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Long-arm tactics. How the National Crime Agency is performing nearly five years after its creation.



Key points - Multiple efforts in the UK to create a coherent national agency to combat organised crime have failed because of institutional wrangling and a lack of strategic focus. - The National Crime Agency is faring better than its predecessors, but faces challenges in the form of budgets, Brexit, its remit in financial and white collar crime, and its positioning on counter-terrorism issues. - An increased focus on recruitment, training, and retention of specialist staff is improving the agency’s long-term prospects.
UK’s National Crime Agency faces multiple challenges
Agency overlap and competition have tested the UK’s national-level counter-crime eorts.
Anna Sergi examines how the National Crime Agency is performing nearly five years aer its creation.
Long-arm tactics
Key points
Multiple e orts in the UK to create a coherent
national age ncy to combat organise d crime have
failed because of institutional wrangling and a
lack of strategic focus .
The National Crime Agency is faring b etter than
its predecessors, but faces ch allenges in the
form of budge ts, Brexit, it s remit in financial
and white collar crime, and its positioning on
counter-terrorism issues.
An increased focus on recruitment, training,
and retenti on of specialist sta  is improving the
agency’s long-term prospects.
On 11 December 2017, UK Home
Secretary Amber Rudd announced
the establishment of a new unit to
sit within the National Crime Agency (NCA)
tasked with targeting money laundering
and financial crime. The National Economic
Crime Centre (NECC) will have the power
to task the Serious Fraud Oce (SFO) in
investigations of fraud, bribery, corruption,
and money laundering, with a specific remit
to ‘clean up’ the City of London, which is
considered at high risk of becoming a safe
haven for organised criminal groups launder-
ing their proceeds of crime.
Like most NCA units and commands, the
new NECC will have the power to oversee
national police responses and w ill produce
a unique, national intelligence picture of
financial crime in the UK. The move, which
was announced on the same day as a new
anti-corruption strategy for 2017–22, follows
scandals such as the ‘Panama Papers’ and
the ‘Paradise Papers’. Through the release of
previously confidential information, these
had revealed close links between financial
crimes, tax evasion and avoidance, and
money laundering.
In an 11 December press release, NCA
Deputy Director Nigel Kirby said, “The
NECC aims to bring together the knowledge
and skills of the UK’s law enforcement agen-
cies alongside those of the private sector…
We will make the UK a hostile environment
for serious and organised criminals involved
in economic crime; increasing the risk of
them losing their liberty and losing their
criminal assets.
The NECC w ill come into existence along-
side new plans agreed between the City Of
London Police, the SFO, the Financial Con-
duct Authorit y, the Home Oce, the Crown
A firear ms inspector wi th seized and surr endered
firearms at the Metropolitan Police firearms
forensics laboratory, London, on 13 November
2017. Alongside the Metropolitan Police, the
National C rime Agency’s O rganised Crim e
Command works to tackle illegal firearms
traicking into the UK.
Tolga Akme n/AFP/Getty Im ages: 1707790
Serious & Organised Crime
42 | Jane’s Intellig ence Review | Febr uary 2018 janes
UK’s National Crime Agency faces multiple challenges
Prosecution Service, and HM Revenue &
Customs, together with the existing Eco-
nomic Crime Command of the NCA. How-
ever, the NECC’s creation appears to have
raised concerns about the need for another
specialised unit. A former senior investigator
at the City of London Police told Jane’s on 8
December, “It looks like a rebranding… Why
not invest in the resources we already have?
The Economic Crime Command of the NCA
for example, [which was] already run in part-
nership with public and private sectors.”
Multi-agency co-ordination
For the Home Oce, the driver behind the
NECC’s formation is to foster a partnership
between agencies that will work more e-
ciently than the current multi-agency and
fragmented approach. Functional overlaps
between ex isting units were not the only
concern raised after the news of the NECC’s
creation; concerns were also raised in the
House of Lords on 13 December about the
independence of the SFO and the NCA. The
SFO is intended to become a partner of the
NECC, but will also be tasked with investiga-
tions from it.
Although in its published plans the Home
Oce has guaranteed the independence of
the future NECC from the SFO, and also the
SFO from the NCA , the Lords expressed con-
cern about the NECC’s actual institutional
ability to position itself at the forefront of
the fight against financial crime. The NCA
already faces ser ious challenges in this area,
and there have been diculties with inter-
agency par tnerships that pre-date the NCA’s
establishment when it took over from the
Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).
