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Increased Globalization of Organized Crime and Terrorism: Europol and the EU Perspective

By Patrick G. Byrne, Europol Senior Representative, European Police Agency, Washington, D.C.

The globalization of organized crime and terrorism brings a new challenge to the men and women in law enforcement both within the intelligence communities and, most of all, on the front line.The tragic events in Boston earlier this year, serve as a chilling reminder to all that on any given day, law enforcement may have to deal with life-threatening situations sometimes brought about by circumstances emanating from global criminality or terrorism with no obvious connection to a local causation factor.Staying ahead of the criminals and the terrorists is not easy, but matching the new threats with coordinated law enforcement responses in the form of global information sharing among partners is a good platform to start from. This article shares some of the developments in information sharing from a European Union (EU) perspective with a focus on how Europol, the European law enforcement agency, is meeting these challenges with innovative, partnership-based approaches, working to make not only European citizens safer but also the global community.

Increased Globalization of Organized Crime and Terrorism: Europol and the EU Perspective

The increased globalization of organized crime and terrorism is an emerging phenomenon that is the subject of both strategic and operational analyses and much academic discussion. Law enforcement colleagues are regularly heard saying “Being a cop is the same the world over.” Each faces similar challenges and problems, such as the lack of financial or operational resources, legal impediments and constraints, many of which become significantly more challenging when placed in an international or cross-border context. However, the evidence shows that criminality and terrorism are now more than ever operating within and exploiting a borderless environment, which is facilitated by the exponential growth of the Internet, the global interaction on trade and financial services, and the limitless travel options now available.Communities’ legitimate desire for greater freedoms in a modern lifestyle create challenges for law enforcement when international legislation and information sharing capabilities do not always keep pace with the phenomenal growth in global connectivity.The European Union started out as an economic experiment in collaboration, following an era when wars and conflict were commonplace in Europe, and continuously strives to strike the balance between delivering the freedoms and prosperity it aspires to for its citizens whilst also trying to ensure that their safety and security are protected.1 The awarding of the iconic Nobel Peace prize to the European Union in 2012 is a testament to its success and achievements.2

However, challenges to safety and security within the European Union remain.The evolution of the European Union has posed new challenges for law enforcement, requiring an effective coordinated approach not just within the broader law enforcement community but also across all public and private sector elements of society. Europol, now a full EU commission agency since January1, 2010, is the embodiment of EU law enforcement cooperation and the primary EU law enforcement agency—providing 24/7 support not just to law enforcement officers in the EU member states but also to its international partners, whilst working in conjunction with other established international agencies such as Interpol, Eurojust, and Frontex.

Developing and delivering bilateral and multi-lateral law enforcement cooperation is not an easy task. The United States—with more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies and entities—knows this only too well, and it has faced up to the challenges of coordinating the federal, state, and local resources with the fusion center concept. Post-9/11 fusion centers have seen significant improvements in facilitating coordinated and effective law enforcement responses to both terrorist and organized crime investigations. Europol itself could be described as a European fusion center—ready, willing, and able to support its international partners and colleagues. It is a major international fusion center collecting, collating, and analyzing data and delivering support to EU member states and its operational and strategic partners.3

Recent findings, both in Europe and the United States, identify very similar trends indicating an increase in the globalization of transnational organized crime and terrorism. Criminal intelligence is the lifeblood of any law enforcement agency wherever it is situated, and maximizing efficiency in how this information is managed and shared nationally and internationally will be a key factor in successfully meeting the many challenges that lie ahead.

Europol: History and Background

Europol’s mission is to support its member states in preventing and combating all forms of serious international crime and terrorism.From the 1970s to the present, the idea of a European police agency was nurtured; developed; and, later, underpinned by a number of EU treaties. Europol’s mission has substantially remained the same as that reiterated in the Rhodes Vision of 2003, which stated “the core business of Europol is receiving, exchanging and analysing information and intelligence.” Europol has set about becoming the “European center for intelligence exchange, development, analysis, cooperation and support in relation to the fight against international organised crime” and terrorism.4 It also produces a number of threat assessments and situation reports that contribute to the setting of the EU Policing Priorities.5

Earlier this year, Europol published both its Serious Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) and its Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TE-SAT) both of which identify criminal and terrorist threats and trends that indicate the global reach of these phenomena.6 Europol also houses the newly established European Cybercrime Center, EC3, which is dealing with a global crime issue that requires a coordinated global law enforcement and public and private sector response.

