The idea that drug dealers are turning to technology to both hide their activities and combat local authorities is certainly nothing new. It’s an idea so enticing that it’s been popularized in fiction across the world, notably on HBO television shows like the esteemed “The Wire” from David Simon. Thanks to the break-neck pace at which technology continues to evolve, things are getting decidedly more interesting in that regard – especially when you consider what is happening in Melbourne.

In June of 2017, it was reported that a massive international drug syndicate based out of the Melbourne area was using sophisticated drone technology to conduct extensive counter surveillance operations on police in an effort to hide their activities. Thankfully it was all for nothing, as police quickly arrested seven members of the syndicate and seized a shipment of cocaine from Panama that was valued at over $30 million. But just the fact that this type of activity is taking place at all is certainly something worth exploring.

Drone Surveillance in Australia: The Story So Far

In a report that was published by a local ABC affiliate based out of Melbourne, it was revealed that police had arrested seven men – four from Australia, one from Great Britain and two from Canada – after their drug shipment from Panama had arrived three days earlier. The shipment came aboard The Spirit of Shanghai, a ship that arrived in the Port of Melbourne earlier in the week. Inside were three duffel bags placed inside a shipping container with a duplicate seal.

These duffel bags, however, were hiding a very interesting secret: They each had 26 boxes of cocaine with a reported street value in excess of $30 million USD.

Based on the evidence collected alongside this shipment, Melbourne police officials quickly raided 12 different properties across the area. The men were arrested in Essendon, Carlton and South Yarra. In addition to the men themselves, police also collected more than $580,000 in cash and other assets. The men had all been charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and related offenses.

Where things really get interesting, however, is what happened before the arrests ever took place. Local authorities discovered that the criminals had been using aerial drone devices – much like the kind anyone can walk into an electronics store and buy – to conduct counter-surveillance measures on police activity. They were using those drones to scan the area and see who was watching, to watch out for law enforcement who may be stationed in the area and more.

Melbourne police officials said that while they have seen drones used in this way before, they “haven’t seen a lot of it.” They certainly haven’t been exposed to something this extensive. Authorities also noted that this is not the first time that this particular syndicate deployed sophisticated countermeasures in an effort to hide what they were up to.

Authorities indicated that the technique was so effective that it has caused them to re-think their current operations from the ground up. Procedures and methodologies used to defeat drones and similar tech-savvy devices went into place immediately and this will be a problem that departments across the area actively look into solving moving forward.

In many ways, this can be looked at as proof that combating Australia’s drug problem is a situation that will get much worse before it gets better. James Watson, Acting Assistant Commissioner of the Australian Border Force (ABF), said that the demand for drugs in Australia is growing all the time. While the authorities were making positive progress, situations like these drone deployments certainly make things difficult.

Watson indicated that Australian police forces were detecting more illicit substances at their border than ever before – thanks largely to the “very sophisticated” and “well-planned” attempts at criminal entities to import huge quantities of cocaine into Victoria. While these are millions of dollars’ worth of drugs that won’t be making their way back onto the streets, it still shows that we collectively have a long way to go before we know the joy of living in a drug-free society.