The European Council approves conclusions that recognise the key role of cultural heritage in the promotion of peace and democracy

The European Council has approved a series of conclusions that welcome the EU’s conception of cultural heritage in terms of conflicts and crises, enhancing the EU’s focus on peace, security and development.

The conclusions recognise that cultural heritage can have a key role in the promotion of peace, democracy and sustainable development, thus promoting tolerance, cultural and inter-confessional dialogue and mutual understanding. At the same time, cultural heritage can also be instrumentalised as a source or cause of conflicts. The conclusions reached ask for the protection and safeguarding of cultural heritage during periods of conflict and crisis.

The Council emphasises the importance of raising awareness of, and providing protection for, cultural heritage as part of a sensitive approach to conflicts throughout their various phases, and as a basis for a sustainable return to harmony and lasting peace. The protection and safeguarding of cultural heritage can contribute to preventing violent extremism, combating disinformation and generating positive and inclusive dialogue, in addition to contributing to societies’ overall resilience.

The Council also underlines the importance of reinforcing partnerships with relevant international organisations, regional organisations, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations as appropriate, and calls for the protection and safeguarding of cultural heritage to be incorporated into the Council’s work in all areas of Foreign and Security Policy. 

The EU will now incorporate the protection of cultural heritage into all the relevant dimensions of the EU’s diplomatic toolbox.

As the missions and operations of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) can make an important contribution to meeting security challenges in relation to the preservation and protection of cultural heritage, the EU will now develop a mini-concept dedicated to exploring the possibility of developing civil CSDP missions in this field, if required, by means, for example, of potential skill development programmes or training activities.

The EU will also try to incorporate the protection of cultural heritage into all the other areas of the EU’s foreign policy and into the relevant financial instruments, including the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Initiative (NDICI). 

Member States, the European External Action Service (EEAS), the Commission and other relevant organisms undertake to improve their cooperation in terms of cultural heritage in order to develop and exchange best practices and experiences.

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Europol: 23 suspects arrested for commercial fraud by email involving COVID-19 equipment

The public authorities of Romania, the Netherlands and Ireland have discovered a sophisticated fraud scheme involving emails and fraudulent advance payment transactions, in an operation coordinated by Europol.

On 10 August, 23 suspects were arrested in a series of operations carried out simultaneously in the Netherlands, in Romania and in Ireland. Raids were carried out at a total of 34 different addresses. It is believed that the alleged criminals concerned have defrauded companies in at least 20 countries for a sum of approximately one million euros.

The fraud was directed by an organised crime group which before the COVID-19 pandemic was already offering other fictional products, such as wooden pallets, for sale online.  Last year the criminals changed their modus operandi and started to offer protective equipment after the pandemic had broken out.

This criminal group, trained by nationals of various African countries living in Europe, created false email addresses and websites similar to those of legitimate companies operating in the wholesale trade. Passing themselves off as the companies concerned, the criminals are thought to have persuaded the victims, mainly European and Asiatic companies, to issue orders and to have requested advance payments so that the goods could be sent to them.

However the goods requested were never delivered, and the funds collected were siphoned off via money-laundering operations into Romanian bank accounts controlled by the criminals, before being withdrawn from automatic cash dispensers.

Since the operations began in 2017, Europol has provided support for this case through the following actions:

• Bringing together investigators from all the national police forces that have collaborated closely with Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) to prepare for the day of the operation.

• Providing continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators.

• Deploying two of its experts in cybercrime in the operations in the Netherlands to provide support to the Dutch authorities for the real-time cross-checking of information and search for the corresponding evidence during the course of the operation. 

Eurojust coordinated judicial cooperation in relation to the investigations and provided support by implementing various instruments of judicial cooperation.

This action was carried out within the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).

The following police authorities participated in the action:

• Romania: National Police (Poliția Română)

• The Netherlands: National Police (Politie)

• Ireland: National Police (An Garda Síochána)

• Europol: European Cybercrime Centre (EC3)

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The European Council’s conclusions concerning migrations

The European Council has examined the situation regarding migrations and the various different migratory routes. While the measures adopted by the European Union and the Member States have reduced the overall total of irregular flows in the last few years, continuing developments related to certain routes are causing serious concern and requiring continues vigilance and urgent measures.

To avoid the loss of human lives and to reduce the pressure on the frontiers of Europe, as an integral part of the European Union’s external action, associative initiatives and cooperative measures will intensify with countries of origin and transit so that they can be beneficial for all parties.

The focus will be pragmatic, flexible, made-to-measure, and, as Team Europe, will make a coordinated use of all the instruments and incentives at the disposal of the EU and the Member States. It will be developed in close cooperation with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and with the International Organisation for Migration (OIM).

