Monday, May 28, 2007

Reform and Transformation: The UK's Serious Organized Crime Agency

Reform and Transformation: The UK's Serious Organized Crime Agency
Author: Glen M. Segell
DOI: 10.1080/08850600601079941
Publication Frequency: 4 issues per year
Published in: International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, Volume 20, Issue 2 June 2007 , pages 217 - 239


The United Kingdom's Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) commenced operations on 1 April 2006 with an annual budget of £400 million. SOCA amalgamates the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), and investigators from Customs and the Home Office's Immigration Service. In so doing, SOCA has become the UK's Financial Intelligence Unit. As such, it receives and analyzes suspicious activity reports (SARs). Between 20 to 30 percent of such SARs disseminated to the National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit have led to a longer-term investigation, or added substantially to an existing investigation.

Initially, SOCA aims to build up more comprehensive intelligence on organized crime networks operating in the UK. With about 120 officers, based in 40 countries around the world, working as liaison officers, the new agency will use international agencies to identify links between illegal gangs in the UK and abroad. The agency commenced with 4,200 staff - about half of them criminal investigators, and half analysis and intelligence. National and local radio, TV, newspaper and Web announcements were made starting early on Saturday morning 1 April 2006. One of those stated: "SOCA's success will not be measured in numbers of arrests, quantities of drugs seized or money confiscated as the result of fraud. Instead it will try to educate the public and use intelligence to spot trends."1 Ken Jones, chairman of the Association of Police Officers (APO), said all local police forces had to restructure to "support SOCA and tackle criminality at that gap between the national and international [levels], and that which happens in localities."2 The inference of the expressed concern was the linkage among warlords in failed states, transnational organized crime, and terrorism.

SOCA's formation is indicative that intelligence is undergoing a process of reform and transformation. It is no longer merely about gathering information and analysis by one agency for the defense of the territorial borders and external interests of a sovereign state, and no longer about the gathering of information and analysis by another agency on activities within a sovereign state that might affect its well-being. The nature of the various threats that face sovereign states, societies, and individuals requires the gathering and analysis of information that is constrained by neither time nor space, territorial borders, or organizational fiefdoms. Such threats have increasingly come from terrorists, fundamentalist religious movements, and organized crime, and less from other sovereign states.


The transformation process utilized in the formation of SOCA epitomizes the recognition that the gathering and dissemination of information has been progressively hampered by the proliferation of intelligence agencies and related organizations with overlapping jurisdiction that lack effective means to share data and information. This is a legacy of the Cold War era when each of these organizations had been formed out of specific necessity. Their evolution has resulted in little if any coordination due to secrecy and competing bureaucracies. More recently, such coordination has been further inhibited by incompatible computer software and hardware that has been procured by the different agencies for different reasons. Additionally, an inherent dichotomy prevails that sharing data and information, often over electronic networks, generates the potential for its security to be compromised. Interoperability and standardization make it easier for adversaries to compromise an entire intelligence system. Diversity offers a greater challenge to an adversary, and offers the likelihood that at least one part of a system will not be compromised, even if other parts are.

Notwithstanding these and many more issues, the necessity for transformation in the organizational structure for intelligence gathering and analysis has become a paramount goal that goes beyond patterns, models, systems, and technologies. Politicians and government reports in more than one country have blamed the worldwide intelligence community for failures in events that include the USS Cole and the 11 September 2001 (9/11) attacks, the Madrid train bombings, the London Transport bombings, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq and Osama Bin Laden, and the dilemma in not having precise and actionable intelligence on the WMD programs in Iran and North Korea. The changing nature of the threats faced by states, society, and individuals have also spurred on the necessity for transformation in the organizational structure for intelligence gathering and analysis. Coupled with this has been an evaluation of the nature of vulnerabilities.

This transformation momentum has generated a previously unknown publicized discourse in the activities and organization of the intelligence community. This constitutes a reform and transformation in the mind-set of what constitutes intelligence gathering and analysis. Whereas previously secrecy was paramount, today openness, transparency, civic consultation, and participation in the political debate is considered essential. For hundreds of years intelligence gathering and analysis has been shrouded in secrecy and denial. To reveal or disclose the very existence of intelligence agencies and the identity of their personnel has been underlined by the threat of treason charges and the death penalty. Today's reforms and transformation have been instituted in part to regain the confidence of the citizenry following the well-documented failures.

Another part of the transformation is aimed at enhancing deterrence and dissuasion through informing potential adversaries of the might and power that they could expect to face. An example of this transformation is the UK's creation of the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA). But, an element of secrecy is still involved. Although SOCA has a Website ( its headquarters and fourty regional offices are unmarked, and the only direct contact point for the public is a post office box number.

In evaluating the organizational transformation in the creation of SOCA, actions elsewhere, such as the United States in revising its military doctrine FM 3-0 (formerly FM 100-5) and those introduced by Rep. Jane Harman (D., Calif.) et al., on 1 April 2004 as the Intelligence Transformation Act of 2004 (HR 4104),3 are herein considered. Other analyses and evaluations can be found in works by several researchers.4 The overriding consensus in their publications is that reform and transformation in defense, security, and policing intelligence is not just about organizational change but also constitutes an evolutionary process of a changing mind-set on various levels of policy, doctrine, strategy, and tactics.

The most applicable first step in reform and transformation is at the level on which the political echelons and the services of the state meet the Intelligence Community on a regular basis. This would enable intelligence coordination to become a singular fluid process among policy, doctrine, and implementation. The logical starting point at which to consider intelligence transformation is the strategy level where such meetings take place. Thus, the initial action is the taking into consideration of policy, doctrine, and tactics.


