October 7, 2013 12:11 am

Britain’s FBI to overhaul crime fighting

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Britain’s National Crime Agency was launched on Monday with a promise to deepen co-operation with business in the battle against white-collar crime and cyber threats.

The NCA, already dubbed a UK version of the FBI, will lead the pursuit of criminal networks such as drug gangs, computer hackers and people-traffickers in a sweeping overhaul of the way that Britain fights organised crime.

Keith Bristow, director-general, said the agency would bring greater vigour and co-ordination “in areas that have previously had a fragmented response, such as the border, cyber and economic crime”.

With a budget of £463m and more than 4,000 officers, the NCA is expected to adopt a more high-profile role than the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), which will be rolled into the new body along with several other agencies.

Soca has faced criticism for not being aggressive enough in its pursuit of organised crime – most recently in the case of rogue private investigators and their corporate clients.

Phil Gormley, the agency’s deputy director-general, said the NCA aimed to be “visible and accessible”, in contrast to the largely covert nature of Soca’s activities.

The NCA’s initial budget will be no more than the total received by its precursor agencies but Mr Bristow said it aimed to make up for austerity with “increased ambition”.

In addition to its own officers, the agency plans to use volunteer specialists from the private sector, academia and government to add expertise in complex cases. Ten such volunteers, nicknamed “NCA Specials”, have already been recruited.

Mr Bristow said law enforcement “increasingly relies on relationships with the private sector” and the agency needs “people who understand banking” in its fight against economic crime.

If a target has “a particular way of hiding their criminal assets, we might want somebody who understands that type of financial approach,” he added.

Jon Collins, deputy director of The Police Foundation, an independent think-tank, said the introduction of volunteers was “not just about saving money, it’s also about bringing in people to supplement skills”.

The NCA recruited from the private sector when it hired Jeremy Outen, the former head of fraud at KPMG, the professional services firm, to head the agency’s economic crime command. Mr Outen stepped down citing personal reasons, in August.

The NCA will include a new national cyber crime unit in recognition of growing criminal activity on the internet. “Cyber crime is often thought of as a niche threat, but increasingly . . . cyber crime, cyber-enabled crime and the use of digital media underpin so much of what the criminals do,” Mr Bristow said.

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