The creation of the NCA was announced
in 2011, and it was launched on 7 October
2013. Its current mandate includes the abil-
ity to direct law enforcement operations and
enter partnerships with local forces, and to
develop intelligence to co-ordinate national
and international activities against a number
of national security threats – broadly defined
as serious a nd organised crime, and includ-
ing drug tracking, cyber crime, economic
crime, weapons tracking, human track-
ing, child exploitation, and co-ordination of
border policing.
There have been numerous attempts in
the UK to create an ecient, national-level
law enforcement agency. The NCA’s prede-
cessor, SOCA, was born from the merger
of dierent capacities across a number of
agencies, including HM Revenue & Customs,
the National Cr ime Squad, the National
Criminal Intelligence Service, the Immigra-
tion Service, and – since 2008 – the Asset
Recovery Agency.
SOCA had struggled – according to the
June 2011 Home Oce report on the crea-
tion of the NCA – to provide the necessary
oversight and leadership across the U K’s
multiple police and law enforcement agen-
cies. However, numerous critics at the time
– including practitioners, politicians, and
academics – suggested a more structural
problem with SOCA, namely its role as a
national non-departmental public agency,
with a mandate to collect cr iminal intel-
ligence but without policing or prosecution
capacities of its ow n.
Moreover, the secretive nature of SOCA
– which was structured more as an intelli-
gence agency similar to the Security Serv ice
(MI5) or Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)
– was another reason for the NCA’s creation.
In the overall strategy for its establishment,
then home secretary Theresa May promised
a more police-oriented agency, devoted to
cutting and disr upting organised cr ime with
a public and accountable profile.
However, former SOCA director general
Bill Hughes told Ja ne ’s in April 2013 that the
NCA was a “rebranding of SOCA with the
same facilities, the sa me 4,000 members of
sta and even the same budget”, and thus
unable to deliver real cultural change across
the organisation.
The NCA has its own mandate and does
not fit within the UK police constabulary
structure, although links exist. According
to its own revised framework document of
May 2015, the NCA has “strong, two-way
links with local police forces and other law
enforcement and intelligence agencies”, but
it does “respect the devolution of powers,
recognising the primacy of those in whose
territories it operates”.
NCA ocers can be designated the powers
of a constable, customs ocer, immig ra-
tion ocer, or any combination of these
three sets of powers, but the relationships
between the NCA and police forces and law
enforcement agencies remain on a voluntary
assistance basis.
The NCA director general – currently
Lynne Owens – has the power to direct a
chief ocer of a police force to give assis-
tance to NCA operations, but only with
consent of the secretary of state. Moreover,
the NCA itself can also be directed by the
secretary of state to assist a police force
or other law enforcement agency: this is a
controversial power which, for critics, could
enable the government to interfere in the
eectiveness and neutrality of the agency.
Balance of eectiveness
Since its launch, the work of the NCA has
recorded both successes and shortcomings.
Overlaps became evident across its strate-
gic governance groups, the commands of
Intelligence Law enforcement Policy
Institutional link Ad hoc link Counter-terrorism primacy
National Crime
Home Office
Metropolitan Police
(SO15, Counter Terrorism Command)
National Counter Terrorism
Policing Network/HQ
Regional Counter Terrorism Units
Joint Terrorism
Analysis Centre
Joint Intelligence
Police Service of
Northern Ireland
Police Scotland
Local police forces
and constabularies
(England and Wales)
National Counter
Terrorism Security
Office (NaCTSO)
Office for Security and
Counter Terrorism
HM Revenue
and Customs
National Economic
Crime Centre (proposed)
Serious Fraud Office
UK Visas and
Source: IHS Markit © 2018 IHS Markit: 1718177
UK National Crime Agency: institutional positioning janes Februar y 2018 | Jane’s Intelligence R eview | 43
Serious & Organised Crime
UK’s National Crime Agency faces multiple challenges
the agency, and their related threat groups.
Jan e’s understands that one example is the
relationship bet ween the Organised Crime
Command, which works on the dr ug-
tracking threat, and the Border Crime
Command, which is responsible for the drug-
importation threat, meaning that there are
obvious issues regarding deconfliction.
A number of inspections by Her Majesty’s
Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire &
Rescue Services (HMICFRS) in 2014, 2015,
and 2016 also drew attention to the NCA’s
relationships w ith other agencies and police
forces, which lacked satisfactory levels of
information-sharing and partnering.
A senior NCA manager told Jane’s on 19
December, “The NCA has always had a great
potential for making changes, but often
there has always been an overall sense that it
didn’t quite know what type of organisation
it wanted to be.”