The overriding catalyst for the creation of the UK's SOCA was the ongoing evolution of the European Union (EU) and its organizations. Crime and terrorism cross domestic and international borders, and so too must enforcement agencies. The 25 European Union member states permit the unhindered and unmonitored movement of people, goods, and services in the world's largest single trading block. The principle is that citizens of one member state may live and work - and even vote and stand for local elections - in another member state without having to request or obtain a residency or work permit. These "open borders" of the EU have been abused by a minority of individuals with a resultant increase in illicit activities in all member states, including the United Kingdom. For example, an estimated tax gap of £30 billion now in the United Kingdom, along with an increasing inability to police organized crime, such as drug and human trafficking and money laundering. To regulate such "open borders" and the fuzziness of determining internal versus external trade the UK's Inland Revenue and Customs and Exercise services have merged. This union, resulting in the creation of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), was a catalyst for additional organizational changes that led to the formation of SOCA.

The primary remit for SOCA is tackling drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, and the recovery of related criminal assets. It has domestic jurisdiction, but also permits pan-European coordination. Its secondary, though unofficial, role is counterterrorism, given that some 60 percent of the members of paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland have turned to organized crime. To facilitate a full-fledged national organization, Regional Intelligence Cells (RICs) have been created, while enhanced cooperation has been initiated with the European Union's EUROPOL and the EU Joint Situation Centre. SOCA is centrally funded, with the intention of being more than just the sum of its parts.

Notably, this new agency and its daily activities are in addition to the existing local police services, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), the Security Service (MI5), the General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), and the various defense intelligence units. The existence of so many organizations will undoubtedly require further reform and organizational restructuring, for example in the area of counterterrorism. Until now the United Kingdom has not had an equivalent to America's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Organizationally SOCA will resemble the FBI in intent but not exactly in authority. Essentially, SOCA is Britain's first non-police law enforcement body. SOCA agents will not confined to working within the UK. Its agents have already been deployed to the opium fields of Afghanistan and to Italy. And, similar to SOCA, was the establishment on 1 January 2003 of the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), replacing the National Crime Authority, the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence, and the Office of Strategic Crime Assessments.

Public discussion of the creation of SOCA has become possible due to the two-year parliamentary and media debate pertaining to the legislation for the formation of SOCA. Such legislation, and indeed the openness and transparency, is unique in the history of the UK's intelligence community. In its own right, this new openness and transparency provide examples of the reform and transformation now taking place in the intelligence community.


The reform and transformation of the organization of the UK's intelligence community becomes more understandable through detailing the various constituent parts being incorporated into SOCA. The first of these is the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS).


The United Kingdom features local and regional police forces responsible to each county or major urban area, such as the London Metropolitan region. Forty-three such forces function in England and Wales, eight in Scotland, with a separate Police Service in Northern Ireland, as well as other police forces, such as the one on the Channel Island state of Guernsey, the British Transport Police, and the Ministry of Defence Police.

Their varying areas of responsibility and manner of record keeping have created increasing difficulty in coordinating the information sharing, especially regarding organized crime and terrorism, which are activities not defined by territorial borders. To an extent, computerization is resolving such difficulties. But criminals, and indeed terrorists, can use the country's excellent transportation network to traverse the island of Great Britain - whose geographical size is no bigger than the state of Oregon - with relative ease before such data can be transferred to neighboring police forces and action taken. The open borders of the European Union make it possible to enter and leave the UK with relative ease. These issues led to the creation of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), which began life as the National Drugs Intelligence Unit in the Home Office, emerging as a discrete entity in 1992. The NCIS has been incorporated into SOCA.

The Police Act 1997 was the first legislation to set out the functions for centralized criminal intelligence analysis. In accordance with this legislation, the NCIS holds the national intelligence data collection on serious and organized crime. In discharging the functions set out in the 1997 Act, NCIS aims to provide criminal intelligence. The United Kingdom Threat Assessment (UKTA) of serious and organized crime is the NCIS's principal strategic product. From that intelligence, and its own operations, NCIS produces or supports partners in producing profiles of major criminals and criminal organizations. They form the basis of national and regional investigations. The NCIS holds intelligence assets that can be deployed in support of law enforcement investigations to provide fast-time intelligence. The NCIS also scans and assesses all incoming intelligence to identify new trends in crime and emerging threats from criminal groups, a function which produces assessments that aid domestic and international partners in setting their strategic and tactical priorities.


The NCIS works closely with the National Crime Squad (NCS), launched in 1998 through the amalgamation of the six former regional crime squads that are dedicated to dismantling and interrupting criminal enterprises. The NCS is typically involved in over 200 operations simultaneously, tackling serious drug trafficking, illegal arms dealing, money laundering, contract killings, counterfeit currency, as well as kidnap and extortion. Currently staffed by police officers seconded from the 43 forces of England and Wales, at the start of 2006 there were 1,333 officers working for the Squad, with 432 support staff. The NCS, too, has been incorporated into SOCA.

The Hi-Tech Crime Unit

In April 2001, the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, launched as part of the NCS, became the UK's first national law enforcement organization tasked to combat serious and organized cyber crime of a national or international nature. This constituted an overlap in operations, given that the basis of cyber activities is data and information. Both MI5 and MI6 have as, part of their operations, the task of ensuring the integrity of cyber data, information, and infrastructures. To complicate matters, that same month, the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 was enacted, making the National Crime Squad a non-departmental public body, meaning that it operated independently of government ministers, despite the Home Office remaining responsible for its work. SOCA has streamlined these cyber operations among the various intelligence agencies and delineated the appropriate accountability.

