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Suspected links between outlaw motorcycle clubs and armed forces under investigation

The Australian Defence Force is probing suspected links between up to 50 active personnel across all three services and outlaw bikie clubs across Australia as part of a service-wide crackdown.

Military Police have in the past two months set up a special team of six or seven plainclothes investigators to work full-time on the operation under a senior officer in Canberra.

Each has been given a handful of “targets” - serving military personnel - with known or suspected connections to so-called “one-percenter” bikie gangs across Australia, from a list of about 50 drawn up by Defence with help from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

The investigators, a mix of full-time plainclothes military police from the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service, reservists and seconded civilian police officers, are trawling social media and other “open-source” material and working with state police to put together intelligence profiles on each target.

The team began in June targeting military personnel with links to clubs or related criminal networks in New South Wales and more recently widened its inquiries to Queensland.

A person with knowledge of the operation said links had already been found between military personnel and known civilian drug-trafficking networks.

The source said Defence was now taking the warnings seriously with the aim of weeding out service personnel with the wrong connections.

“If they find a picture on Facebook of a soldier with a Bandido or something, (the investigators) will follow up.

“There might be a brother or an uncle who’s a gang member. That’s enough to get them to look into it.”

The investigators have interviewed a small number of military personnel, although this has in some cases resulted in the person being eliminated from further inquiries after establishing that the links were benign.

Defence would not confirm details of the operation, saying “these are sensitive issues”.

But a spokesman said that since January 2016 “a small number” of Defence personnel had been “reported as potentially having an association with Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs”.

“Some of these reports have warranted further investigation by Defence and civilian authorities,” the spokesperson said.

“All known and confirmed members with Outlaw Motorcycle Gang associations have been dealt with administratively by Defence and, where relevant, by civilian police.

“Defence has a zero-tolerance for personnel who engage in unlawful or criminal activity, or engage, promote or espouse behaviours that are inconsistent with Defence values.

“Any members of the ADF who are found to have committed criminal acts are subject to administrative action, including possible termination of service.”

Defence introduced a service-wide “joint directive” - a form of military order - in 2014 that warns of the risks of service personnel associating with “groups or organisations who engage in unlawful or inappropriate activities such as those who engage in criminal activity” but has not publicly revealed which groups this applies to.

The ADF’s military personnel policy manual warns that members are “not to be involved in any capacity with any groups or organisations involved in any form of criminal activity, including being associated with activities that may be linked to criminal activities”.

Fairfax Media understands the crackdown follows repeated warnings to the military by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission about the extent of such links and the danger they present.

“ACIC told Defence that unless they did something about, they would do it themselves, and they would write Defence into their report as having done nothing about it,” the person with knowledge of the operation told Fairfax Media.

The ACIC declined to comment on the operation.

“The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission works with a range of partners, including Defence, in the fight against serious and organised crime, however we do not comment on operational matters,” a spokesperson for the organisation said.

Fairfax Media understands Defence is considering further expanding its ban on personnel associating with motorcycle clubs to include military motorcycle clubs, because of a perceived risk that these connections will lead to contact with so-called “outlaw” clubs.

This would be a controversial move, particularly among veterans who have established clubs as support networks for fellow soldiers.

There has been a string of embarrassing and worrying military security lapses involving bikies in the last 10 years.

In 2008, former Army captain Shane Della-Vedova was jailed over the theft of rocket launchers from the Orchard Hills weapons depot in western Sydney, one of which found its way to the Bandidos bikie club. Five ended up with notorious Sydney Jihadist Mohamed Elomar. Only one has ever been recovered by police.

In 2013, a former sailor with connections to the Rebels was jailed for stealing handguns from the Larrakeya base in Darwin.

A senior ADF officer reportedly joined the Rebels bikie club after leaving the service and another, the Bandidos.

Canada's military issued an order banning personnel from contact with biker gangs earlier this year, and has conducted a series of official probes into such links since the late 1990s.

There are long-standing connections between the military and outlaw clubs. The Hells Angels were set up in the 1940s in the US by returning US Army Air Force servicemen and club members still celebrate this heritage, with USAAF memorabilia on display in the group’s Brisbane clubhouse.

Other clubs were formed by Vietnam veterans.