25 January 2008 - 27 January 2008

Strategies for combating international organised crime

Chair: The Rt Hon Lord Wilson of Dinton GCB

Ditchley’s first conference of the New Year, held on a mild, almost spring-like, weekend, tackled the threatening but intangible subject of international organised crime.  Participants seemed both resigned and enthusiastic:  pessimistic about the chances of winning the struggle against organised crime, but keen to look for new ways forward and new methods of cooperation.  It was a surprise to discover how few of the company had brainstormed with people beyond their own profession. 

We started with an attempt to analyse the threat, sensibly putting aside the temptation to agree on a definition of organised crime.  What governments and law enforcement agencies had to confront was an organic, rather than a systemic, collection of groups, almost all of them with specific and independent characteristics, who were increasingly taking advantage of geopolitical and global economic trends to find new ways of making money illegally.  Very often a group had local origins in one country and distinct lines of operation to or through specific localities in other countries.  One spot of good news, probably, was that the violence generated by organised gangs in recent decades had probably declined in recent years, at least in some jurisdictions.  Organised crime was now more focussed on markets – for drugs, trafficking, fraud, extortion or other damaging activities.  The phenomenon was international, if not global, but operations were often highly localised.  Borders were largely irrelevant.

The conference thought hard about who, what and why.  Cells in certain specific locations appeared to have developed particular criminal techniques, but new groups were forming all the time in different places.  Cell structures were small and, even so, the individual members might know little about each other.  Communication was often through the internet.  It was difficult to discern regular or identifiable patterns of who might be involved.  As for the substance of criminal activity, drugs remained the biggest cause of harm to society.  Chains of activity were complex, with high profits being earned all down the line.  Countries of weak governance or instability through conflict were often involved.  Corruption was prevalent through the use of easy money and occasionally through threats of violence.  Fraud was also a growing concern as economic globalisation enlarged the opportunities.  Identity and document theft or counterfeiting often accompanied it.  As for why, perhaps there there was the least change.  Financial gain was the principal motivator.  With business innovation so dynamic in the legitimate world, the threat of organised crime was also becoming more dynamic and less formulaic, quick to exploit any new opportunity and drawing on a number of aspects of geopolitical change. 

The conference quickly agreed that not nearly enough research had been done, or data collected, on what was actually happening.  It was hard to penetrate the true originators of organised crime or to discover where they were hiding themselves, their methods or their proceeds.  It was undoubtedly necessary for a much broader and deeper range of professional research to be generated if governments were truly to understand the problem they were facing. 

We also examined the links with other forms of international crime and particularly terrorism.  Most participants felt that this linkage could be overdone.  There was little evidence of systematic cooperation between terrorist cells and international organised crime, not least because their motives were quite distinct.  Nevertheless they sometimes shared methods and channels and could cooperate on a temporary or coincidental basis.  This needed watching;  but it was unlikely that revelations or successes in confronting one category would lead to openings into the other.

The conference paid close attention to the financial area in particular, not merely as a growing area for criminal activity, but also because money was a common link throughout the whole field of organised crime.  Banks and other financial institutions were beginning to focus quite carefully on criminal activity, but themselves had weaknesses which could be exploited.  The data on suspect activities was now beginning to grow, to an extent which meant that only a small proportion of leads could be followed up.  We were warned that governments needed to be very careful about the measures they thought worth introducing to close down the opportunities for crime:  they were often ill-thought out and counterproductive.  But finding really effective defensive measures was also a very complex area.

Participants had an interesting exchange on public perceptions of organised crime.  We were in no doubt as a conference that international criminal operations did a tremendous amount of harm to society, with a large number of individual victims, above all from the drugs trade.  Yet in society as a whole most individuals felt that they were not directly affected.  The economic effects of transnational crime seldom hit people directly in the wallet.  In this respect, the phenomenon could be compared with climate change:  everyone was aware that general damage was possible, even probable in the long term, but there did not seem to be a reason for changing individual behaviour this week or this year.  Largely for this reason, politicians and other policy-makers did not feel that they needed to give the defence against organised crime as high a priority as other aspects of policy which were more compelling in the short term.  In  particular, participants felt strongly that the focus on counter-terrorism since September 2001 had pushed the defence against organised crime down the order of priorities, because of the dramatic headline effect of terrorism.  Yet when solid calculations were made, terrorism could be assessed as doing less cumulative damage to the modern way of life.  The failure of governments to come up with really effective counter-narcotics policies was in itself an immense stain on the record of public sector policy-making. 

