Commissioner of Police David Baines says the Caribbean region is not immune to the threats stemming from global terrorism.
Mr. Baines cites scores of people from Trinidad, and some from Jamaica, that have reportedly joined up with the Islamic State in Syria and the potential exploitation of the banking system to fund terror networks as key threats to the region.
Mr. Baines, who is also head of the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police, defended his decision to travel to Germany for a briefing with world military leaders on the links between global terrorism and international criminal networks.
He said as the world’s fifth largest financial center, Cayman needed to be aware of trends in terrorist financing and the relationships between criminal groups, arms dealers and terrorists.
As a popular destination for American tourists, he said the Caribbean also had to be alert to more direct threats.
“As threats of terrorism increase globally, threats in the Caribbean also increase. Cruise ships in the Caribbean, for instance, can be vulnerable, and we need to be alive to those risks to prevent the kind of incident down the road that could have a debilitating effect on us,” he said.
Mr. Baines said he was invited to attend the seminar at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies by the U.S.-based Naval Criminal Intelligence Service, which funded the trip.
The focus of the event, held between Sept. 14 and 18, was “21st Century Converging Threats: Nexus of Terrorism, Drugs and Illicit Trafficking.”
Mr. Baines said American military leaders had highlighted the Caribbean as an “underbelly of weakness” and a “blind spot” for their intelligence services.
Around 100 fighters, mostly from Trinidad, are reported to have joined up with ISIS in Syria. Speaking in March, Marine General John F. Kelly cited concerns that these fighters could return to the region, unmonitored and radicalized, and find their way to the U.S., using established drug and people smuggling routes in the region.
Mr. Baines, said Cayman, though a smaller territory, had a responsibility to ensure people were not traveling illegally and incognito through the country.
“When we see [reports of] people being smuggled through Cayman Airways into America, you have got to imagine why the Americans feel somewhat nervous,” he added.
The financing of terrorist armies is also a concern for Cayman’s banking system.
Mr. Baines said authorities in the territory needed to be asking the right questions. “How is money being moved around to continue to fund those who supply terrorist groups with arms? How do we ensure they are not using our financial system here? How do we identify dirty money and which are the countries that we should have most concern about, that are actually funding and supporting terrorism?”
He said the briefing had highlighted the links between terrorist funding and more general criminal activity. Cyber attacks, including phishing and bank account hacking, have been used to fund terrorists as well as criminal organizations, he added.
“If we are the world’s largest financial center, we are at risk more than most. How many of us have had phishing emails, how many have had our email accounts hacked and our bank details targeted?
“The number of people who have had fraud attacks on their accounts is growing.”
A team from Interpol in Singapore were in the Cayman Islands earlier this month to conduct a “health check” on the islands’ capabilities in fighting cybercrime.
Mr. Baines said they had reviewed the system and would be back in October with recommendations. But he warns criminal organizations are developing capabilities faster than law enforcement in many countries.
“The best I can hope for is that they help us make Cayman a more difficult nut to crack, that they got to someone else’s jurisdiction because it is easier,” he acknowledged.
He accepted that terrorism and the spin-off criminal activity were not the most immediate threats facing the Cayman Islands, but said it would be foolish to dismiss it.
“It is about awareness and briefing. I need to ensure my commissioners across the Caribbean are aware of what is taking place, so at least they have the ability to identify changing behaviors and threatening patterns.”
He dismissed criticism that the trip was a “jolly,” or intended to pad his resume, saying he had flown economy class and stayed in a military barracks built in the 1930s.
“It was comfortable, but it wasn’t a five-star hotel, neither did I expect it to be – I was there to work,” he added.
Mark Ridley, deputy director of the Naval Criminal Intelligence Service, said he had asked Mr. Baines to attend the seminar in order to help develop relationships between Caribbean law enforcement and international crime fighters.
“The Caribbean is extremely important to [the U.S. Navy] – it’s a blind spot to us – the Navy does not have the resources in the region that we once we had and it’s really important to us to have people there who we can reach out to for situational awareness,” he said in a statement on the center’s website.