Increased Globalization of Crime and Terrorism

Europol’s Serious Organised Crime threat Assessment 2013 identifies some interesting trends and threats. There are an estimated 3,600 organized crime groups (OCG’s) active in the European Union. These groups have developed a more “International and Networked form of Serious and Organised Crime” fully exploiting “International Trade, an ever expanding global transport infrastructure and the rise of internet and mobile communication.”7 The Europol Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TE-SAT) also identifies possible significant threats to EU and Western interests arising from the ongoing situation in the Middle East, North Africa and the current civil war in Syria, conflicts that have attracted an increased number of potentially radicalized EU citizens “fighting alongside groups associated with religiously inspired terrorism” who may on their return “pose a threat to” and “ may have an impact on the future security situation in the EU.”8 Are sufficient resources in place within international law enforcement to monitor threats to the global community from radicalised and violent individuals or groups who have multi-jurisdictional travel access?

The Internet also acts as an “essential communication platform for terrorist organisations and their sympathisers, enabling increasingly wide-spread access, anonymity and connection to a global audience that can be addressed in a targeted way.”9 This major global challenge to countering homegrown violent extremism begs the question, “Is law enforcement positioned to competently deal with “lone wolf actors” who can be difficult to detect?”

The U.S. assessment outlined by the U.S. Director of Intelligence, Mr. James Clapper to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence identifies very similar challenges that can confront frontline officers in the United States, Europe, or elsewhere, such as in the tragic events in Boston earlier this year.

Al-Qaida-inspired HVEs [homegrown violent extremists] ... will be motivated to engage in violent action by global jihadist propaganda, including English-language material, such as AQAP’s Inspire magazine….HVE planning in 2012 was consistent with tactics and targets seen in previous HVE plots and showed continued interest in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) targets.

Transnational organized crime (TOC) networks erode good governance, cripple the rule of law through corruption, hinder economic competitiveness, steal vast amounts of money, and traffic millions of people around the globe. TOC threatens U.S. national interests in a number of ways [cybercrime, drug activity, facilitating terrorist activity, money laundering corruption, human trafficking, and environmental crime].

The Intelligence Community is monitoring the expanding scope and diversity of “facilitation networks,” which include semi-legitimate travel experts, attorneys, and other types of professionals, as well as corrupt officials, who provide support services to criminal and terrorist groups

This latter quote is of significant interest because it addresses the convergence of illicit actors or networks between transnational organized crime and terrorism that can make accurate intelligence gathering, crime prevention, and detection more difficult. The infiltration by criminal and terrorist networks of licit structures and networks in an effort to disguise their criminal intent is also a challenge: “In an interconnected world, the pipelines linking these threat actors and networks cut across borders, infiltrate and corrupt licit markets, penetrate fragile governments, and undercut the interests and security of our partners across the international community.”11

So what can be done about it? How should scarce, limited resources be positioned for best effect? Europol and the EU member states’ national law enforcement agencies are constantly trying to find innovative solutions to these challenges. No one country or agency has the answer to each and every problem, but, by effective information sharing, the threat posed from the globalization effect of transnational organized crime and terrorism can be successfully combated.

Europol Products and Services Supporting EU Member States and Beyond

International criminal and terrorist groups operate worldwide, making use of the latest technology. To ensure an effective and coordinated response, Europol and its international partners need to be equally flexible and innovative, ensuring their methods and tools are up to date. Europol maintains state-of-the-art databases and communication channels, offering fast and secure facilities for storing, searching, visualising, analyzing, and linking key information. The gathering, analysis, and dissemination of this information entail the exchange of large quantities of personal data. In discharging these functions, Europol adheres to the highest standards of data protection and data security. All Europol databases and services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whenever requested by a member state, experts and specialist services are made available by deploying officers equipped with mobile connectivity to the databases and specialist services in Europol headquarters—providing real-time, on-the-ground support.

Europol also has strategic and operational agreements with a number of countries and partners, which means that within certain operating guidelines and regulations the legal basis is in place for exchange of operational information.This exchange includes valuable real information (names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, travel records, DNA, fingerprints, and so forth) that can be turned into valuable, usable information. Within the Europol framework there are strict controls ensuring that each member state and international partner retains control of the intelligence that they contribute and that citizens privacy rights are not infringed.

Each EU member state has a designated Europol national unit (ENU), which is the liaison body between Europol and the EU member states. The heads of Europol national units (HENUs) meet on a regular basis to advise Europol and the Europol Management Board on operational matters and other issues. Each HENU seconds at least one liaison officer to Europol, who is hosted at the headquarters in their own liaison bureau. The liaison bureaus are part of their countries’ national unit and represent the interests of their countries. ENUs are the link between Europol and EU law enforcement authorities.

Having these liaison officers deployed in Europol headquarters ensures a live 24/7 link between Europol headquarters in The Hague and the 28 ENUs in the nations’ capitals. Europol also hosts liaison officers from 10 non-EU countries and organizations who work together with Europol on the basis of cooperation agreements This network is supported by secure channels of communication provided by Europol. In addition, Europol has two liaison officers seconded to Washington, D.C., and one to Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon, France.

