans at port

Police: NYC bust nets thousands of fake goods ($10 Million approx.)

60,000 Russian DVDs Seized At 4 Shops ($400K approx.)

100,000 pirated CDs seized including MJs songs ($147K approx.)

Cigarettes worth over £1m seized ($1.7M approx.)

ATF seizes 12 million counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes made in China ($500K approx.)

Counterfeit medical products seized in Lesotho INTERPOL-supported operation ($500K)

Fake and expired drugs seized; counterfeit and expired drugs were seized in Kenya’s Eldoret Town and a suspect arrested in a crackdown by the Pharmacy and Poison Board ($1M approx.)

Raid Nets Over 26,000 Pieces of Counterfeit Tiffany Jewelry ($2.6 M approx.)

Seven million cigarettes seized ($5M approx.)

9m cigarettes are seized at docks ($6.7M approx.)

Malaysian police bust video piracy ring ($600K approx.)

Police arrest, charge man after seizing over 15,000 pirated DVDs – Mt Pritchard ($450K)

P40M worth of counterfeit goods seized ($840K approx.)

£3m in fake goods seized ($5M approx.)


Transnational Crime’s Asymmetrical Trends

I read the National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends 2025” some time ago. The growing influence of transnational crime in global politics, business and trade was one of the most important takeaway.  It is already obvious that criminal syndicates have gain significant ground. In many of the weaker democracies around the world drug traffickers, smugglers and the like seem to be above the law.  Organized crime has gained more dividends from globalization than our public or private control organizations. Chief among the root causes for failures are ignorance and/or ambivalence on these issues. The excerpt from the NIC’s report below represents the clearest forward-looking statement I’ve seen so far (feel free to share your own):

A “Shadow” International System by 2025?

Further fragmenting the international system is the threat posed by growing transnational criminal networks in managing the world’s resources—especially global energy, minerals, and other strategic markets—in addition to their traditional involvement in international narcotics trafficking. Increased demand for energy worldwide provides opportunities for criminals to expand their activities through direct ties to energy suppliers and leaders of countries where suppliers are located. With energy supplies increasingly concentrated in countries with poor governance, longstanding practices of corruption, and an absence of the rule of law, the potential for penetration by organized crime is high.

I promised myself I’d keep track of this trend in particular because it presents a direct risk to global businesses.  The link between counterfeit products, smuggling, hijacking, market speculation and other business scourges may be difficult to establish; as they very in severity from one region to another. That is why I rely on trends to guide my risk analysis.  I called my internal process Trends-Periscope™. 

To illustrate my point, a few days ago the UN’s information desk issued the report “Transnational Tracking in West Africa”, which on the surface may be unrelated to the risk company’s face in other regions.  The reality is that issues like illegal oil bunkering impact the commodity price of oil creating speculation and the rest of economy follows suit.  Moreover many companies have experienced significant lost of market share when cheap (and risky, putting lives in danger) imitation of their best brands flood the market. The end result is not only lost of revenue, but also lost of reputation; replacement costs that drive up inefficiency and raise the global price for said products in order to offset the lost of revenue.

Just a day ago RFI reported that The ruling National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) military junta, led by Capt Moussa Dadis Camara, on July 11 announced that the army had been placed on ‘high alert’ in areas bordering Guinea-Bissau and Liberia in response to an alleged threat of attack from neighboring countries by mercenaries acting on behalf of Latin American narcotics-trafficking networks.

I suspect world leaders are deeply concern about the issue. I was not surprised to hear President Obama’s call to end corruption in Ghana, the message was meant to resonate across the region and indeed the world.  He and others are right to target corruption and cronyism, as they’re the currency and lingua franca enabling organized crime to penetrate the business and political systems and dismantle society’s countermeasures against them.