Further, and following police advice and within his remit, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, proposed the establishment of a multiagency program to tackle immigration-related crime. Spearheaded by Project Reflex, the Immigration Crime Team (ICT) was formed in January 2002. Its role is to combat illegal immigration into the United Kingdom by organized criminals. The ICT, staffed by the National Crime Squad and the Immigration Service, is located primarily at Heathrow and Gatwick airports. These initiatives made it necessary to define the jurisdiction of these new units from existing units, especially where the National Crime Squad defined an organized crime group or enterprise as satisfying the following criteria: contains at least three people; criminal activity is prolonged or indefinite; criminals are motivated by profit or power; and serious criminal offenses are committed. Like the others, the ICT has been incorporated into SOCA.

Consolidating Tasks

Based upon the incorporation of the NCIS, NCS, and ICT, SOCA's intelligence tasks now include: operating a drugs and organized crime policy unit that is a key participant in Project Reflex; conducting investigations and arrests of crimes, including fraud, Internet denial of service attacks, blackmail and extortion, on-line child abuse, hacking and virus attacks, software piracy, and Internet Class A drug trafficking; managing the Pedophile On-Line Investigation Team (POLIT), created in January 2003, that has had over 2,500 referrals (intelligence packages) which have been developed and then disseminated to forces - nearly 300 of these have been disseminated outside the UK; and managing the Financial Operational Command Unit (FOCU), established to manage and direct the work of financial investigators based in Money Laundering Investigation Teams (MLITs).

As noted, the main constituent part of SOCA is Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC). This new government department arose from the merger of HM Customs and Excise and Inland Revenue, taking formal effect after the legislation of 18 April 2005. HMRC is responsible for the collection of direct taxes (such as income and corporation taxes), indirect taxes (such as value added tax), some import controls, national insurance contributions, and for the distribution of child benefit and some other forms of state support. HMRC is expected to concentrate on reducing the estimated £30 billion "tax gap" - the gap between the tax that is actually paid and the tax that would be due if all tax avoidance and tax evasion were eliminated. Its functions and roles can be traced back to the first registry (Magna Carta) and with the unification of Scotland in 1018 under Malcolm II of Scots. One thousand years later, at the onset of the twenty-first century, it also has a vital front-line role in protecting society from the illegal importation of drugs, alcohol and tobacco smuggling, and tax fraud. In this latest role, SOCA will handle the investigation and intelligence responsibilities in tackling serious drug trafficking and recovering related criminal assets.

An Expanded Role

SOCA is more than the sum of its parts. Due to the open borders of the European Union, SOCA's intelligence operations are not confined to the United Kingdom, and it has also taken over certain activities previously handled by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). On a global level, and in addition to participation in international crime fighting organizations and projects, the FCO has directly funded anticrime measures overseas. These are often in support of collaborative work carried out between UK and overseas law enforcement agencies in the context of bilateral Multi-Agency Memoranda of Understanding (MAMOUs). SOCA controls and staffs the fifteen negotiated MAMOUs to assist the exchange of information between UK law enforcement agencies and their overseas counterparts. This includes Group of Eight (G8) work on crime that began with a remit from the 1995 Summit in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, to look at existing arrangements for dealing with transnational organized crime and recommend improvements. This arrangement, now known as the Lyon Group, received a remit at the G8 Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs 2004 meeting in Washington for improved cross-border sharing of intelligence information to prevent and disrupt terrorist activity and to prosecute terrorists; for the effective use of advanced investigative techniques, such as interception and undercover agents; an enhanced legal framework with states criminalizing and prosecuting a range of terrorist activities that the UK has achieved with the Terrorism Act 2000; tackling passport fraud; faster operational action to tackle attacks on computer networks; and faster cooperation in combatting Internet-related crimes, such as child pornography.

In addition, the war on drugs is ongoing. To this end, the SOCA has the responsibility to be actively engaged with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that also promotes the Global Program against Trafficking in Human Beings, and cooperates with the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI). The center maintains the Internet-based United Nations Crime and Justice Information Network (UNCJIN).

The SOCA works closely with the four EU "intelligence agencies" that can presently be identified: the fledgling Joint Situation Centre (SITCEN), as part of the EU's European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP); the Intelligence Division of the European Military Staff (INTDIV); the European Union Satellite Centre (EUSC); and EUROPOL, as part of the European Union's Justice and Home Affairs. Examples of such cooperation relate to the ongoing intelligence-sharing emanating from 1990 Council of Europe Money Laundering Convention (also know as the Strasbourg Convention); the EU Action Plan against Organised Crime established in April 1997; measures in support of the Action Plan with funds made available under the Falcone Programme; organized crime fighting studies funded by the EU; EU development programs, e.g., PHARE; and the Council of Europe Convention on Cyber-crime, which opened for signature in Budapest on 23 November 2001. This Convention is the first binding multilateral agreement to specifically address the problems posed by the international nature of cyber crime.


The public announcement of SOCA's establishment came from the UK's Secretary for Home Affairs on 9 February 2004, after numerous governmental committees and working groups had defined its constituent parts and remit.5 Some preconceived notions of what, where, when, and how this new organization would function existed, given that its creation was out of necessity. But the specifics of the legislation for its legitimacy, jurisdiction, and authority to gather information and implement operations were being left open to parliamentary and public debate. The Home Secretary informed the public that the first step was to establish a task force to consider the most appropriate form of governance for the single agency. The task force reported back that the SOCA would comprise representatives of each constituent organization, would consult widely with stakeholders, and would report to Ministers within a month. He also said that Parliament's approval for the necessary legislative changes to create the new agency would be sought at the earliest legislative opportunity. This announcement and the proposed process were unique statements of open democracy. Never before, in the United Kingdom or even in most other democracies, had the establishment of an agency meant to be involved intensely in intelligence gathering and dissemination, and its role, authority, jurisdiction, and legitimacy, been made known publicly prior to its creation. In the past, the formation and even the existence of intelligence agencies have been shrouded in secrecy and denial.

