Australia’s most powerful cop says the Australian Federal Police has “another ingenious plan” to further dismantle organised crime networks after pulling off the high-profile Operation Ironside sting.
AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw issued the grave threat to those involved in criminal networks at the National Press Club on Wednesday.
“I will provide another warning to organised criminals, outlaw motorcycle gangs, drug traffickers, money launderers and those that believe they will get away with their crimes,” Commissioner Kershaw said.
“The AFP has another ingenious plan. In fact, it was well under way before we revealed Operation Ironside.
“We won‘t tell you what it is. The only thing I will tell you’ll is that we are coming – again.”
Operation Ironside was largest organised crime operation ever untaken in the southern hemisphere, resulting in the arrest of 289 alleged offenders both in Australia and overseas.
Commissioner Kershaw said the majority of charges were related to drug crimes, with almost five tonnes of drugs, $49 million in cash and 138 firearms, explosives and other weapons seized.
At his National Press Club address last year, the commissioner made similar threats to those involved in organised crime.
“I said the AFP will be relentless, we will outsmart you and we will always be a step ahead. I declared the full force of the AFP is coming for you,” he said.
“When I made those remarks, the AFP, together with the FBI, was covertly undertaking what has been referred to in Australia as the sting of the century.”
Back then, Commission Kershaw said he knew Operation Ironside would be significant, but noted the true breadth and scale of drug trafficking and other criminality uncovered by the operation had been “staggering”.
To achieve the 289 arrests under Operation Ironside, the AFP used an encrypted messaging service – AN0M – to monitor the communication of organised crime rings.
Although AN0M was developed by the FBI, Commissioner Kershaw said it was the AFP that made the breakthrough.
“For years, a small team within the AFP and FB, had planned law enforcement’s holy grail: seeing what criminals were planning over encrypted communications in real-time,” Commissioner Kershaw said.
“Those AFP members were the ones who provided the ingenuity to read encrypted messages in real-time. That breakthrough with the platform secretly run by the FBI has been devastatingly effective.”
Commissioner Kershaw warned Australians against having any sympathy for those involved in drug trafficking.
“They are ambivalent to the misery caused by illicit drugs or if civilians are killed in the crossfire in their wars,” he said.
“A crime ring member’s ideology is unadulterated greed through the relentless trafficking of illicit drugs. It drives them. They recruit for it and they kill for it.”
The commissioner lamented that organised crime had killed more Australians than terrorism, highlighting the destruction that drug addiction wreaked on families.
“We have to ensure parents are not buying meth over milk,” he said, declaring nothing was more “gut-wrenching” than hearing a newborn wail as it struggled with methamphetamine withdrawal.
The top cop said the street value of illicit drugs had increased by up to 50 per cent in many Australian states since Operation Ironside began.
Australians pay some of the highest prices in the world for illicit substances, with 1kg of methamphetamine bought for about $1800 in Myanmar selling for $63,000 to $150,000 in Australia. The same amount of cocaine costs about $2300 in Colombia compared to $220,000 to $450,000 in Australia, according to Commissioner Kershaw.
He also noted almost one-third of those arrested under Operation Ironside were allegedly outlaw motorcycle gang members or people working for them.
However, not everyone agrees with the AFP’s hard-line stance.
Commissioner Kershaw’s predecessor Mick Palmer was known for his emphasis on the minimisation of harm when dealing with issues of drug crime.
In the wake of Operation Ironside, Palmer stressed “regardless of how effective police were” at drug busts and arrests, the reality was that this “made no difference” to rates of drug use.
But Commissioner Kershaw made it clear the AFP had no intention of softening its approach.
“We are going to break (crime rings) business model,” he declared.
“We are going to be relentless and do maximum damage to the criminal environment using all of our intelligence partners and in Home Affairs and beyond.”