Signatures and seizures
“Like any plant, when it’s growing it sucks up nutrients, chemicals and other things from the soil. It also gets affected by how high altitude it is, how close to the coast it is and, while it’s growing, chemicals in that plant are getting produced in different ratios and different types of chemicals are being produced.”
The sciences to breakdown a seizure of cocaine is backed by a database created by the Drug Enforcement Administration in the US which can link the growing and production to a specific cartel.
While most of the cocaine is grown and produced in South America — notably Colombia, Peru and Bolivia — significantly almost 80 per cent of cocaine being seized coming to Australia is controlled or influenced by cartels in Mexico.
“For me the best way to think about it is like wine, so if you think about shiraz in the Barossa Valley and shiraz in Margaret River it’s going to taste different. That’s because it’s been grown in a different area and that’s because of the chemicals in the HE has never travelled there but Andrew Parkinson can speak in minute detail about the hills, valleys and rainforests of Colombia, Peru and, to a lesser extent, Bolivia.
He knows the soils, the climate and even the air density but he’s not a botanist, rather Mr Parkinson is the Australian Federal Police Forensics Special Operations’ Acting Co-ordinator Crime Scene, and he helps colleagues track exactly where the cocaine flooding our shores is coming from.
The next generation of drug-profiling technology allows forensic specialists to establish where the coca leaf which is turned into cocaine is grown. Those signatures then help identify growers and the cartel responsible for the trafficking.
“Our profiling can tell you samples grown in one valley and if you go to an adjacent valley we will tell the difference,” Mr Parkinson said from his high-security laboratories in Majura on the outskirts of Canberra. grapes. That’s a pretty good analogy to cocaine,” Mr Parkinson told The Sunday Telegraph on an exclusive tour of the Majura facility. “Also if you get the same grapes from one region and lots of people making wine, each wine is going to taste different because of the different processes each of the winemakers do makes a taste difference.”
A sample of a cocaine seizure is taken first to Majura for preliminary checks then to the National Measurement Institute laboratory, part of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, to profile the samples’ four chemical “signatures”.
Each seizure’s analytical investigation can take between one to two months to complete.
Each job is prioritised on the basis of imminent arrests, public safety and criminal targeting.
MDMA (ecstasy) and methamphetamine (ice) seizures can also be traced, to a broad region.
“What’s important … is to understand what is happening, what are the trends, what are the routes the cocaine is making into Australia,”
Mr Parkinson said.