Interpol gets an infusion of Chinese and Russian expertise

Delegation of Interpol member countries attend a conference in Bali, Indonesia, Nov. 7, 2016.

Delegation of Interpol member countries attend a conference in Bali, Indonesia, Nov. 7, 2016.

The election of a Chinese and a Russian to top positions at the world’s principal international police organization, Interpol, is testimony to the critical challenges of trans-border crime and spiraling insecurity but also an example of placing professionalism above politics.

Interpol, whose stated mission is “preventing and fighting crime through enhanced cooperation and innovation on police and security matters,” cannot afford to play politics. The stakes are high, as spelled out by the former Chinese Vice Minister of Public Security, Meng Hongwei, who has just been elected the crime-fighting organization’s new president.

Addressing the 85th session of the Interpol General Assembly, Meng was explicit in naming the adversities:

“We currently face some of most serious global public security challenges since World War Two. Terrorism is spreading; Cybercrime is arising; telecoms fraud is escalating; all kinds of traditional and non-traditional transnational crimes are rising.

“It is the hope and expectation of the seven billion peace-loving inhabitants of our world that Interpol should more effectively promote police cooperation to deliver a decisive blow to this wave of criminality and help build a peaceful and law-abiding world.”

But as always, the “law-abiding world” is under attack by those who believe that crime pays and who choose the crooked path in life.

A mini-UN with muscles

While the General Assembly is the supreme governing body, it is the Executive Committee that runs the daily routine, managing a multitude of concerted operations throughout the world.

It should put on record that Interpol is a unique assembly of law-enforcement agencies from 190 countries. This makes the organization a kind of small-scale UN but with the muscles and leverage to achieve results.

Each member state has a National Central Bureau (NCB) employing local law enforcement officers that are part of a cohesive network. They focus on comprehensive investigations, round-the-clock support and operational assistance, including emergency and crisis response, crime prevention and assistance in the identification, location and arrest of fugitives and cross-border criminals.

A crucial area of Interpol activities is combating terrorism. Interpol circulates alerts and warnings on terrorists, dangerous criminals and weapons threats. It also keeps track of all attempts by extremists to get hold of CBRNE materials – that is, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive.

Interpol specifically notes that CBRNE materials “pose a clear threat to public health and safety, national security and economic and political stability on a global level.”

This apart, Interpol fights corruption because it creates a fertile ground for organized criminal activities. Interpol deals with fugitive investigations, trafficking in human beings and illicit goods, counterfeiting, counter-smuggling operations (e.g. in coordination with the World Customs Organization (WCO), cybercrime, and maritime piracy, among others.

All in all, Interpol has its hands full. Crimes have acquired a transnational dimension in their diversity and, consequently, must be addressed through collaborative international response.

A Russian policeman for Europe

Russian Police Major-General Alexander Prokopchuk, head of the Interpol National Central Bureau (NCB) at the Russian Interior Ministry, has now been elected Vice President of Interpol for Europe. The appointment is justified by his personal unblemished track record of efficiency and integrity, but it is also recognition of Russia’s contribution to fighting the just cause.

Back in 2003, the Moscow-based NCB was the first to connect to I-24/7, Interpol’s secure global police communications system. This is an essential tool for getting access to its databases, which source information on wanted persons, stolen vehicles, stolen and lost travel documents in just a second.

By acting through its NCB, Russia has been passing crime intelligence to its partners within Interpol. Last year, marking 15 years of Russia’s Interpol membership, Gen. Prokopchuk reported that since 1990 this tight cooperation has resulted in hundreds of fugitives located, arrested and extradited through Interpol channels.

Moscow has been at the forefront of tracking down would-be terrorists and filing reports to update Interpol’s foreign fighters database. Moreover, as Prokopchuk stresses, “Russia is all too familiar with the problems associated with regional and global organized crime and we consider Interpol a key partner for successfully fighting it at the international level.” Russia, and China too, can make a valid contribution to this end.

What remains unclear is whether Interpol can act as an honest broker and impartial arbiter in investigating claims that Russia was behind the anonymous hacker’s attack on the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. Sophisticated attacks against computer hardware and software, termed “advanced cybercrime,” are becoming a routine occurrence. But then, would this amount to politicizing Interpol’s mandate?

Professionalism above political bias

Basically, there are no grounds to get excited over the election of Chinese and Russian seasoned pros to Interpol key posts, and no need to seek for hidden symbolic messages.

The truth is simpler: Interpol is a no-nonsense organization shouldering a heavy responsibility that has no time to play games, especially geopolitical games.

This mini-analogue of the UN is staffed with dedicated professionals in whose vocabulary adjectives invariably take second place to verbs, as the most dynamic part of the language, or rather of any languages that are spoken in Interpol offices across the globe.

The opinion of the writer may not necessarily reflect the position of RBTH or its staff.

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