Germany's Federal Criminal Police (BKA) is set to fight organized crime. Both the German police and Europol are better equipped than criminals would expect.
The problem appears to be insurmountable: organized crime is believed to include 3,600 groups with between 20,000 and 30,000 criminals. In Germany alone, networking criminals and traveling gangs do damage amounting from 500 million euros ($ 626 million) to 600 million euros ($ 743.5 million) per year.
German police officers feel they are operating within the confines of a straitjacket. Legal restrictions often make gathering adequate evidence difficult. Data, for instance, can't be collected everywhere, and only limited storage is permitted. Material for convictions and trials is piled high in the offices of Germany's security authorities and public prosecutors. At present, one petabyte - the equivalent of 400 million files of 500 pages each - is waiting to reach the right person because international requests for judicial assistance either fail or are delayed. Eighty percent of organized criminals with victims in Germany operate from abroad. Cooperation with foreign authorities has long been a necessity.
Last year, only 15 percent of the 150,000 well-organized crimes were cleared up. Under these circumstances, criminals have reason to be quite pleased. Yet the Federal Criminal Police (BKA), Interpol and Europol are preparing to strike back.
The battle plan
"We must strike criminals at their core," says Holger Münch, the future head of the BKA.
That core would be money. The idea is to access high-tech crime and deprive it of all financial means. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière plans to introduce draft legislation along those lines in Germany's Bundestag. Currently, criminal prosecutors must prove that money they want to confiscate actually stems from a crime. Often enough, the evidence is lacking.
In Italy, it's up to the suspects to prove that their money is from legal transactions: what lawyers call reversal of evidence.
A comparison of the sums confiscated shows the significance of that seemingly minor reversal: In Italy, the Mafia lost more than 40 million euros (50 million dollars), while Germany only managed to dispossess 80,000 euros.
That's about to change.
Police structures are being re-organized. Powerful crimefighting centers pool knowledge and capabilities. "J-CAT" is such a unit, answering to Europol. The acronym is short for "Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce" and tackles organized crime where the bulk of it can be found today: in the digital world of the internet.
Europol's crimefighting coordinator is a Dane, Troels Oerting. Speaking on the BKA autumn conference, he said: "I am very optimistic. I don't think that we will go down. I think that we will win [the fight against organized crime] and come out of this stronger."
Oerting says that within "J-CAT," for the first time 28 states are collaborating with top experts every day and around the clock, with private security firms, retailers, public administration, universities and cyber units all providing their best professionals. On a permanent basis, they monitor criminal activities, analyze crime patterns and co-ordinate countermeasures.
Troels Oerting represents a new generation of policemen. He is linked up very well and he acts fast. Currently, Interpol's European Cybercrime Center (EC3) strikes out heavily against organized criminals.
These strikes only sometimes make it into the media, as the recent headline-making seizure of 150 cans of heroin in the West German town of Essen. As a result of collaboration between "J-CAT" and the Federal Criminal Police Office, drugs worth 50 million euros were confiscated.
So-called "dark markets," shadow markets offering criminal services, are identified and shut down. Troels Oerting: "We have counted over 7,000 dark markets. They sell drugs [on the internet]. They sell guns. They sell stolen credit cards, they sell identity, they sell any kinds of stolen goods."
Oerting's task force was able to close down 400 of those meeting points for criminals. But the fight against servers located abroad goes on: "Within the next three years from now the only thing you will do is stream from cloud services. So, for us to follow back and trace and say you did this and I can prove it [will be very difficult]." Together with his colleagues, Oerting is already working out solutions.
The efficiency which which the police combats organized crime is highlighted by the case of a Bulgarian criminal gang operating from the Dominican Republic. The gang had ordered five credit cards from an Arabic bank and planned to change the withdrawal limit of 100 euros to an unlimited amount. To this end, they hacked into the computer of a Indian service provider of the bank. Had they been successful, they would have seized about 45 million dollars (36 million euros) within two hours and ten minutes: No hazardous bank robbery, just a simple desk job.
The BKA autumn conference did not shed any light on how exactly the perpetrators were caught. Troels just gave away this much: "85 percent of our cases are Russian speaking organized criminal cases right now." And law enforcement is aware of that.
The upcoming hotspot of organized crime has been identified as well: countries in West Africa. Troels Oerting says those countries are chosen by gangs "not because they are beautiful or lovely, but because they give infrastructure and a very weak police, and this is what they want."
Experts think it is possible that organized crime at least will not grow any further - provided German police forces continue to modernize themselves.