Alongside organisational changes, chal-
lenges to the agency remain linked to finan-
cial constraints, operational goals, dic ul-
ties in maintaining manager ial continuity,
and addressing the fast-paced changes in the
crime threats that it seeks to counter. As an
example of budgetary pressures, the NCA
in 2017 had a budget of GBP473.9 million
(USD634.7 million), yet the organisations
that were merged into it together had a com-
bined budget of GBP812 million in 2013.
Most notably, the NCA presents itself
as an intelligence agency but with some
executive police force functions. This can
create internal imbalance across governance
groups and units working against specific
crime threats. This hybrid nature also poses
problems and potential frictions with other
agencies and institutions.
The 2014 HMICFRS inspection – reiter-
ated in 2015 and 2016 – found that there
was “a lack of clarity between the roles
of the NCA’s regional organised crime
co-ordinators and branch commanders”,
precisely because of the hybrid nature of
the agency. Fric tions have also arisen with
London’s Metropolitan Police and the City
of London Police because of their national
policing mandates for organised and finan-
cial crime, and with MI5 and MI6 because of
their mandates in national and international
security matters.
In particular, between December
2015 and January 2016, the government
announced a possible review of the police
system in the UK to favour a leading role
for the NCA in counter-terrorism policing,
in addition to its c urrent mandate. This
would have brought more than 1,500 extra
ocers to the agency and stripped the
Metropolitan Police – and its London-based
Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) – of
its national leadership role. The plans were
not implemented – in par t because of the
Metropolitan Police’s irreplaceable role in
maintaining community policing – but the
review highlighted areas of overlap between
the NCA and SO15, as well as confusion
about their roles.
This is evident in investigations and intel-
ligence on ‘cross-over’ matters in serious and
organised crime and terrorism. These areas
of overlap include the links bet ween drug-
tracking networks a nd terrorist networks;
connections between local radicalisation
and international terrorism; and the overlap
between people and goods smuggling and
the financing of terrorist activ ities.
The debate over primacy in counter-terror-
ism operations also impacts the role of MI5
and its relationship with the Metropolitan
Police. MI5 gathers and analyses intelligence
for SO15 so that SO15 can then make arrests
and bring prosecutions. Overlaps between
the NCA and the Metropolitan Police over
the sharing of competences and intelligence
in counter-terrorism complicate this rela-
tionship, as well as links between the NCA
and MI5.
Such overlaps mainly occur because
many threats – such as terrorism and dr ug
tracking – are national security threats
with a hybrid, multi-dimensional, and
complex nature that cannot be pigeonholed.
Regarding counter-terrorism, the financial
Structure of the NCA
The actual structure of the NCA has changed since the
agency’s inception. In pa rticular, since 2014 – when a
debate within government ended with the exclusion
of counter-ter rorism from the agenc y’s remit – the
NCA has been organis ed through a number of
operational branches.
Within this institutional structure, there are four
commands – the Organised Crime Command, the
Economic Crime Command, the Child Exploitation
and Online Pr otection (CEOP) Command, an d the
Border Crime Command.
These are supplemente d by a number of hosted
centres and units, including the Human Traicking
Centre, the N ational Cyber Crime Unit, the Procee ds
of Crime Centre, the Financial Intelligence Unit, and
the Intelligence Hub.
The NCA al so hosts the UK Nati onal Central Bureau
for Interpol, the UK Europ ol National Unit, and
the UK SIREN E Bureau (for the EU SIRENE network
promoting law enforcement co-operation). On behalf
of the entire U K policing community, it is th erefore
the first and principal contact for international law
enforcement partners , international liaison oicers,
and any other cross-border co-ordination tasks, such
as the manage ment of the UK Central Au thority for
the European Arrest Warrant.
The Natio nal Crime Agenc y building in Westm inster, London, on 7 Oc tober 2013. The NC A replaced the
Seriou s Organised Cri me Agency and a nu mber of other bodi es, but has faced s imilar challenge s.
Dan Kit wood/Get ty Images : 1707791
44 | Jane’s Intelligen ce Review | Februa ry 2018 s
Serious & Organised Crime
UK’s National Crime Agency faces multiple challenges
constraints on the NCA also raise questions
about its ability to extend its role.
More positively, the partnership bet ween
the Metropolitan Police and the NCA –
including in crossover areas between organ-
ised crime and terrorism – has also delivered
operational successes. For example, on 6
February 2017, an NCA operation into a
network smuggling illegal firearms discov-
ered “a handful” of counter-terrorism leads
and resulted in the seizure of more than
800 weapons and the ar rest of 282 people
by SO15.