We discussed international cooperation.  No-one was in any doubt that international cooperation was necessary and needed to be improved.  The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, the Palermo Convention, had established a creditable framework for such cooperation.  But the work which flowed from Palermo and other relevant protocols and agreements was not fully addressing the threat posed.  For a start, the international community seemed to lack a strong sense of urgency in this area.  International cooperation remained fragmented.  And there was a dearth of action-oriented research which could be applied to operations in the field.  Even with the instruments and the information which governments already had to hand, national jurisdictions and agencies were surprisingly reluctant to cooperate in depth with, and trust, each other.  Participants felt no need for new international norms:  it was much more important to implement the ones we had with much more effective, willing and open cooperation in practice.  The EU was beginning to develop helpful practices in this respect, but could take cooperation further.  Where this should be concentrated would benefit from further research, as noted above, focussing in particular on the areas where organised crime did the most harm and on the points where criminal groups might be most vulnerable.  Given the advantages which organised crime appeared to have over law-abiding societies in the present era, some participants felt that detailed work on the impact and the methodologies of organised crime should be given greater priority than prosecuting cases within the criminal justice system (if there had to be a choice between the two because of limited resources). 

The conference was determined not just to analyse but to produce ideas for an effective response.  Participants were certainly not unanimous on all aspects of the analysis, nor on precisely what needed to be done in confronting it.  We recognised, with a very wide range of international experience around the table, that different regions and jurisdictions faced different aspects of organised crime in different ways.  But there was solid support around the table for the following propositions to governments, practitioners and the academic community:

Understanding the challenge 

  • Neither the international community nor the countries represented at this conference had developed a sense of urgency about the problem needed for a response which would turn the tables on international crime.  It was time to become “lawfully audacious”;
  • Politicians therefore needed to be engaged much more intensely, including in explaining the problem to public opinion; 
  • Yet the public was, on the available evidence, not yet sufficiently alarmed by the damage accumulating from organised crime to pay a higher price for measures against it, unless they understood the strategic reasons for doing so.  The message might be most effectively conveyed not just by politicians, but through education, debate, the media and the use of role-models and celebrities;
  • Given the uneven effects of organised crime, the local communities most affected by it should be more closely consulted on measures to confront it.  With public trust in government, the police and other central authorities generally too low for a direct approach to be productive, indirect techniques should be evolved and tested.

International Cooperation 

  • No national jurisdiction, however powerful the state, could cope with the problem on its own.  Given this significant mutual interdependence, it was deeply disappointing to see how fragmented the defence was against organised crime;
  • Urgent work should be done to intensify and deepen research on the impact, channels, varieties and methodologies of international organised crime, with greater coordination between law-enforcement agencies and academic and other institutions capable of conducting research; 
  • International judicial cooperation, including in extradition, should be taken forward more deliberately, with a greater willingness on the part of governments to reduce national restrictions on the transfer of information or people.


  • Research was urgently needed on the big picture and on underlying causes, going beyond the narrow focus of a rules-based approach, by both academic institutions and practitioners, as was cooperation between these different areas of expertise in analysing the data available on trends and patterns;
  • Prisons ought to be a further area for investigative activity, since relationships formed and communications systems developed within prison populations were often the source for new ideas and networks in criminal activity and, for some, prison was a safe place from which to run their criminal business;
  • In the financial field, research on channels of fraud, including via the internet, ought to be commissioned and followed up – academics and also the business community could be usefully involved;
  • Research could also be done not just on the nature of criminal groups, but also on linkages in market activity which provided opportunities for fraud or other attacks (some research had been done on this in Canada).

