Interpol drives global crime response

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The Netherlands – Criminals are increasingly operating across national borders and increasingly online. Crime is more international than ever. This reinforces the need for a global approach. Interpol has been the driving force in this for a hundred years.

Ilana de Wild, director of Organized and Emerging Crime Interpol, can easily add another hundred years. After all, the need for international cooperation against crime is great and remains necessary. Interpol has traditionally played the role of hub, as a central party that provides national police organizations and member states with relevant information and expertise on tackling global crime.

Network function

‘Interpol is sometimes seen as an organization with agents deployed all over the world,’ says De Wild, ‘but arrests and seizures are exclusively the responsibility of national law enforcement officers. Our role is mainly in the network function. We offer added value to national investigations by bringing parties together. We share relevant information and intelligence through our secure information channel I-24/7 with all 195 participating countries. For example, we provide strategic reports on the working methods of criminals, for example on new forms of crime or on changing smuggling routes. Or think of operational analysis reports that help to identify perpetrators or victims.’

Operate independently

Providing information was Interpol’s main contribution for a long time, but the organization is acquiring a stronger role in the fight against crime, the director sees. More than offering data, Interpol now puts together international puzzle pieces itself. ‘Take human trafficking. Criminals recruit victims to work in another country, another region. For example, South Americans and Asians are lured to Europe for legal work, only to end up in prostitution. That kind of crime doesn’t respect borders. It is difficult for countries to always look beyond that border and set up operational cooperation or the capacity to do so is lacking. We do have that focus. One of Interpol’s important roles is joint operations planning. And make no mistake, nowadays almost all crime is interregional.’

An example of the approach to interregional crime is Operation Narsil. A two-year Interpol operation around a network of websites designed to generate profit from advertisements about (images of) child sexual abuse. In addition to tracking down criminals, Interpol also targeted the financial services used for the online advertising campaigns. ‘We always look at the cohesion, at what other crime is at play. For example, last year there was an action about illegal fishing that led to drug trafficking. Ultimately, thanks to the efforts of Interpol participants from South America, Europe and Africa, an international drug network was rounded up. If we can cooperate with international and regional organizations such as the World Customs Organization and Maritime Analysis & Operations Centre, we will.’

Crime on the rise

In addition to up-to-date operational information, Interpol also offers trend analyses. For example, it has signaled a sharp increase in online scam centers in Asia and warns member states against the use of fentanyl. “In the United States, that drug is now causing countless deaths and we see it spreading to other regions.”

Information management

Although the information exchange between the 195 member states and Interpol is going well, it could be better. For example, each member state and regional police organization has its own communication channels, where Interpol strives for one data management, one infrastructure to exchange information easily and securely. In turn, Interpol wants to invest in the relationship with regional police organizations such as Europol. “If a country shares information with one of us, they can expect us to work together, not to have to share data with each organization separately. On the other hand, there is the fear that if you share information with Interpol, you share it with all 195 member states, and that is not the case. We have built all kinds of safety valves into our system for this purpose.’

‘Take the war in Ukraine,’ concludes De Wild. “A number of countries have cut all ties with Russia, which is very understandable. But Interpol is not a political organization. Russia is also struggling with international crime that does not stop at the Russian border, so cooperation is necessary. Russia is therefore still providing information. I understand that other countries are reluctant to do so. But what I say: we don’t do politics. It is the collection of Interpol member states that determines who are Interpol members and how Interpol works through the annual General Meeting of Members.’

One Hundred Years of Interpol

The International Criminal Police Commission (ICPC), as Interpol was originally known, was established on September 7, 1923 in Vienna, Austria. The idea for an international police organization arose during the first International Criminal Police Congress in Monaco in 1914, but the plans were postponed by the First World War. In 1956, the ICPC was renamed the International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO-INTERPOL).

The first Red Notice appeared in 1947, for a Russian wanted for the murder of a police officer. The system of color-coded international notifications has been expanded over the years to include yellow (missing persons), blue (additional information), black (unidentified bodies), green (warnings and intelligence), orange (imminent threat) and purple (mode operandi).

In 1923, the ICPC had 20 member states, including the Netherlands. In 1955 there were 50, and then steadily growing. There were 100 countries in 1967, rising to 150 in 1989 and the current total, 195, in 2021.

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