Interpol's Chief on Keeping Terrorists Away From the Beijing Olympics

Ronald Noble also talks about stolen passports, Columbian rebel computers, and catching child predators


Ronald K.Noble, general secretary of Interpol.


In March, Colombian forces captured eight valuable rebel computers that contained evidence suggesting the Venezuelan government was supporting Colombia's rebels. When Colombia was accused of tampering with the computers, the government took the unusual step of handing the computers over to Interpol, the international police organization, to verify the integrity of its investigation. It was only the latest high-profile assignment under the leadership of Ronald Noble, the secretary general of the 186 member-nation group. Under Noble, a former U.S. Justice Department official and tenured law professor at New York University School of Law, Interpol has launched a global database of stolen passports, mounted global publicity efforts to identify child sex predators, and is working with China to provide security help during the Olympics. Noble recently spoke to U.S. News. Excerpts:

How is Interpol helping China?

China is extraordinarily well-equipped to take care of the security inside China. What China needs Interpol's help with is to give information about the people who are intending to go to China to either participate in or watch the Olympics. What we do is provide China the ability to do passport checks on all those people seeking visas in order to enter China. How concerned are you about security during the Olympics?

The amount of effort that China has put into securing these Olympics is nothing short of extraordinary. It is the largest ever in terms of personnel, security measures, plans, practicing, and the number of countries supporting it and participating in it. It would be extraordinarily difficult for an outsider to go to China and engage in terrorist conduct. But given the nature of the event, prudence requires you to assume that any Olympics would be a great magnet for terrorist activity. Interpol's role in analyzing the rebel computers captured by Colombia was unusual.

For us, it was an extraordinarily historic endeavor on our part to be asked to take possession of a country's most sensitive anti-terrorist data, to take it outside of the country and analyze it, and then to bring back the results of our analysis to the country. We determined there had been no alteration or tampering with the contents on any of the eight seized computer exhibits. Some people tried to politicize the report.

Our role was a technical examination of the contents to determine whether or not there had been any altering. We said no. We stand by our report. Those entities or countries that want to turn it into a political issue tried to, but their efforts failed, as far as I could tell. What is the U.S. relationship with Interpol?

Never before has Interpol received as much financial support as we receive now from the United States. Never before has U.S. law enforcement consulted or contributed to our databases as much as they do now. Since October 2007, every time a passport is scanned at a U.S. entry point, it's screened against Interpol's database of stolen and lost travel documents. It got 2,297 hits in the first six months, where someone was holding a passport that had been reported stolen or lost.

It's amazing this didn't happen earlier.

In 2007, there were 880 million international arrivals worldwide. Only 20 million of those in arrivals had their passports scanned against Interpol's databases. That means 860 million people were able to go from one country to another without having their passports screened against our database of 15 million stolen documents. Why did it take so long to get better cooperation with Washington?

The United States is so wealthy and powerful and has so many contacts around the world, that historically it has believed it could achieve so much more bilaterally than working though multilateral institutions. What we have been able to prove to the U.S. is that there is information that we get from countries that the U.S. would never get. In other words, a country like Syria can cooperate with Interpol?

The U.S. regularly excludes Syria and Iran and Cuba from getting access to its information. But we have generated almost 9,000 names of suspected terrorists that we didn't have in our database before 9/11. The names might come from Syria or Iran or Cuba or Sudan, but it goes to Interpol, which becomes a clearinghouse of suspected terrorists.