Practical Action 

  • The funding for new techniques, particularly for greater research, should be stepped up (but we noted that, for instance within the EU, several sources of funding were available which had not been fully taken up);
  • Particular attention should be paid to discovering the points of vulnerability of criminal groups, especially in the financial field.  Squeezing the opportunity to make, hide and later use liquid profits should be a priority area;
  • In addition, much more work needed to be done to pursue the “facilitators” of organised crime, who – wittingly or unwittingly – opened up avenues for illegal activity.  This might particularly address bankers, accountants, lawyers and similar professions.  Those found to be involved in a criminal way should be prosecuted in high-profile cases;
  • Systems should be developed, drawing on enhanced international cooperation, to improve the surveillance of the use of international development funds by unscrupulous/corrupt government officials motivated by the absence otherwise of economic opportunity;
  • Governments and regional/international institutions should study what happened to large denomination notes, often used as the storage vehicle for illegal transnational profits.

As this discussion progressed, we became increasingly conscious of the need for societies to understand better the extent to which greater freedom in economic exchange and communications had its darker side.  We seemed to be in an era where individuals were gaining greater freedom for their own activities, but with a lowered sense of responsibility.  Even in sophisticated societies, citizens were relying on their government to develop defences against cross-border threats which government systems could not in fact achieve.  For the most part, not even political leaders understood the real constraints on their power to deliver adequate defensive measures.  While the media ought to have found a way of describing this problem and goading government into addressing it, journalists and media corporations were in fact failing to raise the profile of a phenomenon which did not often have a short-term or high shock value impact.  Governments were too easily seduced into thinking that action for its own sake was achieving something, when they lacked a strategic framework for the long haul.  When they no longer had a monopoly on border-control, weapons or information, they could not afford to be satisfied only with a tactical approach.  The whole phenomenon needed to be understood in greater depth. 

Many participants were perhaps surprised that, although they already knew the extent of the threat, they had succeeded in identifying approaches which had not yet been tried, but which could be taken up effectively without excessive cost.  For a start, practitioners and academics saw the opportunity to liaise much more closely on deeper, more urgent analysis of the problem as it was playing out in practice.  Participants also seemed determined, since there were no politicians at the table, to deliver messages back to senior levels of government about their failure to recognise the way the world was changing.  While one conference was unlikely to generate enough of a catalytic effort to change the way in which this whole area was handled, there were some serious players who saw that a start had to be made somehow.

This was a remarkable group of different experiences and professional perspectives.  It was held together and guided by a chairman with a well-honed capacity to see the core point in every exchange.  And the conference came at a time when, it seems, a number of organisations, not least within the European Union and the UN, were beginning to realise that more needed to be done.  Ditchley hopes that this thought will have been given a further push by the conference.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


Chairman: The Rt Hon Lord Wilson of Dinton GCB
Master Emmanuel College, Cambridge (2002-).  Formerly:  Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service (1998-2002);  Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (1994-97).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Professor Letizia Paoli

Professor, Leuven Institute of Criminology, Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, Belgium (2006-).

Mr Yvon Dandurand

Criminologist and Associate Vice President, Research and Graduate Studies, University College of the Fraser Valley, British Columbia;  Senior Associate, International Centre for criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy, Vancouver.
Mr Horst Intscher
Consultant (2008-).  Formerly:  Director, Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, Ottawa (2000-07);  Assistant Deputy Solicitor General;  Assistant Deputy Minister and Ontario Representative to the Government of Canada.
Mr J Philip Murray
President, J Philip Murray Strategic Advisors Inc, Ontario (2006-).  Formerly:  Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (1994—2000).

Mr Nicholas Ilett

Director, General Affairs (Policy and Resources) and Deputy Head, European Anti Fraud Office (OLAF), European Commission (2006-).
Mrs Lotte Knudsen
Head of Unit, Organised Crime and Police Cooperation;  Acting Director, Internal Security and Criminal Justice, DG Justice, Freedom and Security, The European Commission, Brussels.

Dr José Luís Lopes da Mota

President, Eurojust, The Hague (2007-);  National Member for Portugal, Eurojust;  Crown Prosecutor.

Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière

Judge, Palais de Justice, Paris.  Formerly:  Head, Anti-Terrorist Division, Palais de Justice.

