Through agencies such as IBAC, we are coming to understand more about why criminal gangs infiltrate government. One reason is to elicit law enforcement information or protected personal information. Criminal gangs cultivate contacts within the public service in order to use those contacts to gain information.
An example of this was seen in media reports last week about Australian Federal Police raids of Department of Agriculture officials and organised crime figures. This followed an extensive investigation into networks of corrupt officials allegedly assisting organised crime networks to import drugs. The allegation is that the officials would infiltrate computer systems in order to alert the importers as to whether their containers were under surveillance. In this way the officials were allegedly assisting drug traffickers to defeat law enforcement. An AFP spokesperson explained that the relationships between officials and organised crime figures can start through people frequenting the same gym and sharing an interest such as party drugs. The spokesperson said one question arising from this situation is why the department’s detection systems did not pick up a public official who has known drug traffickers for some time.
In a recent podcast IBAC explored with Dr Russell Smith, Principal Criminologist from the Australian Institute of Criminology, the vulnerability of public officials to grooming by organised crime syndicates. Dr Smith has done extensive research on the topic at a national level.
“In the past and in the age of computers, the simplest way of getting information was to hack into a computer network and try and extract the information from the computer drives.” Dr Smith says.
“Now that’s becoming more difficult as computer security has increased, criminals have started reverting to more tried and true methods of getting information and one of those is to try and corrupt public servants into disclosing information improperly. It’s sometimes easier to form a relationship with someone who’s in a secure working environment and then persuade them by various means to leak information to them. The research is not extensive on the extent of the problem but there certainly have been anecdotal accounts of public servants in even anti-corruption commissions, tax office and police in particular who’ve given information to organised crime groups”.
Dr Smith notes that, “If you look at the recruitment of people to become corrupt, they’re really looking at people who have some need to get money in some way. So someone who has access to information that might be valuable to an organised crime group, who also happens to have a need for extra money is a very vulnerable target.”
Dr Smith goes on to say that: “Often you’re probably not going to be aware that you have been targeted until the point where you’re requested to provide information or give some benefit to the organised crime group that’s been pursuing you.”
Some of the ways you can protect yourself are:
– careful use of social media is important as it provides access to personal information that can be used in grooming
– protect computers and IT systems – especially if staff bring their own devices to the workplace that can be a real risk
– be aware of high risk behaviours – people with alcohol, drug or gambling addictions or people trying to maintain a lifestyle that their income doesn’t support are at risk
– it’s important for public servants to manage relationships with suppliers and individuals in a professional manner so they don’t place themselves in a compromising situation.
Explaining what public sector organisations stand to lose from this type of corruption, Dr Smith identified three key areas:
1) Reputational damage – loss of information particularly from large government departments that might deal in health records or personal tax information can be a serious problem for the reputation of the government.
2) Compromised law enforcement – having information disclosed about ongoing and future law enforcement operations can be seriously damaging, not only to the agency in question but also for individuals involved and that can lead to undercover operatives being compromised and could result in them being placed at a serious risk of violence.
3) Financial loss – the upshot of all forms of corruption is financial loss – sometimes these are direct losses so money taken from organisations and spent by organised crime groups are invested in future crime activities. Or sometimes the losses may be less direct and more consequential such as loss of personnel having to reinstate computer systems, damage to people’s livelihoods and personal relationships.
These are all effects that can result from corruption.
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The material in this blog has been based on a transcript of an IBAC podcast with Dr Russell Smith, Principal Criminologist from the Australian Institute of Criminology.