Case Study: Protecting the border from behind the scenes
Many will be familiar with the visible work of government agencies at the border, but few are aware of a unique information hub where these agencies gather to work together behind the scenes to protect New Zealand and its people.
The Integrated Targeting and Operations Centre (ITOC), brings the New Zealand Customs Service, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), Immigration New Zealand (INZ), Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) together in one location.
It’s New Zealand’s connection to the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it’s where the power of technology and collaboration are used to accurately identify threats and work towards ensuring those threats do not travel to New Zealand, or are met with a proactive response on arrival.
A group of highly skilled and capable people from across these agencies share a single commitment and attitude – working together to protect the border. Sophisticated technology is a key enabler and these agencies use advanced intelligence tools to gather information to identify potential threats and conduct risk assessments for specific people, goods or craft entering or leaving the country.
Already this year, Customs has stopped many kilos of methamphetamine and its precursors, cocaine, and other harmful drugs worth millions of dollars. Specialist software called Automated Targeting System – Global (ATS-G) is one of the tools used to effectively target high-risk travellers. The 2.5 kilos of cocaine found in a passenger’s suitcases earlier this month is a result of effective profiling at the ITOC, and is just one example of the successful work this team does on a daily basis.
INZ conducts passenger risk targeting to ensure immigration risk to New Zealand is identified and mitigated before people enter the country. Working closely with ITOC partner agencies to leverage their resources and skills has proven highly valuable. Recently, INZ staff worked with NZ Police to help identify a foreign national re-entering New Zealand who had been previously involved in several domestic violence cases. Based on the collaborative work, the passenger was referred to the immigration team on arrival, and was refused entry.
MPI’s work to protect New Zealand’s biosecurity, food and primary production systems is critical to New Zealand’s economy. The ITOC’s collaborative approach allows MPI to identify entities of interest, and this informs their operational and compliance activity across these sectors, whether it relates to goods, people or craft.
MNZ monitors the security and safety at sea of vessels entering, leaving and working on the New Zealand coast, and also monitors security at all ports. Intelligence support through the ITOC effectively identifies security risks in the maritime domain. Linking with MPI and Customs information allows risk vessels, such as the Rena, to be better monitored, and any further joint operational activity can be planned, coordinated and led from the ITOC.
Continued imports of firearms and firearms parts is one example whereby Police based at the ITOC can, on behalf of Customs, speed up initial assessments and enquiries about the importer. NZ Police also provides an important intelligence link to ensure that when identified offending reaches beyond the border, any relevant support required by Police can be triggered.
Of course, the vast majority of the millions of passengers, cargo and mail, and thousands of vessels that cross New Zealand’s borders each year are legitimate, so the ITOC also plays a key role in ensuring they are facilitated seamlessly, while those identified through risk assessments are interacted with more closely at the border.
Working from one location allows these agencies to understand each other’s roles better and share information within the bounds of memorandums of understanding and supporting legislation. This integration also streamlines border activities, removes duplication of effort, and vastly improves use of resource across the sector.
Future efficiencies and collaboration are a key focus, and ITOC continues to seek opportunities for other like-minded agencies, such as the Aviation Security Service who have recently signalled their intent, to join.