Hostile states are using organised crime gangs to carry out illegal activity in the UK, the head of the National Crime Agency has warned.
NCA director-general Graeme Biggar highlighted “the emerging links between serious and organised crime and hostile states” in a speech outlining the agency’s annual assessment of crime threats to Britain.
Speaking in Westminster, central London, on Monday, he said: “North Korea has for some time used cybercrime to steal funds and more recently cryptocurrency.
“The Russian state has long tolerated and occasionally tasked the cybercrime groups on its territory, and had links with its oligarchs and their enablers.
“And over the last year we have seen hostile states beginning to use organised crime groups – not always of the same nationality – as proxies.
“It is a development we and our colleagues in MI5 and CT (counter-terrorism) policing are watching closely.”
Mr Biggar said the biggest group of offenders in the UK is those who pose a sexual threat to children, estimated to be between 680,000 and 830,000 people – around 10 times the prison population.
He warned that the availability of abuse images online has a radicalising effect by normalising paedophiles’ behaviour, and that viewing images, whether real or AI-generated, increases the risk of someone going on to abuse a child themselves.
There are around 59,000 people involved in serious organised crime in the UK, with around £12 billion generated by criminal activities each year, and around £100 billion of dirty cash from across the globe laundered through the UK.
Key threats to the UK include:
– Criminals exploiting migrants travelling to the UK in small boats.
The number of arrivals doubled to more than 45,000 in 2022, with gangs using “bigger, flimsier, single-use boats” and packing more people on to each craft, Mr Biggar said.
– Illegal drug use that fuels a raft of other crimes including violence, theft, use of guns and modern slavery.
Nearly 120 tonnes of cocaine and 40 tonnes of heroin are consumed in the UK every year, and NCA analysis of waste water suggests cocaine use is increasing by 25% in some areas. The agency wants to stop the use of synthetic opioids like fentanyl getting a hold here as they have done in the US.
– Online fraud, which accounts for more than 40% of all crime.
Mr Biggar said: “We assess that 75% of fraud is partially or fully committed from overseas. Generative AI is also being used to make frauds more believable, through the use of ever better deep fake videos and Chat GPT to write more compelling phishing emails.”
Mr Biggar said developments in technology such as increased use of end-to-end encryption are making the agency’s work harder.
He finished his speech by saying: “Law enforcement, including the NCA, needs to do more to be at the leading edge of new technology: this will require collective vision and sustained investment.
“And, secondly, we need more effective strategic partnership from technology companies.
“This is about responsible behaviour about designing public safety into their products alongside privacy, so that we all reap the benefits from technology, rather than suffering their consequences.”