The task force did indeed report back in a month, and its White Paper, "One Step Ahead: A 21st Century Strategy to Defeat Organised Crime," was published on 29 March 2004. The Secretary of State for the Home Department, by Command of Her Majesty, subsequently presented it to Parliament.6 The seventy-two-page White Paper mentioned the word intelligence in ninety-two instances, focusing on how the new intelligence agency would bring together experts, including hi-tech and financial specialists, and those with criminal intelligence and investigative skills in exploiting hi-tech twenty-first-century technology. The rationale mentioned for SOCA's creation included: the fuzziness of the dividing line between the current institutional responsibilities; putting a high premium on good relations among agencies; a general consensus of areas of organizational overlap of roles; the unclear lines of accountability on tackling the war on drugs, and in gathering intelligence on fraud against business; the duplication, in some areas, of government departments; the fragmented effort against organized crime, making coordination difficult. All of these indicated a lack of critical mass in some less traditional, but important, skill areas.

The parliamentary and public debate, as it gathered momentum, clearly indicated that, in an organizational transformation, the new agency would be more than the sum of its parts. This was due in part to the process of the debate, and in part to the debate participants who, in seeking clarification of specific points, created new processes. Thus, SOCA's remit and its organization were expanded on paper. This required the introduction of risk analysis techniques to ensure that the new organization would not flounder, coming across as being well described on paper but too hard to implement in reality.

Operational Relationships

An example of this emerged when the White Paper working group declared that the agency would have a United Kingdom-wide remit. Throughout the UK, specialist prosecutors answerable to the Attorney General would cooperate closely with SOCA officers and work alongside them wherever this made good operational sense. These prosecutors would be available whenever required to provide comprehensive, practical, and specialist advice to help shape investigations and develop strong and well-presented cases for prosecution. The specialist prosecutors would stay with each case from the outset of investigations right through to the point of sentencing. Then a caveat noted that, in practice, this meant that the SOCA would take over certain responsibilities from the 43 local police forces in England and Wales, though they would merely work closely with counterparts in Scotland's eight police forces and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who would retain many traditional responsibilities. For example, Scotland's Drug Enforcement Agency would remain in existence and continue to exercise certain functions.

A significant part of the working group process was the constant questioning whether the proposed agency would be different from its constituent parts, or would basically be a change in name on letterheads and above door entries. Hence, the working group set out to determine whether a specific national intelligence requirement was really needed and how this would differ from that which already existed. Noted was the fact that, with over 138,000 operational police officers and 7,000 customs officers alone, any of them could possess essential intelligence material. The working group concluded that a national intelligence requirement would ensure that all those with an intelligence collection capability, whether in operational or analysis agencies, would collect information to support the priorities set by the government. The findings of the White Paper were incorporated into the Bill presented before Parliament, justifying the necessity for the creation of SOCA. But it soon became apparent that the resulting legislation mentioned intelligence and information in a number of different contexts. The difference between intelligence and information formed the basis for subsequent lengthy parliamentary debates pertaining to the privacy of the individual citizen. From these debates, SOCA emerged as an organization that would be granted only the right to gather information for intelligence dissemination within the meaning of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (c. 23). This meant that SOCA could gather information and use it only in the same fashion as local police forces.

In clarification, SOCA would differ from MI5 in that MI5 officers do not have operational powers of arrest. SOCA was given four important new powers:

Queen's evidence: prosecutors would be able to offer statutory deals - immunity or reduced sentences - where, previously, deals were only informal financial reporting orders.
Courts could make orders, of up to twenty years, forcing criminals to provide bank statements to ensure they have no crime-related earnings.
Disclosure notices: courts could force suspects to answer questions or provide documents or face imprisonment or fines. This would limit the right to silence but the rights of individuals would not be infringed given that the information could not be used for the purposes of prosecution.
Law enforcement officers: SOCA officers would have the multiple powers of police, immigration, and customs officers.7

Hence, the reform and transformation process suggested the creation of a SOCA staff of at least 4,000, including detectives and specialist civilian investigators, such as accountants, financial analysts, and computer experts, to work alongside the detectives. Ultimately, funding for SOCA would come from the taxpayer but, unlike local police forces whose funding comes from a combination of central grants and a local authority precept, SOCA was to be funded directly by the central UK government. To put this in perspective, prior to the formation of SOCA the funding and manpower of its constituent parts was: NCIS with 1,200 staff and an annual budget of £93 m; NCS with 1,330 detectives, 420 support staff and an annual budget of £130 m; and Customs and Excise, boasting a £1bn annual budget with 1,850 officers in several different units addressing fraud, drug trafficking, and other cross-border crime. All of this was meant to monitor a population of around 50 million in a geographical region the size of the American state of Oregon. In comparison, public figures suggest that the U.S. Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) has 11,000 special agents and 16,000 professional support personnel, with headquarters in Washington overseeing fifty-six field offices and about 400 satellite offices known as resident agencies, to monitor a population of around 300 million.8


The first hurdle of reform and transformation had thus been overcome by July 2004. The proposed constituent agencies that would be amalgamated into SOCA's new organizational structure had participated and consented to the proposals of the working group task force for the creation of the new agency. The coordination of the tasking, prioritization, and allocation of resources would take place through the Cabinet Committee. The public announcement met no robust outcry to prevent the transformation process. The opinions and views of the various dissenters and those opposing the transformation had been considered and their concerns accommodated. The next step was for legislation. This would entail a debate in the House of Commons, a subsequent debate in the House of Lords, and then Royal Assent.

