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IMS 5048: Information Continuum -- Assessment

Worth: 10%.

Due: 31 August 2005.

Assignment two:

A case study in criminal intelligence.

Questions to answer in one A4 page:

How can the account of police intelligence below be categorised in terms of the salient aspects of the purposes and modalities of the Information Continuum at play?

Are there shared, contradictory, or conflicting aspects of this account?

What does the report lead us to conclude about the place of technologies in intelligence gathering?

What has this account in common with other organisations' collection of information?

Who is the potential information professional in this situation?

How would you characterise the role of Bob Bottom in the ICM?

Add two relevant scholarly references of your choice.

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Bob Bottom, ‘Poor intelligence hampers police'

The Sunday Age , June 13, 2004 .

The very success of Victoria Police this week in foiling another gangland hit, and making four significant arrests, highlights a hidden legacy that has dogged police trying to tackle Melbourne's murderous gangland. The legacy is the lack of background intelligence on the links between those hiring hitmen and their potential targets.

As underworld tensions heightened in recent months, in what is a battle for control of drug and protection rackets, the Purana taskforce investigating gangland murders has been struggling to put together its own intelligence base. It was its own intelligence, supported by a newly designated Organised Crime Investigation Division, that has led to the recent breakthrough, with more arrests expected to follow.

The urgent need for a criminal intelligence system is one reason why police have been recommending the establishment of a state crime commission for Victoria. The push underscores embarrassment over the abolition, just over a decade ago, of the force's front-line defence against organised crime. Without a whimper of political objection, in 1993 Victoria abolished its Bureau of Criminal Intelligence, acknowledged as the best in Australia and so highly regarded overseas that the FBI assigned agents to work with it.

Since its abolition, the Victorian police force has been left with a fragmented data collection and intelligence operations system. Officially, the force was left with crime intelligence and support services that operate separately - such as an intelligence data centre. In plain speak, it is a hotchpotch.

Thus the Purana taskforce investigating the 27 gangland killings over the past five years has been operating in something of an intelligence void. Taskforce members have not known the names, let alone the backgrounds of some of the true leaders of the underworld. Police might have been able to curb the entry of the Russian mafia into the Victorian crime scene.

Intelligence files amassed over many years by the BCI have been either destroyed or stashed away in cardboard boxes or discarded computer discs.

Even with what intelligence is available, Victorian police computer systems do not provide for data-matching as is normal for crime intelligence units in interstate and federal police forces and crime and corruption commissions in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia.

With so much emphasis on beefed up resources for the Victorian Ombudsman to tackle police corruption, it is ironic that the abolition of the BCI resulted from an Ombudsman's inquiry.

The inquiry was ordered after disclosures by Antony Catalano in The Age on February 14, 1992, about a leaked BCI document alleging interference in police inquiries into the ill-fated Victorian Economic Development Corporation (VEDC) in the lead-up to the 1988 election.

After a 14-month investigation, then deputy Ombudsman Barry Perry concluded that a directive had been given, but the nature of it remained in dispute. Dr Perry found that senior police had given a directive to ensure that word of the VEDC inquiry, examining whether a company receiving government aid had organised crime links, did not leak before the election. But the directive did not actually try to stop the investigation.

At the same time, the Ombudsman's report questioned the quality of information stored in databases and criticised how the bureau was managed. A review of the bureau was thus announced by then police commissioner Neil Comrie and a month later it was revealed in The Age that it would "disappear" as part of a restructure. Not one query was raised at any political level at the time.

The bureau was formed in 1977 ahead of a plethora of royal commissions that were ordered throughout Australia in the late '70s and early '80s. The BCI made its name servicing a series of those inquiries, including the Costigan commission, and interstate police forces in turn set up their own based on the Victorian model. When an Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence was established in 1981, the head of Victoria's BCI, Fred Silvester, was made the foundation director.

When the abolition of the bureau was announced, a series of articles by David Elias in The Age focused on claims about a BCI dossier codenamed Operation Godfather, compiled from intelligence gathered by Michael Schuett. It was stated that senior constable Schuett had been allowed to operate without supervision, and that incorrect and misleading information had been recorded on the bureau's data base that was "of virtually no value in fighting crime". The criticism did relate to information gathered by senior constable Schuett, but the leaked file that sparked the Ombudsman's inquiry had actually been rewritten after he had retired from the police force in 1990.

In retrospect, if the information gathered by senior constable Schuett in Operation Godfather had been pursued, Victoria may have been better prepared to tackle the continuing carnage of its gangland war.

Targets identified by Operation Godfather were part of a criminal/legal business alliance that facilitated traditional crime groups and helped the emergence of the $2 billion drug empire attributed to high-profile players such as Tony Mokbel. Much of senior constable Schuett's investigations have subsequently been confirmed by thousands of hours of secret federal police telephone intercepts.

A mountain of information - gathered from bugging the conversations of criminals and their associates, including police, lawyers and businessmen - has been accumulating in federal police vaults.

Whereas there used to be a regular interchange of such material between federal and Victorian police, that diminished with the abolition of the BCI, and an unfortunate downgrading in more recent times of organised crime intelligence operations in Victoria by both the AFP and Australian Crime Commission.

The momentum of Operation Godfather, and other abandoned BCI operations, was lost at the very time Victoria Police squads relying on BCI information were getting on top of the underworld. In particular, police might have been able to curb the entry of the Russian mafia into the Victorian crime scene. Not only did senior constable Schuett identify people who have since aligned themselves with the Russian criminals, but countless federal telephone taps have confirmed the connections.

What was not considered relevant at the time was that some of senior constable Schuett's targets all happened to come from a particular region in Russia -- a Russian mafia stronghold. Whether a crime commission is eventually established or not, development of the new police Organised Crime Investigation Division along the lines of the old BCI should put Victorian police back on the front foot.

Graeme Johanson, 10 August 2005.

 

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