Interview with the Deputy Director of EUROPOL, Operations Department
In the exclusive interview series, this time we have the occasion of getting a glimpse inside of the European Union’s Law-Enforcement Agency, and the honour of an interview with Mr Wil van Gemert, Deputy Director of EUROPOL the Operations Department.
Deputy Director of EUROPOL, Operations Department Mr Wil van Gemert 2016 © EUROPOL/Deutschland in der Welt
Q: In the recent years, EUROPOL and the U.S Law-Enforcement Agencies have been expanding their strategic cooperation by signing numbers of new agreements on various issues from Cyber Crime to Counter-Terrorism, that could enable both sides to work more effectively to tackle the un-foreseen challenges of 21 century.
- How this close partnerships at the Law-Enforcement level can benefit the both sides, in general?
The US is by far the most important partner of Europol, and especially in the fight against cybercrime. Both in the field of online child sexual exploitation and cyber-attacks, the FBI, the US Secret Services and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement are making invaluable contributions to EU efforts to arrest criminals. Because both the EU and the US face common threats from terrorism and organised crime, transnational law enforcement cooperation is particularly important to enhance the security of citizens, and even more necessary when it comes to fight against borderless crimes, namely cybercrimes. Indeed, cooperating for more than 11 years, Europol and the US recently agreed on joining efforts to counter foreign fighters and to combat illegal immigration, especially as exploited by organised crime groups. Europol cooperation initiatives with non-EU countries and international organisations are crucial to exchange strategic and technical information, such as trends and developments in the methods used to commit offences or new methods of criminal intelligence analysis. Every year, Europol supports approximately 500 cases involving US authorities and joint operations lead to the arrest of top targets on both sides of the Atlantic. Europol’s cooperation with US authorities has reached an unprecedented level. Europol is now perceived as an efficient and reliable point of contact in many key crime areas in Europe and US authorities see Europol as an instrument to maximise their engagement with investigators in the Member States.
- And how the result can, in a more specific zone, protect the security of over 500,000 European citizens.
One example is the EU-US TFTP agreement. Since August 2010, the EU-US agreement on Terrorism Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) regulates the transfer of bulk financial data from a Designated Provider in Europe to the Department of Treasury in the US in order to support the prevention, investigation, detection, or prosecution of terrorism or terrorist financing. The TFTP agreement is now widely recognised by the European law enforcement community as a very effective tool to fight terrorism and its financing. Since 2010 Europol has processed more than 435 requests for information from the EU member states to the US authorities generating approximately 26.500 intelligence leads for European counter terrorism investigators.
Recently we’ve supported the French and Belgian investigators in the aftermath of the Paris and Brussels attacks. More than 1.100 leads on financial history of the terrorists and their networks were given to the Member States involved, in particular French and Belgian investigators. The partnership between the US Treasury and Europol ensures that the financial data analysis benefit to all EU counter terrorism investigations and similarly supports US investigations. The TFTP agreement is one of the most closely scrutinized data sharing and data collection programme. It’s a rare example of such a sensitive field being regulated in a transparent manner with so many robust safeguards.
Q: Please enlighten us on Cyber Security and the EUROPOL’s close combat on this major front.
Since 2013, Europol includes the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), established to promote cybersecurity and combat serious cybercrime. EC3 considerably strengthens the EU law enforcement response to cybercrime, as it draws on the existing capacities of Europol through its network of liaison officers and partnering networks with EU and non-EU law enforcement agencies, industry, the financial sector and academia. Specific focus is made on high-tech crimes – malware, ransomware, hacking, phishing, intrusion, identity theft, and internet related fraud – through the Focal Point Cyborg, on payment fraud – card present and card not present fraud – through the Focal Point Terminal, and on online child sexual exploitation – child abuse material, victim identification, and transnational child sex offenders – through the Focal Point Twins. In these fields of competence, EC3 serves as the central hub for criminal information, supports Member States’ operations, provides strategic analysis, connects cybersecurity related partners, and supports capacity building. Moreover, EC3 hosts the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT), which brings together cyber liaison officers to initiate and coordinate joint action against key cybercrime threats and top targets. Last December, the J-CAT helped disrupted one of the most widespread malware families – Win 32/Dorkbot, which infected over a million computers worldwide. To enhance cooperation between law enforcement and the private sector, EC3 established two Advisory Groups, one for the Information Security Industry and a second one for the Financial Sector.
Q: In one of other main area that EUROPOL has been greatly engaged, is the realm of the Intellectual Propriety Protection and the combat against Counterfeit.
