Intelligence agencies must share more information, tools and solutions, or risk failure in counter-terrorism efforts, according to Austrac CIO, Dr Maria Milosavljevic.
During her presentation at the CeBit eGovernment conference in Sydney, Dr Milosavljevic said that traditional collaborative efforts across intelligence organisations and law enforcement agencies has been weak.
As part of Austrac’s work in the Australian Financial Intelligence Unit, Dr Milosavljevic said the team has worked to increase its international presence with a focus on collaboration across borders to fight terrorism.
Austrac’s financial intelligence also assists the government’s investigation and prosecution of serious criminal activity, including money laundering, organised crime and tax evasion.
“Terrorism and cybercrime are not just a government issue … they;re not just an Australian issue,” she said. “We are surrounded by physical boundaries – but criminals are not.
“Within our national border we require more collaboration, but if were truly going to assess the risks, this can’t be done in isolation. There is a whole world out there, our borders do not define the threats we face.”
She added that collaboration locally has only just started to improve following a traditional siloed approach across agencies and partnerships. With silos, everything was disconnected and fragmented, leading to a number of different solutions being developed for similar problems.
“Why don’t we collect information once, and use it many times across agencies? The economies of scale from greater collaboration are enormous,” she added.
“Information intelligence goes unused with this sort of disparity because you can’t necessarily find what you are looking for – the culture was also disconnected, with information and tools largely unshared.”
Despite some improvements, currently government intelligence agencies still “don’t share very well” with inefficient processes, and “systems that don’t talk to each other”. This makes it difficult to access required information, even if its location is known, Dr Milosavljevic said.
“Add the fact that crime and terrorism are extremely adaptive and constantly changing, while access to the Internet means both legitimate and illegitimate business has become faster and more effective, and the variety of transactions and data types are expanding every day,” she said.
Collaborating also must go beyond just sharing data and tools more efficiently because, Dr Milosvljevic said, “that’s not really collaborating”.
“It’s all about collective decisions, co-creation, building together a variety of expertise from across agencies to solve these problems.”
Agencies must therefore also focus on fostering the right people and the right skills, and surround them with the best technology systems. This will lead to fit-for purpose, distributed solutions that suit all partners, while aiming for a culture of connectivity, she said.
“We cannot work alone anymore. Decisions don’t exist in silos, yet we work in silos, so we have to stop, particularly on the international front.
“We can all truly understand the problem, by sharing the problem. That means whole-of-government, public-private partnerships and cross-border collaboration. It’s got to be the lot.”