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Britain's new "FBI" agency will be set priorities by the Home Office that are partly based on how much newspapers write about different types of organised crime.
Illegal immigration has been identified as one of the top priorities, partly because more column inches are devoted to the subject than any other crime issue, the chairman of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca) has confirmed.
Sir Stephen Lander, told The Independent that Home Office researchers had created a "harm model" that was designed to highlight the most pressing crime issues.
As part of the formula, 33 national and regional newspapers have been monitored for the past five years and measured for how many words are written on each type of organised crime. Illegal immigration came top of the list, with drugs in second place.
The disclosure will cause dismay among those who believe ministers often respond to the prejudices of newspaper editors, rather than identifying real areas of concern.
Soca will have 5,000 officers to target organised criminals and is due to become operational in April next year.
Sir Stephen, a former head of MI5, said: "The brainboxes in the Home Office have been putting together a sort of harm model. It articulates the harm that is caused to the UK under a number of headings - the rewards taken and made by the criminal, the social and economical harm to the UK, the institutional harm, and tries to put a cost. It also brings into play judgements about the degree of public concern - and they have a proxy for this which is the amount of column inches in the press. It is pretty rough and ready but it is asking the right questions. It is asking not what is the incidence of something, but what is its impact."
On whether al-Qa'ida would attack Britain, the former spy master said: "I think it is jolly likely there will be a successful attack. The fact that there has not been one yet is not because people have not tried - it's that they have not been successful."
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