Monday, July 9, 2007

Interpol, Counterterrorism, and International Law Enforcement

Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble's op-ed last week in the International Herald Tribune, his interview in the Sunday Telegraph, and his open letter responding to the Telegraph article have received a good deal of press (for example here, here, here, and here). Noble, a former high-level federal law enforcement official in the United States, makes three principal points in the wake of the recent events in the United Kingdom. First, he complains that national authorities are not checking Interpol's databases (e.g., for stolen passports and arrest warrants) prior to granting a visa or permitting a traveller's entry. Such steps, Noble asserts, could significantly reduce the risk of terrorism. Only seventeen countries currently check the passport database, says Noble; the United Kingdom and the United States are not among them. Second, Noble criticizes the United Kingdom for not sharing its terrorist watch list with Interpol. Third, Noble calls on countries to spend more on international law enforcement. Noble's first and third points are important ones, and it appears that some governments (including the U.K.) are making progress in linking up with Interpol's stolen passports database. But his second point is trickier. As a default, Interpol shares the information it receives from its member countries with all other member countries. It is, after all, Interpol's purpose to facilitate police-to-police cooperation worldwide. One can easily imagine, though, that the U.K. (or any number of other countries) may be reluctant to share its terrorist watch list with some Interpol member countries. It is theoretically possible to restrict access of data shared with Interpol to only certain member countries, but there are obvious and serious risks associated with that. No doubt it is for that reason that the U.K. has not shared its watch list with Interpol. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that the U.K. is not sharing that information at all; it is, presumably, simply using other channels. Noble is more outspoken than most heads of international organizations and his tireless efforts to enhance international law enforcement cooperation are generally quite laudable. Nonetheless, he does see the solution to most problems through the lens of his own particular organization. It just may be the case that his organization, through no fault of its own, cannot provide the full solution to this particular problem.