For real with the Cyber Crime Crew

 It was a privilege to meet some of the members and staff in the Cyber Crime team. Pictured (l-r): D/Sergeant Paul Johnstone; D/Inspector Martha Francis; HEO Mr. Tony Kavanagh, pictured in the Bureau’s server room.Head of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau, D/Chief Superintendent Paul Cleary; a rising star in An Garda Síochána. D/Chief Superintendent Paul Cleary in his office with Sergeant Leanna Cruise. The Cyber Crime Bureau and all its parts have historically worked, and continue to work, with an arguably unrivalled team atmosphere. State of the art technology is made available to the Cyber Crime Unit to meet the demands of the ever-increasing innovation of online criminals. The Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau outside their offices in Harcourt Square, Dublin. A group of dedicated specialists in their respective fields.

Last month, D/Chief Superintendent Paul Cleary was appointed as the first Head of the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau. Editor, John O’Keeffe met the Chief and his team and left with a distinct impression that he had just encountered a very special group of men and women

They say height doesn’t matter. They say don’t worry about it John. 5ft 10” (with elegant Cuban heels) is the new 6ft they say. You’re 56 – you have a bit more growing left they assure me. Truth is, of course, my height is now the new small. I don’t know what they’ve been feeding those under 50 over the years, but it must be some type of turbo fertiliser. Meeting D/Chief Superintendent Paul Cleary is one of those moments when you just wish the Bay City Rollers (ask your parents) or Sweet (ask your grandparents) and platform shoes were back. Tall, striking, fresh faced and thoroughly on top of his game – Paul Cleary has it all going on and then some. Now, as its new Head, he is bringing his vast expertise across a range of policing matters, to the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau.

He is hugely enthused about the plans for the Bureau, which will include increased personnel and sections at its central unit in Harcourt Square and six newly established satellite cyber hubs. “New sections dealing with cyber intelligence, cyber-security and cyber safety are also being established,” he tells me, “along with an expanded liaison remit.”

Meeting some of the team in the Bureau and recognising the difficult, but utterly crucial, work they do for us all, was an undoubted privilege. You only need to spend a short time in the company of D/Inspector Martha Francis, D/Sergeant Paul Johnstone, D/Garda Paul Lennox and HEO Mr. Tony Kavanagh (ably led on a daily basis by D/Superintendent Pat Ryan) to know you are dealing with perhaps one of the most highly professional and specialised groups in the Force.

Members of the Cyber Investigations Unit (CIU) carry out complex and time-consuming investigations into cyber dependant crime – those that directly target computers and their data. These can be reported by the public, businesses or referred by other members or Units. “CIU members use their investigative skills gained as frontline Gardaí and their cyber skills gained from training and experience within GNCCB to gather evidence on hackings or data interference complaints,” the Chief advises me. “These can involve personal computers storing essential information or computer networks belonging to major corporations.”

Then comes the really difficult part of their job because on the other side, forensic examiners have to delve down into the content of computers to find evidence that supports allegations, harassment or online frauds – and also sexual abuse.

When it comes to online child sexual abuse and exploitation, I wonder what specific level of challenge faces the Bureau in this regard. “The exploitation of children and the proliferation of child abuse material is one of the most heinous crimes that our Bureau investigates,” the Chief says. “It targets the most vulnerable in our society and there is a victim in every case. A significant part of our time and resources are willingly spent on identifying the perpetrators of these crimes and their victims. We have had notable successes, where members of the cybercrime Bureau are centrally involved in the investigation of child exploitation and the identification of their victims through the forensic examination of the computers and media they used.”

A big issue remains however – how does the Bureau protect its own staff from the horrors they must work with? Cleary is in no doubt of the challenge that faces his team every day. “These cases can be emotionally and psychologically demanding – especially those involving physical or sexual assaults on children. The wellbeing of our people is at the centre of what we do, and staff welfare is a core concern for everyone within GNCCB. Our teams are encouraged to use the supports that exist with the organisation including enhanced counselling, the EAS and the Peer Supporters network, but also to look out for each other.”

Cleary believes that many online crimes are regular offences – that happen to have been carried out over a computer (every member of An Garda Síochána should be familiar with cyber-crime and be able to help any victim who contacts the Gardaí after being hacked or defrauded or harassed online, he says). He does admit however that at times, some will require the high level of expertise that his Bureau offers.

As I made my way back down Harcourt Street having spent a hugely informative time with the Bureau, I couldn’t help but think that when it comes to modern cyber-crime, you would be unlikely to find a more able and competent team under such professional leadership who are more ready to deal with the incredibly difficult and complex work with which they are tasked.

And in case you’re wondering, I’ve since got my platforms out from the attic. I am now happy to announce that I am 6ft 2”.

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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