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February 6, 2011
BIKIE gangs and organised crime groups are believed to have foiled police attempts to tap their phones by importing untraceable, encrypted BlackBerrys from Mexico.
The telecommunications black hole exploited by the Comanchero gang and drug cartels has come to light after countries around the world - worried about terrorism and national security - threatened to ban BlackBerrys unless they were given the codes to break the encryption on emails and messages.
The Sun-Herald understands that the Comanchero have linked up with a Mexican drug cartel importing cocaine into Australia and are sharing technology.
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''There is nothing strange in organised crime having better access to technology than the authorities,'' said Michael Kennedy, a former NSW detective and an academic at the University of Western Sydney. ''The bikies are becoming more entrepreneurial and, after all, organised crime is a business enterprise. Crime groups will share technology if it helps them.''
The Comanchero are thought to use the Mexican phones with global roam activated. It costs a great deal of money to constantly use the roaming facility but for criminals, communications that cannot be monitored are priceless.
What makes the BlackBerrys so hard to tap is that Mexico has no reliable register of handsets, mobile numbers or users. Vendors are unregistered and sell the phones and SIM cards for cash, no questions asked. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reports Mexico has 83 million mobile phones and government attempts to set up an official registry are failing.
As well, the encrypted BlackBerry messaging service is routed through a server Australian authorities haven't been able to access.
It is not known how many of the phones are in Australia and in the hands of organised crime groups. But experts agree the criminals will keep the technology among themselves as long as they can.
''The Australian Crime Commission is aware that organised crime networks will continually take opportunities, some real and some imagined, to use new technologies to try to escape the law,'' said its chief executive John Lawler.
The Australian Federal Police would not say whether they had seized Mexican phones. But a spokesman said they were working with national and international authorities and industry groups to ensure it was up to speed ''on the challenges posed by criminal networks''.
Last year, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age revealed that the feared Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel was regularly importing cocaine into Australia. It was also revealed that several men with ties to Mexico, the US and Guatemala had set up a drug distribution network in NSW, which is now understood to have included links to the Comanchero.
Former NSW Police assistant commissioner Clive Small said the Mexicans were trying to expand their drug markets in Australia, so would be seeking out new contacts like the bikie gangs to buy their shipments.
Just over a year ago, Clayton Roueche, head of a Canadian drug smuggling ring with Australian connections, was jailed for 30 years. The boss of the drug gang known as the ''United Nations'' had been running his empire using a coded BlackBerry telephone. He was eventually caught - not by telephone surveillance but by border security officials in Mexico.