North American Conference Puts Spotlight on Combating Transnational Crime

Liz Dobbins, NAAG Visiting Fellow

Delegates from around North America and the Caribbean met in Providence, R.I.on Aug. 7-9, to discuss common challenges and shared experiences in fighting transnational crime. The meeting was hosted by the National Attorneys General Training and Research Institute (NAGTRI), the training and research arm of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), and in partnership with the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP). One hundred fifty people representing 13 countries discussed strategies to combat human trafficking, intellectual property theft, cybercrime, and weapons and drug trafficking.

The meeting began Wednesday night with a reception at the Rhode Island State House and a welcome from the Providence mayor. Thursday morning, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, who serves as the NAAG representative to IAP, opened the plenary session.

“We live in a global world where international borders have virtually disappeared, opening up new opportunities for criminal organizations to operate while creating new challenges in investigation and prosecution. To combat the growing threat of transnational criminal organizations, we too must reach across borders, share information and cooperatively determine where to best prosecute these types of cases,” Attorney General Kilmartin said.

NAAG President and Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen reflected on the special role of prosecutors in upholding the rule of law, and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse spoke about the unique challenges posed by cybercrime.

“We are in a technological race for cyber dominance, and we have to keep winning that race,” Sen. Whitehouse said. “Civilization has to win every time to stay secure; attackers have to win just once to do damage. That means we have to be on the technological cutting edge.”

The conference continued with a legal analysis of Maryland v. King, the 2013 decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Maryland’s DNA collection statute. Maryland Chief Deputy Attorney General Kay Winfree explained her arguments in the case and the balancing test used to determine whether a warrantless search is reasonable, considering factors such as an arrestee’s privacy interest, the nature of the intrusion involved in DNA collection, and the state’s interest in solving crime and protecting public safety. Discussing the implications of Maryland v. King, Winfree remarked, “If the court had not upheld the constitutionality of the Maryland arrestee DNA collection statute, there would have been inevitable challenges to the statutes that permit taking DNA from convicted offenders.”

A panel on “Trafficking in Persons” followed, moderated by New Mexico Chief Deputy Attorney General Al Lama. The speakers discussed their jurisdictions’ experiences with the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking and the importance of the victim-centered approach to dealing with this crime. Workshop participants described the trauma experienced by human trafficking victims, how community members, such as emergency room doctors, must be educated to recognize the signs of victimization, and the needs that non-governmental organizations meet to ensure that victims become survivors.

Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Mythili Raman, delivered one of two Thursday keynote addresses. She noted, “Fighting transnational crime is a critical piece of the Justice Department’s mission, and it always will be.” She discussed some of the recent successes of the Justice Department in finding and apprehending international criminals.

Peter Vincent, the principal legal advisor of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Department of Homeland Security and acting director of ICE Homeland Security Investigations, Office of International Affairs, delivered the second keynote address on the way intellectual property theft stifles innovation and disrupts economies.

“Innovation requires protection in order to flourish,” Vincent said. In addressing the importance of international partnership in the effort to prevent and prosecute intellectual property theft, Vincent commented that international partners are “critical to our ability to combat this global problem.”

The last panel of the day expanded on the topic. They discussed the importance of tackling the theft of intellectual property, both in developed and developing countries, and the approaches taken by the U.S. government, state prosecutors, Canada, and Mexico to address this issue.

Two workshops presented different perspectives on unique challenges related to intellectual property. “Tackling IP Theft on the Internet” focused on “Operation in Our Sites” which targets websites and their operators that distribute counterfeit and pirated items over the Internet. “Countering Counterfeit Products in Government Procurement” addressed threats posed to consumers by piracy and counterfeit products, including especially dangerous counterfeit products such as airbags, batteries, and fire extinguishers.

Friday morning, the plenary session started with remarks from National District Attorneys Association President Henry Garza, who is also the Bell County, Texas district attorney. Thomas Dukes, U.S. State Department deputy coordinator for cyber issues, delivered a keynote address on cybercrime. Noting that the international community had come together in fighting cybercrime, he also talked about the U.S. government’s experience in building capacity in law enforcement agencies world-wide to fight cybercrime and other transnational crimes. A cybercrime panel,along with two workshops, explored issues pertinent to today’s virtual landscape, including how criminals use encryption and other types of advanced technology to commit crimes.

Judith Friedman, senior trial attorney of the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, U.S. Department of Justice, spoke about navigating Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) Issues. The afternoon sessions were then dedicated to crime, weapons and drug trafficking.

Carrington Mahoney, deputy director of public prosecutions in Bermuda, spoke about the market for illegal drugs during a panel discussion and gave a detailed analysis of the methods of gangs involved in the international illegal drug trade. Building on the theme of international cooperation, Mahoney described the inter-agency gang enforcement team in Bermuda that shares information between agencies and receives assistance from U.S. attorneys general in order to identify gangs and obtain convictions of gang members in court.

Three workshops were held, “Using Money Laundering Investigations to Disrupt Organized Crime Networks,” “Developing Investigations into Organized Crime,” and “Building Interagency Teams to Counter Transnational Crime.”

James Shircliffe, management and program analyst with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, discussed lessons learned in building interagency teams. His workshop covered forming and sustaining a team, operational versus analytic teams, and tips for balancing effectiveness and manageability against inclusivity. He also discussed alternatives to the conventional meeting model in order to increase the potential for leads and results.

The conference wrapped up early Friday evening with closing remarks from IAP President James Hamilton and IAP General Counsel Elizabeth Howe.

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Liz Dobbins
Liz Dobbins
IAP President James Hamilton, left, with Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin
IAP President James Hamilton, left, with Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin

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