When the International Criminal Police Organization, better known as INTERPOL, comes to mind, law enforcement officers may oftentimes visualize James Bond leaping from an exploding car, high-level European espionage, or yet another hierarchy of governmental bureaucracy. Law enforcement is arduous enough at the local level, right?!
"Most law enforcement officers have heard the word INTERPOL but they don't quite know what it is," said Lt. Mike Muth. Within the past few years INTERPOL has worked to demystify this highly specialized and elite organization. Muth, of the Maryland State Police, is currently serving a two year term as assistant chief, in charge of the State Liaison Division to INTERPOL-U.S. National Central Bureau (USNCB) in Washington, D.C.
Muth manages the State Liaison Division's exchange of information and requests between foreign and domestic police. The division also serves as liaison for INTERPOL offices established in each of the 50 states. In addition, the State Liaison Division is in charge of getting the word out about how INTERPOL can assist local law enforcement agencies in their criminal investigations.
Snapshot of INTERPOL History
Seventy-five years ago, INTERPOL began as the International Criminal Police Organization, based in Vienna. The agency relocated to Berlin in the late 1930s and became a branch of the Gestapo. After World War II, it was renamed and moved to Paris. INTERPOL is now headquartered in Lyon, France, with Raymond Kendall, of Scotland Yard, in command as secretary-general. INTERPOL has 177 member countries, electronically linked to each other. Each member country establishes a National Central Bureau (NCB) for the purpose of that nation's involvement with INTERPOL. In the United States, the National Central Bureau, in Washington, D.C., is part of the U.S. Depar1ment of Justice, co-administered by the Treasury Department.
POLICE recently had the opportunity to interview various INTERPOL officials at their Washington, D.C., office. The head of the USNCB Criminal Division, James York, describes INTERPOL as a multifaceted organization. "INTERPOL is three things: (1) an internationally recognized channel of communication between police throughout the world; (2) an investigative resource for the conduct of criminal investigations worldwide; (3) an international database which links the databases with all the police throughout the world with one another. That's what it is," said York. 'The world is our beat."
The USNCB, Washington, D.C., office has five investigative divisions:
The Investigative Services Division
Nathaniel Jacobs is assistant chief of the Investigative Division, which expedites responses on criminal history and wanted person inquires. In addition, requests for searches of internal and external records, and translation services can be made here. Officers can contact this division 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In one case, the South Brunswick (N.J.) Police Depar1ment utilized the 24-hour service in April 1998 when the department received a frantic call from a woman claiming her husband, Sanjay Soni, had kidnapped her two daughters and was planning on taking them to India. The South Brunswick PD. contacted the New Jersey/INTERPOL Liaison Office in West Trenton at approximately 2:00 a.m., which in turn, contacted the INTERPOL office in Washington, D.C. Financial records showed that Soni was en route from New York to London. After several calls made by Washington's INTERPOL office to Scotland Yard and the Office of Intemational Affairs, London authorities arrested Soni at Heathrow Airport on April 24. He was extradited back to the U.S. and the girls were safely returned to their mother.
The Alien/Fugitive Investigative Division
This division, headed by Assistant Chief Matthew Quinn, handles cases involving the location, apprehension and return of fugitives, immigration violations, and passport fraud. The division is also responsible for the INTERPOL Notice System, which facilitates arrest warrants and other criminal information for dissemination around the world. Member countries issue all-points bulletins, known as "Fugitive Diffusions" and "Red Notices," that contain criminals' photographs, fingerprints and details of the crimes committed.
Lt. Muth told POLICE, "The key to successful extradition of someone who has fled the country, is the cooperation of the prosecuting attorney's office." In order to issue a Fugitive Diffusion or Red Notice, there must be an arrest warrant and the offense must carry more than a year's imprisonment. The prosecutor must prepare the extradition request within a specified time period and pay any associated costs.
INTERPOL's Red Notices have contributed to the apprehension of many of the world's most wanted. Thang Thanh Nguyen was captured in December 1997, after six years of an intensive manhunt involving virtually every level of foreign and domestic law enforcement. In January 1998, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh hailed Nguyen's capture as an exceptional example of international cooperation against violent crime. Among the agencies commended were the Monroe County District Attorney's Office, the Irondequoit Police Department in New York, and the FBI's Buffalo Field Division.
Nguyen was wanted for the murder of a New York restaurant owner. A federal arrest warrant was issued in 1992, based upon a local arrest warrant issued by the Monroe County District Attorney's Office, which had obtained a grand jury indictment, charging Nguyen with murder. In August 1996, the FBI named Nguyen to its list of "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives." The FBI suspected that Nguyen had fled to his native country of Vietnam. The Legal Attache' Office in Bangkok worked closely with the Vietnamese authorities, resulting in the arrest of Nguyen. On Jan. 6, 1998, FBI agents escorted Nguyen back to Rochester, N.Y.
The Financial Fraud Investigative Division
This division, governed by Assistant Chief James Lacey, focuses on financial crimes, such as bank fraud, computer and credit card fraud and counterfeiting of U.S. obligations. The Fraud Division also handles child abuse/pornography cases, customs and smuggling violations, document fraud, embezzlement, postal Climes, security and tax fraud, environmental crimes, and violation of endangered species.
The Drug Investigative Division
Assistant Chief Richard Barrett's division serves as a conduit for international drug matters. Information on drug importation, distribution, drug-related intelligence reports, such as trafficking routes and smuggling methods, are coordinated with investigating agencies.
INTERPOL spends 60 percent of its time and resources fighting drug trafficking and considers Afghanistan to be the largest single producer of heroin, cocaine and morphine. Other illegal drug producing countries of concern for INTERPOL include Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Bolivia.
The Criminal Investigative Division
The Criminal Division, governed by Assistant Chief James York, facilitates cases involving art theft, child abductions/parental kidnapping, explosives and firearms. This division also administers to hijacking, hostage taking, kidnapping, organized crime, sabotage, terrorism, threats against high officials, stolen vehicles, and violent crimes.
Committed To Assisting Local Agencies
How can INTERPOL assist you in a criminal investigation? If your agency has a murder suspect who has suddenly skipped to Argentina, discovered drug traffickers in your jurisdiction with connections to a Colombian cartel, or is faced with kidnapping victims whose whereabouts are suspected to be in a foreign country, INTERPOL, with its immense amount of data and worldwide resources, can aid your investigation.
If you think you might have a case that falls under the auspices of INTERPOL, you can contact the USNCB at: (202) 616-9000; the State Liaison Division at (202) 616-1051, fax (202) 616-8400, homepage:usdoj.gov/usncb/interpol.htm, or write: INTERPOLUSNCB, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. 20530.
Stacey Lorenson is administrative assistant for POLICE. She also served as assistant editor for Death Row, Vol. 8.