The secure communication system provided by Europol, SIENA, connects all the actors not only to the liaison bureau officers co-located in the Hague but also to the ENUs in each member state or to any international partner who agrees to host a SIENA connection within their organizations. SIENA is a state-of-the-art tool designed to enable swift, secure, and user-friendly communication and exchange of operational and strategic crime-related information and intelligence. It has a strong focus on interoperability with other systems at Europol and other cooperating states and organizations.

The facilities at Europol headquarters is also home to specialised criminal analysis laboratories and other specialised facilities designed to combat cybercrime, euro counterfeiting, and other crimes. The annual European Police Chiefs Convention takes place at Europol, hosting more than 200 high-level participants debating topical issues pertaining to modern policing. To its non-EU and international partners, Europol provides a unique and effective “one-stop shop” for engaging with the European Union and international law enforcement colleagues.

EU Policy Cycle and EMPACT Projects

Europol plays a vital role in the implementation of the EU policy cycle for organized and serious international crime. This multiannual cycle tackles the most important serious criminal threats to the European Union.

EMPACT is the European multi-disciplinary platform against criminal threats. It is part of the intelligence-led policing approach to tackling organized crime, identifying priorities, and establishing an international team work approach to bring down criminal groups that threaten the security of the European Union. This affords the opportunity for non-EU countries to provide significant information to Europol for consideration—to influence policy makers in the European Union in relation to the threats identified by external agencies and partners.

The Serious Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) 2013 recommends the following eight priority areas:

  1. Facilitating of illegal immigration
  2. Trafficking in human beings
  3. Counterfeit goods with an impact on public health and safety
  4. Missing trader intra community (MTIC) fraud
  5. Synthetic drugs production and poly drug trafficking in the European Union
  6. Cybercrime
  7. Money laundering
  8. Environmental crime and illicit waste trafficking and energy fraud

Europol Information System

The Europol Information System (EIS) is the reference system for offenses and individuals involved and other related data to support member states, Europol, and its cooperation partners in their fight against organized crime, terrorism, and other serious crimes. The EIS helps identify criminals operating across borders and provides investigative leads. For example, Cross Border Crime Check (CBCC) is a functionality that allows the instant identification of possible links upon the upload of new data into the EIS. All parties involved in CBCCs are automatically informed by system notifications when they may be investigating the same person or that those two seemingly unrelated criminals are regularly contacting the same telephone number.

The Europol Platform for Experts (EPE)

Europol also provides a number of Expert Platforms (EPE) some available to international colleagues.12 In 2012, the EPE grew to encompass more than 2,000 new users. A wide range of expertise is now covered by 25 online communities open to external users with expertise on a variety of law enforcement issues. Some examples follow:

  • Child sexual exploitation
  • Counter Terrorism Centre
  • Environmental crime (EnviCrimeNet)
  • European Platform for Gang Experts
  • European Law Enforcement Communicators Platform
  • Financial Crime Information Centre
  • Intellectual Property Crime
  • Special Tactics

Europol’s EC3 European Cybercrime Center now also offers a specific Cybercrime platform available to both law enforcement and the private sector, which is known as SPACE (the secure platform for accredited cybercrime experts).

Europol’s Operational Support Role

In 2012, Europol used its information capabilities and operational expertise to support authorities in EU member states in 15,949 cross-border cases, a 16 percent increase compared to 2011. Altogether 414,334 messages were exchanged between 373 competent authorities in 27 member states and 22 third-party partners.13 For operational and legal reasons it is not possible to disclose specific details of live operations but the following is a small sample some of relatively recent cases of international cross-border investigations supported and/or coordinated by Europol:

Operation PLAYA involved a major cocaine smuggling case with participating countries:France, Spain, and Sweden supported by Andorra, Colombia, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Israel, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela. Investigators from the various countries delivered the following significant results:

  • Eight members of the criminal group faced criminal charges in Sweden for trafficking multi-ton shipments of high-quality cocaine from South America to Europe. Another trial on money laundering related to drug trafficking started in Spain after a final verdict had been delivered in Sweden.

  • More than 30 people have been arrested throughout the world.

  • The investigators linked the suspected criminals to a sophisticated network of companies created to facilitate money laundering, money transfers, and property acquisitions.

  • 1.4 tons of cocaine were seized on a 15-meter sailboat bound for Europe. The total amount of seized cocaine had a street value of almost €500 million (about $657 million).

  • Spanish National Police froze several bank accounts as part of the investigations into money laundering and approximately €6 million (almost $8 million) was seized in five different countries, linked to reinvestments in real estate, a discotheque, businesses, luxury vehicles and ships. The network appears to have invested and spent at least €12 million ($15,752,400 at the June 25, 2013 exchange rate).

