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Lifting the Lid: The Drug-busters (Part 1)

From intelligence-gathering to enforcement – meet the dedicated officers behind Singapore’s anti-drug efforts.
When it comes to the cat-and-mouse game of combating the threat posed by drugs, officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) must be determined, astute and swift. In 2020 and 2021, officers successfully conducted a number of major busts and smashed syndicates that have employed new ways to bring drugs into the community. In this first of a three-part series, we look at the role of intelligence-gathering in fighting drugs.

Home Team News CNB Drug-busters 01A
PHOTO: Rytasha Passion Raj

As Superintendent (SUPT) William Tan knows, it takes meticulous planning and persistence to crack a drug case. A veteran officer with over 20 years of experience, SUPT Tan now serves as a Senior Assistant Director with CNB’s Intelligence Division, overseeing a team of officers who are trained to gather intelligence and investigate drug syndicates.

Early Days
SUPT Tan first joined CNB in 2001. “I still remember looking at a CNB recruitment poster many years ago that showed a plainclothes officer holding a revolver,” he recalled. “It was the sense of mystery and excitement about the unknown that made me sign up for the job.”

SUPT Tan has taken on a range of postings in his career, including a stint with the Enforcement Division as well as the Special Task Force, CNB’s elite response team that’s mobilised for high-risk anti-drug operations. 

“As a CNB officer, there have been many times when I’ve seen first-hand the harm that drugs can cause, not only to abusers, but also to their families and loved ones,” shared SUPT Tan. “Witnessing how their lives were tormented by drugs makes me even more committed to ensuring that there’s no place for drugs in our society.”

Combating the Syndicates
In his current role with the Intelligence Division, SUPT Tan has set his sights on a larger, more challenging target – drug syndicates. “These are organised criminal groups, based overseas or locally, that seek to bring drugs into Singapore,” he explained. 

Home Team News CNB Drug-busters 01B

In recent years, drug syndicates have employed novel methods to traffick drugs. “We’ve intercepted drugs being delivered by drones, hidden in fruits and furniture, or disguised as legitimate parcels,” said SUPT Tan. “That’s why CNB has to be nimble, to respond to and counter new methods of trafficking.”

Time to Strike
SUPT Tan leads a number of specialist teams that investigates and builds cases against drug syndicates, tapping on traditional policing methods as well as the latest technological tools. “We closely monitor drug activities on the ground,” he said. “Only after we’ve gathered intelligence, collected the evidence and built a strong case do we launch operations.”

When it comes to planning such operations, little is left to chance. “We consider our objectives, how the operation will unfold, what resources we need, how we’ll use our resources and when’s the best time to strike,” said SUPT Tan. 

A Deeper Commitment
Over the course of his career, SUPT Tan has worked on a number of cases where traffickers adopted unique methods of hiding drugs. “We had a case in 2015 when we recovered more than 3.6kg of heroin wrapped inside cabbages,” he recalled. “This was a method of trafficking drugs that we hadn’t encountered before. I still remember how bad the cabbages smelt after many hours in the open!”

According to SUPT Tan, each case has its challenges, with some requiring many months (or even years) of work. What drives him is the sense of satisfaction that comes from safeguarding the community from drugs. “This isn’t a job for everyone,” he cautioned. “We work long hours and put our safety and health on the line because we believe that every child in Singapore has the right to live, play and grow up safely, in a drug-free environment.” 

His commitment to his work has only deepened over the decades. “Before I joined CNB, I’d never encountered anyone who abused drugs, and I didn’t know fully what my work would involve,” he recalled. “But what I appreciate about being a CNB officer has evolved over time, from the camaraderie we share during long hours of training and enforcement operations to knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life, and finally to helping restore the lives of drug abusers and their loved ones.”
CNB Workplan Seminar 2021
The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) held its annual Workplan Seminar on 1 June 2021. In his keynote speech at the Seminar, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development, thanked officers for keeping Singapore drug-free and announced that there will be a series of events lined up to commemorate CNB’s 50th anniversary this year. 

CNB kept up a high operational tempo in 2020, making significant drug seizures and dismantling 24 drug syndicates. In his message to officers at the Seminar, Mr Ng Ser Song, Director CNB, said that drug syndicates would continue to seek inroads into the local drug market, increase their activities and expand their influence, and called upon CNB officers to remain vigilant in their fight against drugs.

Read the keynote speech by Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.

Written by

Rytasha Passion Raj


4 June 2021

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