It will deal with all the routes used and base itself on an approach that takes into consideration each migratory route seen as a whole, fights the deep causes of migration. It gives support to refugees and displaced persons in the region, develops capacities to manage migration, puts an end to illicit trafficking, reinforces frontier controls, cooperates in terms of searches and rescues, at the same time dealing with legal migration that respects national competences, and guarantees returns and readmissions. For these reasons, the European Council:

  • Urges the Commission and the High Representative to reinforce without delay, in close cooperation with the Member States, specific actions with the priority countries of origin and transit and with their support.
  • Urges the Commission and the High Representative to present, in close cooperation with the Member States, action plans for the priority countries of origin and transit in the autumn of 2021, indicating clear objectives, more measures of support and specific time limits.
  • Invites the Commission to make the best possible use of at least 10% of the financial donation of the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument, and also of the financing with other pertinent instruments, for measures in terms of migration, and to inform the Council of its intentions between now and November this year.

The European Council condemns and refuses any attempt by third countries to instrumentalist migrants for political purposes.

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Colombia is to inaugurate a university dedicated to security subjects

It is estimated that in Colombia there are over 380,000 men and women who work for private security firms performing duties as security guards. This is shown by the statistics collected by the country’s National Confederation of Private Surveillance Associations (CONFEVIP).

Those working in this field in Colombia are required to be of adult age, to have completed their military service, to have no criminal record and to have a certificate indicating a knowledge of private security questions.

It is for this reason among others that in the second half of this year a training university for security guards is to be inaugurated in Medellín. The new university will form part of the private security firm Andiseg, which plans to organise the training of the more than 1,500 workers operating in this sector throughout the department of Antioquia.

The aim of the new university is to keep security guards updated about the new technological tools that have been developed in the security field.

Miguel Ángel Díaz, the president of the security firm Andiseg, explained that applicants will be able to graduate from three different courses, each of which has been designed with a view to the requirements of the employment market in recent years and, in particular, now that the health and economic crisis has led to an increase of more than 7% in demand for private security services.

The persons who complete these courses will receive qualifications as professional technicians in private security, professional technicians in technological functions or professional technicians in the operation of drones and new technology, depending on the course that they choose.

With regard to these new tools, the company has indicated that the aim is for security firms to be able to offer more secure services in terms of the provision of security, through devices such as mobile phones, with products such as panic buttons and the geographical referencing of illegal activities or dangerous areas.

The aim is to introduce state-of-the-art technological innovations from the international security market. Artificial intelligence, blockchain and data mining will be made available to Colombians to make their lives safer and more secure, and to contribute to the country’s economic growth.

Migue Ángel Díaz detailed new services offered by Andiseg to combine security with technology: online escorts, virtual guards and Andicity.

An online escort is a cutting-edge escort that provides security in real time in the field of logistics, while a virtual guard represents a form of remote surveillance that shows the end user what is happening in their office, factory, field, etc., in real time. For this purpose drones, cameras and monitoring systems are used.

Finally, Andicity is a panic button that is managed through an app on which users can report robberies, thefts, accidents or other new developments, and also receive the support and assistance of security guards and supervisors.

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El Salvador expands its fight against the gangs with 1,000 more soldiers

A few weeks ago, the Government of El Salvador decided to assign 1,042 more members of its Armed Forces to security operations, working in conjunction with officers of the country’s National Police to reinforce its defence strategy against gangs and other forms of serious criminal activity.

This new detachment of 1,042 means that there is now a total of 9,000 soldiers taking part in what is known as the Territorial Control Plan. This strategic plan was introduced in July 2019, with the aim of recovering areas of the country controlled by gangs and reducing the number of murders and other related crimes.

This new contingent was assigned to patrol duties in areas with the highest levels of criminality.

It is currently estimated that there are some 60,000 gang members active within El Salvador, belonging to three dominant groups: the “Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)”, the “Barrio 18-Sureños”, and the “Barrio 18-Revolucionarios”. The majority of murders taking place in the country are attributed to these three gangs.

In addition to this, El Salvador continues to be a transit point for drug traffic, since it transports its consignments to the United States and other countries, where the gangs play an increasingly active role, given that they control many areas of the country.  The gangs have developed from imposing extortion rackets on drug dealers in the areas they control to becoming direct distributors, in addition to being also consumers.

In late 2020 in the city of San Salvador, the authorities succeeded for the first time in dismantling a laboratory of metamphetamines owned by the MS-13 gang. To conceal its activities from the police, the laboratory had operated under the guise of a religious community. The level of consumption of amphetamines in Central America is higher than the global average, which represents a potential market that that the gangs can control in the future through their retail drug distribution networks.