Operation ATLANTIC was led by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and coordinated by Europol, with the participation of France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom concluded on February 29, 2012. The operation focused on individuals exploiting a private file sharing software for online child sexual exploitation purposes. Europol analysis revealed further links of several suspects to previous operations involving child sex offenders. The above investigative and reporting activities facilitated the identification process in EU countries, which led to the detection of a network of offenders that were producing and distributing severe child abuse images, in some cases with toddlers and infants. The investigation also led to the identification of child sex offenders and several victims who had been sexually abused by these criminals.

  • After more than a year of investigations in EU Member States, 37 child sex offenders were identified.
  • Among them, 17 were arrested for child sexual molestation and the production of illegal content.
  • Moreover, eight victims have been identified.

Countering Violent Extremism

Europol, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), initiated Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), which is aimed at exploring opportunities to share knowledge, best practices, and lessons learned in countering violent extremism on both sides of the Atlantic. A number of meetings and seminars were held during the year, along with a series of case studies, one of which resulted in a joint Europol/DHS report on the Oslo incident in 2011.

Europol launched a secure web-based Experts Platform for Countering Violent Extremism that can be accessed by EU member states and U.S. federal, state, and local law enforcement officials for online collaboration.

The Way Forward

The increase in the globalization of organized crime and terrorism will continue to pose new challenges and threaten the safety and security of citizens. However, there is strength in unity and a shared purpose. Constructive focused inter-agency cooperation whether at a local, national, international, or global level will always yield the best results and ensure that all law enforcement energies and resources are fully targeting those criminals and terrorists who seek to destroy the safety, security, and well-being of communities. Following the callous murder of Garda Síochána (The Irish National Police Force) colleague Gerry McCabe and the international award winning journalist Veronica Guerin in June 1996, a mobilization of both the state authorities and the people resulted in the establishment of the Irish Multi-Agency Criminal Assets Bureau, which was given a robust legislative package and had widespread public support in tackling organized crime and terrorism by targeting criminal assets and the profits of crime.

Europol stands ready not only to support the citizens and communities in the European continent but also to play its part working with all other likeminded international partners to defeat global criminality and terrorism—making the global community safer. ♦


1 The European Union (EU) is a unification of 28 member states united to create a political and economic community throughout Europe.
2 The Nobel Peace Prize 2012 was awarded to the EU “for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” “The Nobel Peace Prize 2012,” (accessed May 31, 2013).
3 Europol operational and/or strategic partners are Albania; Australia; Canada; Colombia; Croatia; Iceland; Norway; Switzerland; Interpol; and the following U.S. law enforcement agencies: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI); Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); Internal Revenue Service (IRS); Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS); and the U.S. Secret Service (USSS).
4 Europol, “History: The First Years 1999-2004,” (accessed June 20, 2013).
5 “Eurapol’s Priorities,” (accessed June 20, 2013).
6 Europol, SOCTA 2013: EU Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (‘s-Gravenzande, NL: European Police Office, 2013), (accessed June 20, 2013); and Europol, TE-SAT 2013: EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (‘s-Gravenzande, NL: European Police Office, 2013), (accessed June 20, 2013).
7 Europol, SOCTA 2013, 6.
8 Europol, TE-SAT 2013, 7.
9 Ibid., 12.
10 James R Clapper, “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community,” statement of record, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, March 12, 2013, 4-5, (accessed June 20, 2013).
11 Trans-Atlantic Dialogue on Combating Crime-Terror Pipelines: Dismantling Converging Threat Networks to Strengthen Global Security (Washington D.C.: National Defense University, June 2012), 2, (accessed June 20, 2013).
12 Further information on how to access these services can be obtained at (accessed June 21).
13 Europol Annual Review, 2012 (‘s-Gravenzande, NL: European Police Office, forthcoming).

Patrick Byrne is the Europol senior representative and the head of the Europol delegation in the United States with responsibility for strategic and operational matters with the United States and Trans-Atlantic partners, including Central and South America. He joined Europol on September 1, 2010, when he was appointed head of organized crime networks for south and south-east Europe. He later served as assistant director for the operations department covering all of Europe up to his deployment to the United States.

He previously served as a detective chief superintendent in Ireland having been an operational police officer in the Garda Síochána (The Irish National Police Force) for 32 years. During his career in the Garda Síochána, he served as the head of the National Security and Intelligence Branch (subversive and organized crime), as the chief bureau officer of the Multi-agency Criminal Assets Bureau and as the head of the National Drug Unit Operations. He was also appointed to establish the Garda Síochána Professional Standards Unit delivering statutory operational audit functionality for the National Police Force.

Please cite as:

Patrick G. Byrne, "Increased Globalization of Organized Crime and Terrorism: Europol and the EU Perspective," The Police Chief 80 (August 2013): 64–68.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXX, no. 8, August 2013. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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