- In your assessment how successful EUROPOL has been thus far?
In the past years Europol built up quite some experience in setting up different high level operations related to counterfeiting and piracy. In the area of fake food and beverages Europol started, in collaboration with Interpol, in 2011 to set up an operation called OPSON (Greek word for food). In 2011 only 9 countries participated. In the meanwhile Operation OPSON, which was organised since then, every year expanded in number of seizures but also in number of participating countries. In the most recent edition of Operation OPSON, finalised end of February, 57 countries participated. The operational outcome: 10.768 tonnes of counterfeited food, 1.089.067 litres of counterfeited liquids or beverages.
Since 2013, Europol and the US ICE Intellectual Property Centre coordinated a joint operation to seize domain names of websites offering a 100% illicit content like counterfeited headphones, clothing, footwear, This Operation is called Operation In Our Sites – Transatlantic and was for the first time jointly coordinated by Europol and US ICE in 2013. From the European side 5 countries and 7 agencies participated. Now six editions later, we are proud to inform that 29 countries participated and in total 33 different agencies. Together they seized 999 domain names. Internet users that went back to the websites only saw a banner and the announcement that the website was seized because they sold counterfeited goods. Also in 2015, Europol coordinated for the first time, a high level operation against illicit and counterfeited pesticides. Very often illicit and or counterfeited pesticides contain dangerous ingredients which are not or no longer allowed to be used in pesticides. Using those products could jeopardize seriously the health of EU consumers.
Q: Counter- Terrorism is another main frontier that EUROPOL is firmly engaged in the Combat.
- Please give us an outlook that describes both challenges and the success.
Europe is currently facing the most significant terrorist threat in over 10 years. The recent attacks in Paris and Brussels indicate a shift towards a clear international dimension of the so-called Islamic State to carry out special forces style attacks in the international environment. This and the growing number of foreign fighters are posing new challenges. We have also noticed that a large proportion of foreign fighters have criminal records varying from petty crimes to more serious offences. This development offers new challenges for law enforcement, but also new opportunities for criminal leads.
There is a great need within the European Union to strengthen our response to terror, to suspected terrorist networks and foreign fighters, and have an improved strategic understanding of threats.
In January 2016, Europol has launched the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC). By serving as a centre of expertise, ECTC will focus on tackling foreign fighters, sharing intelligence and expertise on terrorism financing (TFTP and support by the FIU.net), online terrorist propaganda and extremism (Internet Referral Unit), illegal arms trafficking and international cooperation to increase effectiveness and prevention.
The ECTC will also deliver on-the-spot support. This was the case after the Paris and Brussels attacks. A special taskforce (Fraternité) was set up to enhance the support to the French and Belgian investigations. The use of Europol’s products and service has increased significantly. Europol has used this trend of increased information sharing to upgrade its counter terrorism capabilities. The aim is to raise trust and awareness among the different counter terrorism authorities in the EU and maximise existing capabilities.
Q: In February 2016 EUROPOL launched the European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) to fight with the escalated European Migrant Crisis.
What Operational objectives this center activates?
The operational objective of the EMSC is to provide support to the member states targeting migrant smuggling to and in the EU. Its key features are support to investigations, allowing the member states to identify cooperation partners, as well as targeting the key smuggling networks that affect the EU. The EMSC has a proactive approach that aims to inform the member states by means of our intelligence products and analytical, forensic and expert support not only from Europol HQ, but also on those locations where the needs are highest. For this the EMSC has created of a pool of officers with the possibility to provide short to long term support in the EU member states, assisting in identifying key suspects and investigations, providing analytical support as well as forensic support (depending on the national legislation).
- And how the synchronized Intel and efforts between the EMSC, JOT MARE, Frontex, and the US, ameliorate the current crisis?
JOT MARE is a sub-unit of Europol’s EMSC. The people working there are cooperating closely with the other colleagues of the EMSC in identifying new sources of information, possibilities for cooperation with new and existing partners and drafting products. The EMSC (and JOT MARE as part of the EMSC) builds on the expertise of its staff and provides different types of support to the member states in their fight against migrant smuggling. We also work closely together with some Third parties including Frontex, US ICE and US CBP, Interpol and other partners such as EUNAVFOR MED. The EMSC is also in contact with some NGOs and private companies with the aim of getting a better information position on the situation in source and transit countries, as well as specific topics (such as detention methods in the field of ID fraud). There are also more information on JOT Mare and the EMSC available on EUROPOL website.
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