The first step of the parliamentary debate, and unique to the formation of any intelligence agency, was a public announcement of key SOCA appointments on 13 August 2004 by the then-Home Secretary, David Blunkett. Sir Stephen Lander was designated Chair of SOCA. A former police officer, he was Director General of the Security Service (MI5) from 1996-2002. Bill Hughes was designated SOCA's Executive Director-General. He was previously Director General of the National Crime Squad; UK Head of Delegation at the European Police Chiefs Task Force; Chairman of the G8 Lyon Group on law enforcement; and Chair of High Level Reflex (the UK multiagency response to organized immigration crime). A Board would lead SOCA as an Executive Non-Departmental Public Body with a majority of nonexecutive members. The Board was to be responsible for ensuring that SOCA discharges its statutory responsibilities and meets the priorities set by the Home Secretary. The initial Board of SOCA, appointed in April 2006, comprised Non-Executive Directors (Stephen Barrett, Elizabeth France, Ken Jarrold, Janet Paraskeva, Sir Roger Wheeler); Director, Intelligence (David Bolt); Director, Corporate Services (Malcolm Cornberg); Director, Intervention (Paul Evans); and Director, Enforcement (Trevor Pearce).

Responding to his appointment as Chair, Sir Stephen said: "Developing the new agency means making the best use of the talents available, exploiting new technologies to good effect and ensuring that effective use of intelligence is made throughout its operations." Mr. Hughes added: "It is about taking what the UK has now, the professionalism, the successes and intelligence into how the criminal world works, and using all those ingredients to form the basis for a new organisation that will be flexible, innovative and, above all, always one step ahead of the criminals."9 When they took up their positions in September 2005 the division of tasks and work was clear. Sir Stephen, as SOCA's Chair, would be responsible for setting the organization's vision and overall strategy. As Director General, Mr. Hughes would be responsible for implementing that strategy through the operations and management of the organization.

Who Is Watching?

In terms of accountability, the legislation noted that scrutiny would be conducted through the House of Commons in the normal way. Unlike the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Home Affairs Committee would have open access and scrutiny. SOCA staffs would be subject to the scrutiny and appeal mechanisms of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in England and Wales. In general terms, the IPCC would handle complaints against SOCA officers in the same manner as complaints against Police officers or officers of HMRC. The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) would do so in that region. In Scotland, the responsibility would be with the Lord Advocate. A bespoke inspection regime for SOCA was to be provided through Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabularies (HMIC). The Cabinet Committee on Organised Crime would be responsible for determining overall priorities. SOCA would be required to submit an annual report. But SOCA would be exempt from Freedom of Information requirements, as it should to be able to protect information provided to it from various sources (both within the UK and abroad). The sensitivities surrounding this information are similar to those concerning information about national security.

During the Parliamentary process Sir Stephen Lander took a historically unprecedented step by commenting on the Bill before Parliament. In a public statement he said, "This is one of the biggest changes in the intelligence functions of UK law enforcement since the 1960s. The Serious Organised Crime Agency presents a real opportunity to make a difference and tackle crimes that affect every man, woman and child in this country."10 Clearly, he was bringing public attention to the wording of the legislation, as it was not solely inclined towards organizational transformation. Instead, wording was aimed at a radical reform in consideration of the context and content of the threats and vulnerabilities facing British society.

Home Secretary David Blunkett furthered this emphasis noting, "We must recognise that, where there are new threats, we need new forms of acceptable input to get acceptable behaviour."11 The legislation was thus worded to define these threats and determine how to counter or prevent them. The most important part of the proposed law would be to give police, as well as SOCA staff, the right in court to draw on evidence gained from phone taps and e-mail surveillance. This would result in amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984, which extended powers to search premises to seize evidence. Section 8 of PACE would thus add a new all-premises search warrant to the existing search warrant for specific premises, thus allowing constables to search all premises "occupied or controlled" by the person named on the warrant. In doing so, the legislation, while orchestrating organizational transformation, was also debating the distinction between information and intelligence.

Taking up this point and others were the opposition Conservative Party, as extrapolated by David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary,12 and Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman. Oaten agreed with the legislation for the creation of the new organization: "Establishing a serious and organised crime agency makes sense in today's modern world. Crime is increasingly global and complex. Our response needs to be modern and effective." But he also stabbed at the government: "Hidden in the Bill are a number of measures with wider implications that are all stepping close to the line of what is reasonable."13

Setting the Parameters

More often than not, the debate, and not the outcome, is the important component of democracy. And, notwithstanding the various views and opinions exposed, the Bill passed rapidly through the House of Commons with a First Reading on 24 November 2004 and a Second Reading on 7 December 2004. During the course of these and the eight sittings at the Committee stage (two sittings on 11 January 2005, two sittings on 13 January 2005, two sittings on 18 January 2005, and two sittings on 20 January 2005) all Members of Parliament and the public became aware of the true nature of the needed reform and transformation in content, context, and organizational structure.

A Parliamentary Committee amended the various contentious issues contained in the Bill, with a remaining stage in the Commons on 7 February 2005. During this process, substantive issues of intelligence transformation reform were also addressed and referred for additional debates by the Human Rights Joint Select Committee and Standing Committee D, relating to the European Convention on Human Rights.14 Journalists, throughout this process, avidly focused numerous articles on issues such as the interception of communication, powers of arrest, harassment intended to deter lawful activities, and racial and religious hatred - all of which arose during fierce and intense open parliamentary debate.

