International criminal gangs and traffickers are exploiting large geographic blind spots where radar, satellite or other surveillance is minimal or nonexistent, the UN crime and drugs czar said warned.
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told members yesterday of the 15-nation UN Security Council that countries must improve their systems of sharing intelligence to reduce these surveillance gaps.
“We need a change in attitude,” Costa told the council. “It is time to regard information sharing as a way of strengthening sovereignty, not surrendering it.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also had words of warning for the council: “So far, cooperation between governments is lagging behind cooperation between organized crime networks.”
Costa also warned the Security Council that organized criminals are exploiting the instability in regions racked by conflict.
“This creates a vicious circle,” Costa said, in which “vulnerability attracts crime, crime in turn deepens vulnerability. In a chain reaction, humanitarian crises follow, development is stalled and peacekeepers are deployed.”
Costa urged the council to promote ratification of the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. That pact, which calls for greater cooperation in fighting global crime networks, was adopted 10 years ago but has only been ratified by one-third of UN member states and has seen only “patchy” implementation, he said.
The council unanimously adopted a statement urging UN member states to boost regional and international cooperation with each other and the UNODC to combat narcotics trafficking.
A new report issued by the UNODC called “Crime and instability: Case studies of transnational threats” illustrated the problem of surveillance gaps.
Examples in the report include massive cocaine trafficking from Latin America through West Africa, heroin shipments from Afghanistan and elsewhere in Asia to Europe, minerals smuggling from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, and maritime piracy in the waters off of Somalia.
“Technology has practically abolished time and space, so we should know what goes on around the planet at any moment. We don’t,” Costa said. “There are so many forgotten places, out of government control, too scary for investors and tourists.”
“These are precisely the places where smugglers, insurgents and terrorists operate,” he said. “Unperturbed and undetected, they run fleets of ships and planes, trucks and containers that carry tons of drugs and weapons.”
Costa said that ignorance about what happens in those blank spots, one of which spans a large section of the Atlantic Ocean, “has deadly consequences.”
In an interview with Reuters, Costa said the international community often learns of surveillance blind spots “by chance, such as when a plane crashes.”
During a recent visit to West Africa, a minister in one country told Costa that the nation’s authorities knew of 19 unregistered flights landing on their territory recently — flights that could have been carrying illicit cargo.
In Sierra Leone, Costa saw a large Cessna plane that flew into the country from Venezuela in the middle of the night with 1650 pounds (750 kg) of cocaine. In that case the drugs were seized thanks to the sharing of intelligence.
“It landed at night, at 2 o’clock in the morning,” he said, when the airport was not illuminated. “Luckily they were informed, so they were waiting for them.”
Pic: Seized cocaine