It is currently considered that the gangs have established relationships with certain international drug trafficking organisations, offering a variety of services: guaranteeing security or even transporting the products themselves. They have probably come into contact with considerable quantities of drugs, thus entering directly into this line of illegal activity.

It is for this reason that the number of military contingents is being increased throughout the country. For example, at the start of the year 500 kg of cocaine were intercepted on board a boat sailing in El Salvador territorial waters.

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73 presumed people traffickers arrested in a pan-European operation

Between 31 May and 6 June 2021, Europol provided support for coordinated action on a European scale against the trafficking of persons for forced labour purposes. The operation, directed by the Netherlands, involved a wide range of public authorities, including police forces, Customs officers and border guards, labour inspectors and tax authorities. In total, 23 countries participated in the coordinated operations.

The week of coordinated action involved:

229 arrests (73 for people trafficking)

• 630 identified potential victims of different types of exploitation

• Over 4,890 proved locations

• 16,530 vehicles checked

• 56,250 persons checked

750 new investigations opened, 150 related to people trafficking.

The police authorities carried out checks in manpower-intensive sectors of activity that require only workers with low-level skills. Employees in sectors such as transport, logistics and the construction industry are more vulnerable to exploitation because of the lower level of education and awareness that they require in terms of labour rights and people trafficking. The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has also reinforced certain feelings of vulnerability. For example, victims accept employment in working conditions that may threaten their health. The factors that endanger their health include mass labour environments, low levels of hygiene and an absence of health care.

The risks of exploitation vary depending on the sector. Transport companies give work to many nationals from third countries, who are exposed to the risks of exploitation linked to travelling in overtime periods and very low wages. Another objective of the checks was also the labour exploitation of domestic workers employed for 24 hours a day to look after persons or animals. Some sectors of employment such as nail-bars have been linked to the exploitation of victims of Vietnamese origin. Their vulnerability often increases due to the debt-slavery caused by their journeys to the European Union. The authorities also focused on the potential exploitation of migrants awaiting refugee status during their asylum application procedures. Another focus-point was the facilitators involved in people trafficking, specifically in relation to the use of false and fraudulent documents.

Europol coordinated the action days and facilitated the exchanging of information between the participating countries. It thus provided analytical and operational support on a 24/7 basis and facilitated the exchanging of communications in real time between the participating authorities.

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The European Council allocates 18 billion euros for internal affairs over the 2021-2027 period

The European Union is increasing the extent of its funding for measures in the fields of asylum and migration, integrated border management and internal security, to face the growing challenges in these policy areas.

The Council has adopted three sectoral proposals for the funding of policies in terms of internal affairs, within the 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework.

This funding will equip the EU with the tools required to meet the developing migratory challenges, both within the EU and in cooperation with third countries. It establishes four specific objectives: asylum policy, migration and legal integration, irregular migration and returns, and solidarity and sharing of responsibilities between Member States. The minimum percentages for the funding are linked to some of the objectives, with a minimum of 15% allocated to each of the objectives relating to asylum and legal migration set by Member States, and 20% allocated for solidarity.

With regard to the solidarity objective, the funding will increase incentives for transfers of applicants and beneficiaries of international protection between Member States. Incentives will also continue for the admission of persons by means of resettlement and humanitarian admissions.

The asylum, migration and integration fund also covers actions in third countries or in relation with the latter, recognising the role of other EU funds designed to deal with external action.

The text agreed reflects recent developments such as the expansion of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, the modernisation of the common visa policy, and the development and interoperability of large-scale computer systems (including the European system for the notification and authorisation of journeys and entry/exit).

According to the new mechanism, a minimum of 10% will be allocated to Member States’ programmes for visa policy, while the maximum percentage of financial support for the programmes has increased to 33% of the funding.

The new provisions also improve the simplification, flexibility, profitability and cooperation and coordination between the various national authorities. Assets acquired with a financial contribution from this mechanism will also be used in other areas, including Customs and maritime operations or those intended to attain the objectives of the other two internal affairs funds.

The fund is based on the current version and adapts it to new developments such as the need to intensify the fight against terrorism and radicalisation, serious and organised crime and cybercrime. It will provide support for improving the exchanging of information, for intensifying trans-border cooperation, including joint operations against terrorism and organised crime, and for strengthening the capacity to prevent and combat crime.

The financing for the purchase of equipment has been increased for Member States’ programmes up to a maximum of 35%, while operational support has been increased up to a maximum of 20%. Decentralised agencies will exceptionally receive funding when they contribute to the implementation of EU initiatives that are within their area of competence and which are not covered by the EU’s contribution to its budget obtained through the EU’s annual budget.