Subsequently, the "Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill" was brought from the House of Commons on 8 February 2005 to the House of Lords for the First Reading.15 The House of Lords provides a different type of debating chamber. The House of Commons consists of fixed-term elected citizens on a constituency basis, mainly representing that constituency and its specific interests. The House of Lords consists of different sets of expertise, including hereditary peers; life peers appointed by the government; the Twelve Law Lords, including the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls; and the twenty-four Bishops of the Church of England. This is a broad and wide range of diverse expertise that tends to focus debate on the judicial processes. Indeed, in the first House of Lords debate on SOCA, the focus was on the need to amend the Proceeds of the Crime Act 2002, and to provide for the Private Security Act 2001 to extend to Scotland.16

Controversy also reared its head in the House of Lords debate when the Kent Police Federation lobbied the Law Lords. The important issue raised was that police officers transferring to the new agency would no longer hold the Office of Constable. The Kent Police Federation was concerned that various powers would be "dished out" by SOCA, as and when required, in a contractual form. SOCA staff would be directly employed as agents, and as such would lose the political independence that is an integral part of the Office of Constable.17 The Office of Constable has a sworn duty to uphold the law without fear or favor, as opposed to a contract to do whatever is the government's priority. The political independence of the Office of Constable is as important as the independence of the Judiciary from the Executive.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, a former police officer who had also trained with the FBI, debated the point in the Second Reading in the House of Lords on 14 March 2005. While emphasizing that it made eminent sense to bring the national bodies dealing in criminal intelligence and national and international crime under one roof, he also highlighted the crucial necessity for accountability, a discipline code, and the nature of jurisdiction.18 Amendments were made, and the Bill was thus read and progressed to the House of Lords Committee sitting on the first day, 5 April 2005. Subsequently, prior to the General Elections in May 2005, the Bill, containing 179 sections and 17 schedules, was rushed through its final stages, being passed by Parliament and given Royal Assent on 7 April 2005.19 Cross-party and bipartisan agreement was manifest after the elections, where the New Labour, who won the elections, the Official Opposition (the Conservative Party), and smaller parties such as the Liberal Democrat Party, all agreed to support the new agency.

Branching Out

Subsequently elected British Members of the European Parliament (MEP) informed that body of the UK legislation and called for other European Union (EU) member states to pass similar legislation and create similar organizations. Such a practice conforms to the norms of the European Union, which aim to reach harmony and commonality in Continental activities and, ultimately, singularity in legislation and organization. The European Parliament then scheduled a debate, asking the twenty-five member state governments to each set up unified central agencies. During the debate the Republic of Ireland noted that it already utilized an Asset Recovery Agency. Supporting this debate, and subsequent motions, was Liz Lynne, Liberal Democrat MEP for the West Midlands region of the United Kingdom, who said, "The key to tackling these crimes is to have law-enforcement working together across Europe. Free movement of citizens is the cornerstone of the European Union. But professional criminal gangs who exploit freedom cross borders with impunity while our national police forces cannot. Crime crosses frontiers, and so must law enforcement."20 All EU member states are currently looking into how to implement this motion.


Thus, SOCA was created by legislation on 7 April 2005. On that day, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and its Service Authority, and the National Crime Squad and its Service Authority, ceased to exist legally. But, the agreement provided for a one-year transition period, with SOCA formally coming into implementation on 1 April 2006. On that date, Sir Stephen Lander and Bill Hughes, already designated as Chair and Director-General of SOCA, would formally take up their duties.

This one-year transition period highlighted the numerous practical issues relating to reform and transformation. For example, in June 2005 it became apparent that not all aspects of the organizational transformation were going according to plan. The new SOCA was forced to launch a massive recruitment drive, including newspaper advertisements, seeking to fill over 1,000 vacancies to meet its target initial staff level.21 A Human Resources (HR) manager was appointed - Indi Seehra, formerly from the Pensions Service, part of the Department for Work and Pensions, and before that, HR director of the Crown Prosecution Service. He created a team to resolve the initial staffing issue while also setting up plans to invest in retention and training for individuals to learn new skills. This has provided a unique opportunity for all SOCA staff to help set the agency's targets from the outset, through focus groups and employee surveys.22

Another example of practical difficulties involved the potential overlapping of areas of investigation and analysis with other agencies. During the parliamentary process an agreement was reached that SOCA would not have an antiterrorist role. But at a symposium held in Cambridge on 5 September 2005, Philip Robinson, Sector Leader, Financial Crime, of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), brought to attention the link between crime and terrorism, stating: "Intelligence is vital in the fight against organized crime and terrorism. Financial crime and terrorism have a very significant multiplier effect; the cost of lost business and rebuilding after the Bishopsgate bomb in 1993 was estimated at £1 billion, yet the operation to plant the Bishopsgate bomb cost £3,000."23 Robinson's salient point affirmed that modern terrorism does not need large amounts of financing to enact acts of violence, as evidenced in the London Transport bombings of 7 July 2005, where the bombs, and other costs incurred by the suicide bombers, amounted to less than £1,000.

Nevertheless, SOCA will obviously be intricately involved in antiterror investigations of the continuing activities of paramilitary groups in Ireland. The Independent Monitoring Commission established by the UK and Irish governments considered organized crime as a major continuing legacy of terrorism, with some 60 percent of all organized crime gangs in Northern Ireland, and some two-thirds of the most serious gangs involved in international activities, having paramilitary links.24 The Commission noted that "SOCA's assumption of the investigative responsibilities for customs and excise offences will enable the effort in Northern Ireland to be increased by making the resources of a larger law enforcement agency available.25

Clearly, the FSA and SOCA in Britain and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and SOCA in Nothern Ireland will have essential joint roles to play wherein the FSA and PSNI would mutually support SOCA's efforts to: identify risks and vulnerabilities to enable a targeting of resources; inform policy, supervisory and enforcement activity; and help institutions strengthen their systems and controls in a risk-based way. In this effort, SOCA's involvement will not be confined to Northern Ireland. The increased activities of criminal and terrorist networks across domestic and international boundaries have brought mergers of heretofore separate offenses in different countries in pursuit of common goals that erode local and national governmental power, both economically and militarily. These networks generally engage in money laundering, and hence will be a target of SOCA.

