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2004 International Law Enforcement Cybercrime Award
Announcement of Award Winner

TheSociety For The Policing Of Cyberspace (POLCYB), ispleased to announce the the winner of the 2004 International Law Enforcement Cybercrime Award:

PROJECT NAME:   "Operation Marlite"
AGENCY: West Midlands Police Force, United Kingdom

(Excerpt from winning submission)

Operation Marlite

In September 2003 a suspect was arrested in the West Midlands force area, UK on suspicion of 'handling' stolen goods. Information had been received that many of the local youths who were committing burglaries, theft from motor vehicles and robberies were bringing the suspect much of the stolen laptops and electrical goods, which he was able to sell on in vast quantities. The method of distribution was unknown at that time.

Following the execution of a search warrant and his arrest a quantity of stolen laptops had been recovered. During the subsequent forensic analysis of his computer it became apparent that he was actually selling these goods in bulk via an Ebay account on the Internet.

Subsequent enquiries by the Hi-tech Crime Unit (HTCU) traced vast quantities of stolen goods around the country. This single enquiry had a significant impact in reducing the street crime in the local area to where the 'handler' lived.

The pro-active arm of the West Midlands HTCU saw this medium as an ideal opportunity to detect and arrest other offenders who were dealing in stolen goods. In consultation with Ebay UK, which provided excellent support, the unit developed a number of sensitive techniques and products. These were put to the test and very quickly a number of other suspects for 'handling' stolen goods were identified within the force area.

Since that date a number of high profile local criminals, who over the years had been able to defeat conventional policing techniques have been arrested and are awaiting trial and sentence.

It was during this period whilst employing the above techniques that the unit became aware that UK nationals were attempting to obtain fully operational automatic weapons, handguns and ammunition via the Internet. These were generally sourced from outside of the UK and various methods were used to 'import' them into the country to evade detection by law enforcement agencies.

Gun crime is on the increase in the UK and every effort is being made to reduce the supply of weapons. During 2002/3, 24,000 gun crime offences were recorded in England and Wales, a 27% increase on the previous year. The number of cases in which imitation firearms were used had doubled in 12 months. Two thirds of all gun crime occurs in London, Birmingham and Manchester. The choice of an organised crime group to use a particular type of firearm is determined by availability.

Following UK Law Enforcement success with European suppliers of weapons, conventional importations fell however in April 2002, members of the West Midlands Police HTCU met with colleagues from London in order to develop a strategy to tackle websites offering illegal firearms for sale.

The scale of the movement of firearms by use of the Internet had up until that time evaded the notice of law enforcement agencies. Firearm ownership is tightly regulated in the UK and conventional methods of illegal importation are constantly targeted by law enforcement. Two years in the development, Operation Marlite was commenced in June 2004. The HTCU by means of covert techniques infiltrated the 'gun community' and learned how the firearms were being sourced and supplied.

It became clear that the individuals involved in the UK were not just interested in purchasing a single firearm for their own use, but were in effect 'back street' armourers modifying quantities of firearms and producing ammunition for them. Several of them had obtained very detailed technical knowledge and were sharing this within the network.

At the end of June the HTCU executed a firearms search warrant at an address within the force area. During the course of the search an 'out building' at the rear of the premises was found to contain a small engineers workshop. A number of firearms were found on the benches in various states of production, including a fully operational M16 automatic assault rifle that had recently been completed.

At the conclusion of the search two Ingram MAC 10 machine pistols, an AK 47 Russian assault rifle and numerous handguns and even more worrying an Iraqi made RPG rocket launcher were recovered together with a large quantity of different calibre ammunition.

The HTCU have conducted detailed analysis of the computers recovered from the offenders address and again together with the pro active work on the Internet are piecing together and identifying a significant network of illegal firearms suppliers.

A number of suspects are currently subject to Operations and at the time of writing this report, as a result of information supplied by the unit, police in Scotland have raided an address and again identified a workshop and recovered five fully operational AK 47 assault rifles and over one thousand rounds of ammunition.

Working closely with both National and International agencies, the Unit is developing a strategy to tackle the problem of importing firearms using the Internet.

The sensitive techniques and lessons learnt by The West Midlands Police HTCU in policing the Internet are continuing to reap dividends and the Unit is exploring other areas of criminality on the Internet to overlay these techniques. Through these developments the Unit have built on their international reputation in the investigation of paedophilia on line and are now working with national agencies in the UK as well as US partners. The techniques developed in the West Midlands Police are now being adopted at a national level and will be used to complete a further national operation targeting purchasers of illegal firearms on the Internet.

The partnership that has now developed between West Midlands Police and Ebay will ensure long term cooperation to ensure that those who abuse trade on the Internet are identified and brought to account. This police presence in Cyberspace will enhance public confidence in using the Internet for genuine trading purposes and will reduce conventional crime where the Internet is the medium, whilst increasing public safety.

In the UK in the first quarter of 2004, 49 per cent of households (12.1 million) could access the Internet from home. This is a significant increase from the first quarter of 1999 when the survey showed only 13 per cent (3.2 million) of households could access the Internet. The vast majority of Internet use is for legitimate and often educational purposes. It is absolutely vital to maintain public confidence in the Internet and in doing so we must focus on the small minority who exploit the legitimate users.

The initiative developed by the West Midlands Police does not constitute the use of bespoke software programmes, but instead makes best use of existing hardware and software. The greatest investment in this initiative is the people behind it. It is the people who have endeavoured to develop their own expertise and have shared this with their international partners to maximise the impact. The people have developed something which is both unique and innovative, but most importantly they have developed a means of saving lives and improving the quality of life for our communities.

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