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800 criminals arrested in biggest ever law enforcement operation against encrypted communication

The US FBI, the Dutch National Police (Politie) and the Swedish Police Authority (Polisen) in cooperation with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and 16 other countries have carried out, with the support of Europol, one of the largest and most sophisticated law enforcement operations to date in the fight against encrypted criminal activities, an operation known as Greenlight / Trojan Shield.

Since 2019, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, in close coordination with the Australian Federal Police, strategically developed and covertly operated an encrypted device company, called ANOM, which grew to service more than 12,000 encrypted devices to over 300 criminal syndicates operating in more than 100 countries, including Italian organised crime, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and international drug trafficking organisations.

The goal of the new platform was to target global organised crime, drug trafficking, and money laundering organisations, regardless of where they operated, and offer an encrypted device with features sought by the organised crime networks, such as remote wipe passwords.

The FBI and the 16 other countries of the international coalition, supported by Europol and in coordination with the US Drug Enforcement Administration, then exploited the intelligence from the 27 million messages obtained and reviewed them over 18 months while ANOM’s criminal users discussed their criminal activities.

A series of large-scale law enforcement actions were executed over the past days across 16 countries resulting in more than 700 house searches, more than 800 arrests and the seizure of over 8 tons of cocaine, 22 tons of cannabis and cannabis resin, 2 tons of synthetic drugs (amphetamine and methamphetamine), 6 tons of synthetic drugs precursors, 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48 million in various worldwide currencies and cryptocurrencies. Countless spin-off operations will be carried out in the weeks to come.

Operation Trojan Shield / Greenlight will enable Europol to further enhance the intelligence picture on organised crime affecting the EU due to the quality of the information gathered. This enhanced intelligence picture will support the continued effort in identifying high-value criminal targets on a global scale.

Criminal networks have a huge demand for encrypted communication platforms to facilitate their activities. However, the market for encrypted platforms is considered to be volatile. In July 2020, the EncroChat encrypted platform was dismantled by the Operational Taskforce EMMA (France, the Netherlands).

This operation provided invaluable insights into an unprecedented amount of information exchanged between criminals. After the takedown of Sky ECC in March 2021, many organised crime networks sought a quick encrypted replacement for a communication platform that would allow them to evade law enforcement detection.

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The European Council approves conclusions on the impact of the pandemic on internal security and terrorist threat

With regard to internal security, the conclusions acknowledge the unpredictable threats and challenges that the crisis posed to the internal security landscape.  Focusing on making better use of existing means of cooperation and building upon established structures, the Council:

– encourages member states to identify practical solutions to prevent difficulties in strategic operational and tactical cross-border law enforcement cooperation.

– underlines the need to prevent the infiltration of criminal networks in the implementation of the Next Generation EU.

– encourages CEPOL and the member states to develop scenario-based training and practical exercises to ensure preparedness and resilience for future pandemics and other crises.

– stresses the need for the Commission to support Europol and the innovation laboratory to set up a common, resilient and secure instrument for communications in the EU law enforcement cooperation framework.

– recommends to member states that they develop and promote awareness campaigns for their citizens to prevent the impact of cybercrime activities, as well as misinformation and hate speech.

– encourages member states to share best practices on strategies that improve reporting channels for victims of crimes, such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, during lockdown and crisis situations.

So far, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the terrorist threat seems to have been limited. However, the protracted pandemic may increase member states’ vulnerabilities and the risks of radicalisation. The online presence of extremist groups is on the rise since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to COVID-19, counter-terrorism authorities have had to increasingly rely on online capabilities, making their work more difficult.

In the medium to long term, the pandemic and its socio-economic consequences may prove to be a favourable breeding ground for extremist narratives. Some (violent) far-left, far-right and Islamist extremist groups have already incorporated COVID-19 into their narratives, and this might pose security challenges in the medium and long term. The conclusions, therefore:

– Call on member states to continuously contribute to the assessment of the online dimension of the terrorist threat by providing information to the relevant EU bodies. INTCEN (EU Intelligence and Situation Centre) and Europol should continue to deepen their assessment of the impact of the pandemic on terrorist operations.

– Invite member states to swiftly give effect to the regulation on terrorist content online, and the Commission and EU internet referral unit to provide support with their technical and operational expertise.

– Underline the influence of algorithms and their role in fostering radicalisation as another key point that deserves attention.

– Note the need to pay increased attention to emerging security risks, as well as opportunities, stemming from new technologies and underline the role of the EU innovation hub.

– Underline the utmost importance of continuing to develop secure VTC systems and channels for the exchange of classified information.

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