Public Awareness and Change

The overall media publicity generated by government statements and parliamentary debates has created an awareness that there has been neither systematic gathering, sharing, and analysis of information about the linkages between organized crime and terrorism in the past, nor a projection of how criminals and terrorists might link up in the future. This new awareness may result in further reform and transformation and, indeed, in the ability of government agencies to deter and apprehend criminals and terrorists. In anticipation of this, the Serious and Organised Crime Act of 2005 included the elimination of the distinction between "arrestable" and "non-arrestable" offenses. Previously, police only had the power to arrest those suspected of committing an offense that carried a sentence of at least five years in prison. Now, SOCA agents are able to hold anyone they suspect of any offense. Officers merely have to satisfy themselves of "a person's involvement or suspected involvement or attempted involvement in the commission of a criminal offence," and that there are "reasonable grounds for believing that the person's arrest is necessary."26

Labor Union Influences

The one-year transition period in the creation of SOCA with open debate was not confined to the SOCA's roles and tasks. An open debate was conducted on labor relations. One of the most vocal participants was the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU), the country's largest civil service trade union, with over 310,000 members working in the civil service and related areas, and representing 1,937 staff working in the investigation and intelligence sections of HM Customs and Excise (HMC&E), along with 2500 members in the United Kingdom Immigration Service (UKIS). The PCSU welcomed the introduction of new sophisticated methods of enhancing the identification, tracking, and interception of serious organized criminal organizations and their endeavors, but cautioned against those methods if they were to have a disproportionate collateral impact upon law-abiding members of the general public. Notably, the PCSU called for assurances that any sharing of intelligence would be carefully controlled to ensure security and proportionality.27 But the PCSU also made known that it expected SOCA agents to have the right to membership in a trade union - a right that would not only be held sacrosanct by the new organization, but would include the right to take industrial action as a last resort if personnel relations went awry.

Jan Berry, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, was especially vocal about the transfer of employment of police officers to SOCA by way of legislation rather than as a matter of individual choice. Government intransigence on this matter led her to bitterly label SOCA as "a British FBI - a Failed Bureaucratic Institution," accusing the government of elitism that would ultimately lead SOCA to being a recipe for disaster since it "would not be properly integrated into the current policing system and practises where intelligence and information would go missing."28

Public Outreach

As a way of response, in another unique process of reform and transformation to make the intelligence community more open and transparent to the public, the Home Office - as the government department responsible for SOCA - decided to create a SOCA Public Relations (PR) division in February 2006. The top PR role was handed to Kelly Freeman, deputy director of communications at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The PR section adhered to the government's policy of public-private partnerships and contracted out its design and marketing services to the Limehouse group.29

On its very first day, the Public Relations section was forced to defend SOCA when Microsoft UK's chief security advisor, Ed Gibson, attacked Tony Blair's New Labour government over what he claimed was a lack of effective reporting channels for Internet-related crime. Gibson said the decision to roll the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) into SOCA would actually make it harder for businesses to determine how and where they should report an e-crime. Gibson also attacked the amount of funding the NHTCU had received since its creation in 2001, claiming it had declined annually.30

Into the Fray

Notwithstanding such gripes, the SOCA commenced operations on 1 April 2006 with an annual budget of £400 million and a staff of 4,000. SOCA is divided into four directorates, each specializing in a particular aspect of the work. In practice, staff from the different directorates are expected to often come together in multidisciplinary teams to tackle particular threats. The directorates are:

Intelligence - which gathers and assesses information and uses it to produce the best understanding of organized crime. The directorate ensures that all activity is knowledge-led and directed toward agreed priorities, and that SOCA builds strong working relationships with other agencies, including other law enforcement partners.
Enforcement - which provides a flexible operational response to threats, building high-quality criminal cases against key targets and organized crime groups.
Intervention - which aims to make life harder for serious organized criminals, with a particular focus on attacking criminal assets and working with the private sector. Intervention also houses SOCA's international arm.
Corporate services - which supports, facilitates, and develops SOCA's capabilities.

Only time and events will determine the success of the overall reform and transformation.31 These will be documented in the annual UK Threat Assessment document.32 This document notes that SOCA will operate on Category Three of threats, as defined by the National Intelligence Model (NIM) that divides criminality into three categories: level one for local issues; level two for cross-border issues; and level three for serious and organized crime (national and international). On all three levels policing and intelligence are guided by strategic and tactical tasking and coordinating meetings, all in support of the control strategy, which sets forth the intelligence, prevention, and enforcement priorities. Four key intelligence products support strategic and tactical tasking and coordinating: strategic assessments, tactical assessments, target profiles, and problem profiles.


The creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency has highlighted the commitment to an ongoing process of reform and the transformation of the United Kingdom's intelligence community. SOCA's creation shows that reform and transformation connote a change in mind-set as well as organization. SOCA, formed out of numerous earlier intelligence gathering and analysis organizations, is aiming to be more than the sum of its constituent parts. The restructuring process has emphasized the need to be both proactive and reactive in organizational transformation: Reactive in accepting that an organization which is no longer functioning effectively should be reformed and transformed immediately; Proactive in anticipating the need to enhance confidence in democracy by being open and transparent in the transformation process. Proactive also in defining the evolving nature of the content and context of the various threats and vulnerabilities facing the modern pluralistic democratic society that exists in the UK. The openness and transparency of the process of the passing of the parliamentary legislation was also essential to grant legitimacy to the methods to be employed by SOCA that might conflict with the rights of individuals, such as gathering data on telephone calls, and Internet and e-mail traffic.