Road ahead
The overall performance of the NCA appears
to have improved, notwithstanding the di-
culty in maintaining a clea r focus. According
to a senior operations manager speaking to
Jan e’s on 7 December, “The improvement of
information technology across the agency
has played a good part in bettering per for-
mance in intelligence gathering … [this] has
improved information-sharing internally
and with other agencies, as well as helping
in handling the backlog of cases we had
been accumulating and had inherited from
precursor agencies.”
Information-sharing – as part of the sup-
port that the NCA oers to other forces in
crime operations and enquiries – has been
a particular challenge that appears to be
largely related to the volume of enquiries
that the agency receives (approximately
3,000 annually, of which about 90%
originate from police forces across the UK,
according to a 2016 HMICFRS repor t). These
enquiries are varied in nature and origin.
Some large forces – including the Metro-
politan Police, Greater Manchester Police,
and Merseyside Police – make fewer enquir-
ies than the average across England and
Wales, most likely because of their own in-
house capabilities and remits. Smaller forces
such as Cumbria or Wiltshire tend to make a
greater number of enquiries.
Enquiries are mostly related to assistance
with technology in investigations. T his,
according to the latest HMICFRS report in
2016, may also be due to greater awareness
of the serv ices that the NCA provides in
terms of specialist IT capacities. Publicising
such services – including creatively through
platforms such as Facebook and Twitter,
and through public campaigns – has been a
significant investment for the agency since
2014, as part of its eort to clarify its roles
with partners and other forces.
Progress has also been made by the NCA in
its willingness to look to long-term change.
This is evident in recruitment, specifically
concerning specialist training and sta
retention. Most NCA roles require niche
expertise, which is dicult to develop and
can lead to retention issues once training
has been completed, since many ocers
attempt to move to the private sector for
better job oppor tunities.
The NCA management – by looking at
the recruitment policies of the FBI, among
others – has started to make recruitment a
priority by, for example, addressing the lack
of handover between outgoing and incoming
recruits (which is crucial for specialist units),
and through the establishment of a recruit-
ment reserve list to reduce gaps in capability
and to facilitate mobility across the agency.
Although accreditation processes for
training in UK law enforcement are usually
handled by the College of Policing, the NCA
is also internally creating development and
training opportunities for analysts. T his will
oer new recruits a dedicated NCA-branded
programme that may help with retention,
and in the longer term aims to improve spe-
cialist workforce stability and durability.
Despite positive prospects for the NCA’s
future direction amid changes, improve-
ments, and recognition of its shortcomings,
the policing of organised crime in the UK
will face new challenges in the aftermath
of the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Even before Brexit, the UK in 2015 had
already opted out from more than 130
measures within the Justice and Home
Aairs competence of the EU. This arguably
jeopardised the future of police and judicial
co-operation through institutions such as
the European police agency Europol and the
judicial co-operation mechanism Eurojust,
among others.
Leaving the EU may also mean further
complications for the NCA should its remit
expand further, for example with the NECC
or the project – never completely abandoned
– to transfer national counter-terrorism
capacities to the agency. In coming years, the
agency is likely to face pressure in terms of
budgets and resources as the UK government
continues to cut police budgets.
Future challenges may also include
requirements on other police forces to ‘dele-
gate’ some of their activities to the NCA, and
the need to manage international policing
within the Brexit scenario and the result-
ant likely new relationship with European
partners such as Europol.
Brexit is further more a concern from a
human rights perspec tive, as it could shift
the agency’s operational focus – and scant
resources – away from national issues such
as domestic human tracking, slaver y, and
child abuse, as well as other lower-profile
areas of activities. T he agency’s relative
youth also means that it is dicult to judge
how well it will manage to balance its cur-
rent duties and constraints with those of the
post-Brexit environment.
Meanwhile, the Home Oce’s plans to
enhance the NCA’s capacity w ith the NECC
are of questionable value, according to critics
such as Baroness Chakrabart i, speaking at a
13 December sitting of the House of Lords.
Alongside the Brexit tim ing, this fur ther
instit utional change threatens to again con-
fuse the agency’s focus. The powers proposed
for the new NECC inc lude targeting “ruthless
gangs” a nd the “worst oenders”, but this
does not suggest that white collar and corpo-
rate crime w ill be tackled di erently.
Any opinions expressed in this feature are those of the
author and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of
Jane’s by IHS Markit.
First published online 02/01/2018
On the web
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Dr Anna Se rgi is Deputy Direc tor of the Centre for
Criminology, University of Essex, UK .
Screen grab from the UK Nat ional Crime Agen cy
Twitter account, accessed 27 December 2017.
Nationa l Crime Agenc y/Twitter : 1707789 janes Februar y 2018 | Jane’s Intelligence R eview | 45
Serious & Organised Crime
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