Dr Axel Küchle

German Foreign Service (1990-);  Deputy Head, Unit for Drugs Control and Organised Crime, Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Berlin.
Mr Klaus von Lampe
Researcher, Free University Berlin;  Editor ‘Trends in Organised Crime’.

Professor Alexandre Kukhianidze

Director, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center, Caucasus Office, Georgia (2001-);  Professor, Department of Political Science, Tbilisi State University (2001-).

Mr King-shing Tang

Commissioner of Police, Hong Kong (2007-).

Professor Ernesto Savona

Professor of Criminology, Università Cattolica del S Cuore, Milan (2003-);  Director, TRANSCRIME, University of Trento, Milan.

Dr Vesselin Popovski

Director of Studies, International Order and Justice, United Nations University, Tokyo.

Mr Charles Goredema

Programme Head, Organised Crime and Money Laundering, Institute for Security Studies, Cape Town.

Mr Ludo Block

Manager, IRS Forensic Services and Investigations, Rotterdam (2008-);  PhD Candidate in Public Administration, Faculty of Social Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Mrs Moira Andrews

Head of International Affairs, Crown Prosecution Service, London (2006-).
Professor Ian Angell
Professor of Information Systems, Information Systems and Innovation Group, Department of Management, London School of Economics (1986-).
Mr Ashish Bhatt
Principal, The Canonbury Group (2007-);  A Director, United Nations Association of the UK (2005-).
Professor Michael Clarke
Director, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, London (2007-);  Visiting Professor of Defence Studies, King’s College London.
Mr David Coates
Director, Financial Crime and Secretary to the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group, British Bankers Association, London (2006-).
Mr Stephen Fidler
Defence and Security Editor, The Financial Times (2001-).
Sir Christopher Fox
Managing Director, Chris Fox Consulting (2006-).  Formerly:  President, Association of Chief Police Officers (2003-06).
Mr Misha Glenny
Author and Journalist;  Founding Director, SEE Change 2004.  Formerly:  Central Europe Correspondent, BBC.
Mr William Hughes
Director General, Serious Organised Crime Agency, London.
Dr Ian Kearns
Deputy Director, Institute for Public Policy Research, London;  Deputy Chair, Independent Commission on National Security in the Twenty-First Century, Media Commentator.
Ms Sharon Kerr QPM
Commander, Specialist Crime Directorate, Metropolitan Police Service, London (2007-).  Formerly:  Head of Serious and Organised Crime for London, Metropolitan Police Service (2003 07).
Sir Stephen Lander KCB
Chair, Serious Organised Crime Agency (2004-).  Formerly:  Independent Commissioner, The Law Society (2002-05);  Director-General, The Security Service (1996-2002).
Ms Lesley Pallett
Head, Drugs and International Crime Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London.
Mr Philip Robinson
Leader, Financial Crime Sector, Financial Crime and Intelligence Division, Financial Services Authority, London.
Mrs Alison Saunders
Head, Organised Crime Division, Crown Prosecution Service, London.
Mr Rob Wainwright
Deputy Director, Serious Organised Crime Agency, London.  Formerly:  Chairman, Europol Management Board;  Director, National Criminal Intelligence Service, London.
Mr Stephen Webb
Head, Organised and Financial Crime Unit, The Home Office, London (2003-).
Ms Elizabeth Wilmshurst CMG
Senior Fellow, International Law, Chatham House (2004-);  visiting Professor, University College London (2003-).

Professor Federico Varese

Professor of Criminology, Law Faculty, University of Oxford (2006-);  Director, Extra-Legal Governance Institute, University of Oxford;  Editor, Global Crime.

Mr Sandro Calvani

Director, UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, Turin, Italy.

Professor James Finckenauer

Professor, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University (1980-).  Formerly:  Director, International Center, National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice, Washington DC (1998-2002).
Mr Bruce Ohr
Chief, Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, US Department of Justice, Washington DC (1999-).
Professor Louise Shelley
Director, Transnational Crime & Corruption Center & Professor, School of Public Policy, George Mason University, Washington DC.
Mr Bruce Swartz
Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, US Department of Justice, Washington DC (2000-).
Mr Peter Verga
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs, The Pentagon, Washington DC.