Clearly, the main questions now that SOCA is operational are whether or not it will function as intended and when will the next step in reform and organizational transformation be needed and take place. These questions apply not only to the SOCA but also to the UK's other intelligence agencies in terms of how, when, where, and why they operate. Integral to answering these questions is to point out the difficulty in drawing lines on organizational maps to define the bureaucratic, territorial and spatial authority, and jurisdiction of the intelligence community's various agencies. But delegation of roles and tasks to different agencies is essential in order to divide the workload to best utilize the available specialist manpower and technology.

In an ideal world an overriding intelligence management office would transfer roles and tasks, and indeed personel and services, across organizations and agencies, as needed on a task-by-task or even a daily basis. In the real world, to overcome the organizational, training, and logistical shortcomings of an existing mobile intelligence community, the alternative is to share information and intelligence analysis in a network-centric manner - both within and between states, utilizing fast and efficient telecommunication networks.

Inherent to such sharing and cooperation is the ability to effectively convey analytic findings to decisionmakers in a fashion that they can understand, and subsequently provide detailed information to enable the implementers to prevent and counter actual and potential threats and vulnerabilities. Sheer courage is required to brush aside any gathered data as being irrelevant or not meeting an individual analyst's remit.

Only time will permit a judgment of whether or not SOCA has been a success. And that will probably be through a retroactive evaluation when a determination is made that SOCA has become a redundant intelligence agency to be superceded during the next stage of reform and transformation.

1. - BBC Editorial, "New 'FBI-style' Agency Launched," 1 April 2006,
2. — Ibid
3. — United States House of Representatives, Intelligence Transformation Act of 2004 (HR 4104),
4. — See among them: Charles Atkins, “Intelligence Transformation: Beyond Paradigm Shifts, Changes in Ethos,” Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, October–December, 2000,; Ian Davis, Chrissie Hirst, and Bernardo Mariani, Organised Crime, Corruption and Illicit Arms Trafficking in an Enlarged EU (London: Saferworld, 2002); Peter Gill. Policing Politics: Security Intelligence and the Liberal Democratic State (London: Frank Cass, 1993) and Peter Gill, Rounding Up the Usual Suspects?: Developments in Contemporary Law Enforcement Intelligence (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000); Karl Hack, “Corpses, Prisoners of War and Captured Documents: British and Communist Narratives of the Malayan Emergency, and the Dynamics of Intelligence Transformation,” Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 14, No. 4, 1999, pp. 211–241; D. Sagramoso, The Proliferation of Illegal Small Arms and Light Weapons in and around the European Union: Instability, Organised Crime and Terrorist Groups (London: Saferworld Centre for Defence Studies, 2001); Michael Warner, “Intelligence Transformation and Intelligence Liaison,” SAIS Review, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2004, pp. 77–90; Y. Zhong, “A Study on Information-Knowledge-Intelligence Transformation,” ACTA Electronica Sinica, Vol. 32, No. 4, 2004, pp. 601–605;
5. New UK-wide Organised Crime Agency Pooling Expertise to Track Down the Crime Bosses
6. (2004) One Step Ahead: A 21st Century Strategy to Defeat Organised Crime The Stationery Office , London — UK Government
7. (2006) Agency ‘to Target Brutal Crime,. — BBC Editorial
8. (2004) The Serious Organised Crime Agency,. — The Guardian Q&A
9. Leading the Fight Against Organised Crime: Key Soca Appointments Announced,. — Home Office Web Press Release
10. (2004) SOCA-New Organised Crime Agency is Major Development,. — Home Office Web Press Release
11. — House of Commons Hansards, 7 December 2004: Column 1053,
12. (2004) Organised Crime Bill Welcome but Slow in Coming,. — UK Conservative Party
13. (2004) Oganised Crime Bill has Hidden Flaws,. — UK Liberal Democrat Party
14. Report of the Proceedings of the Sittings and the Latest Version of the Bill — UK Government
15. (2005) Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill — UK Government
16. Holme, Richard Gordon (2005) House of Lords Papers 2004–05 The Stationery Office , London
17. (2005) Federation Opposition to Serious Organised Crime Agency and Police Bill,. — Kent Police Federation
18. (2005) Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill — House of Lords Hansard
19. (2005) Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 The Stationery Office , London — UK Government
20. Lynne, Liz (2005) EU Must Step up the Fight Against Organised Crime,.
21. (2005) British FBI in Huge Staff Hunt,. — BBC Editorial
22. Scott, Anna (2006) With Conviction,. People Management Magazine p. 16. — = corporate + strategy +-+org + behaviour&type = subject
23. Robinson, Philip Organised Crime and Terror—The Risks to the Business Environment — Speech to FSA, Cambridge Symposium 5th September 2005, 0905_pr.shtml
24. (2005) Fifth Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission, 24 May 2005 p. 30. HMSO , London — Independent Monitoring Commission
25. p. 36. — Ibid.
26. Marsden, Chris (2006) Police Powers,. UKWATCH —
27. (2004) One Step Ahead-PCS Response,. — Public and Commercial Services
28. (2004) Organised Crime Agency Must Co-operate with Local Police Forces,. — Police Federation
30. Donoghue, Andrew (2006) Take Cyber Crime Seriously, Government Told,. —,39024677,39156125,00.html
31. (2006) Current Reforms Needed to Go Further Than Merging Police Forces, to Include Some Form of National Structure, with Clear Lines,. — RUSI Media Note
32. (2004/5–2005/6) UK Threat Assessment The Threat from Serious and Organised Crime,. — UK Government

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