Meet the World’s Top Cop

Interpol's Raymond Kendall explains why today's world has him worried.

What is a city cop to do? In the same way that businesses have relocated to profit from a shrinking world, crime networks have stretched thousands of miles to penetrate new markets, find new sources of revenue and influence, or get an edge on the competition at home. Governments have been less adroit, especially at building effective multilateral mechanisms to meet this more sophisticated threat to their citizens. For the last 15 years, Raymond Kendall has been secretary general of Interpol, a kind of United Nations for the world’s police forces. As he prepared to step down in November of last year, Kendall met for several hours with FP Editor Moisés Naím in New York City for an exclusive interview on the state of global crime. The world needs to change the way it fights back, he argues. Legalize drug use? Privatize police intelligence? Globalize the courts? Everything is on the table.

What is a city cop to do? In the same way that businesses have relocated to profit from a shrinking world, crime networks have stretched thousands of miles to penetrate new markets, find new sources of revenue and influence, or get an edge on the competition at home. Governments have been less adroit, especially at building effective multilateral mechanisms to meet this more sophisticated threat to their citizens. For the last 15 years, Raymond Kendall has been secretary general of Interpol, a kind of United Nations for the world’s police forces. As he prepared to step down in November of last year, Kendall met for several hours with FP Editor Moisés Naím in New York City for an exclusive interview on the state of global crime. The world needs to change the way it fights back, he argues. Legalize drug use? Privatize police intelligence? Globalize the courts? Everything is on the table.

Foreign Policy: In your 15 years at the helm of Interpol, what have you learned about global crime that the world doesn’t seem to understand?

Raymond Kendall: Well, I’m not sure whether the world is conscious of how rapidly the magnitude of crime has grown. Take the film The French Connection, which was a hit almost 30 years ago when I was starting at Interpol. The criminals in The French Connection are trying to move 100 kilos of heroin from Marseilles to New York City. Now in those days, there were a few registered heroin addicts in the United Kingdom, but there was no real drug problem in Europe. By today’s standards, 100 kilos of heroin is nothing.

Take Operation Icicle, which involved Interpol offices in Athens, London, Ljubljana, Rome, and Vienna, plus Interpol’s General Secretariat Analytical Criminal Intelligence Unit, or ACIU. In July 1999, British police found out that a suspect container was due to arrive in Italy. When the container arrived, Italian police searched it and discovered 1,400 kilograms of cocaine. The police decided to leave 500 kilograms of cocaine in the container and follow it to its final destination. It went from Greece, to Macedonia, back to Italy, and then to Vienna, where the cocaine was seized, and its recipients arrested. People read about it in the newspapers and are concerned. But what the world does not quite understand is how much networks have penetrated all countries, how entrenched and dangerous they are.

FP: So complacency reigns?

RK: It really frightens me to see how, in this period of 25 years, we have gone from a situation where there were virtually no drugs to a situation where, quite frankly, today the European continent is pretty well flooded in drugs. And everything else that goes with them. Public outrage has not grown in the same proportion.

FP: The scale of crime, then, has increased globally. Have the kinds of crimes you encounter changed as much? What new crimes have emerged since you’ve been involved in law enforcement?

RK: I don’t think there have been what we might call new, really new, types of crime. There have been changes in intensity, changes in methodology, changes in the way criminals use technology — really, a more businesslike approach to what they do. Local organized crime still exists. But at the same time, criminal groups on the European continent, and extending around the world, instead of specializing in particular types of criminal activity — whether it’s drug trafficking, trafficking weapons, trafficking stolen art objects, and more recently trafficking people as a commodity — they have diversified, created networks through which, at any given time, they can adapt themselves to evade capture and profit from many types of criminal activity.

FP: Your job is huge. The world needs to fight a U.S. $400-billion drug trade. The United Nations estimates that criminal syndicates worldwide are making U.S. $1.5 trillion a year. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that U.S. $600 billion is laundered every year. More than 60,000 works of art are missing. The trade in people is soaring. Terrorism is on the rise. Then you have the stolen cars, the pirated software, and the cybercrime. Recently, you had to deal with more political matters — the extradition of Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile and the arrest warrant against Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia. And for all of that, Interpol has a budget of U.S. $23 million?

RK: Yes.

FP: Didn’t you feel at times that perhaps it was pointless? That there is no point in trying to fight so much and so many different kinds of crimes with $23 million a year?

RK: We are a small-budget organization if you compare us with the challenges we face. One of my biggest frustrations, and maybe I have a certain responsibility for this, I don’t know, has been how to get the people and politicians to recognize this. In the last few years, for example, at the G8 [Group of Eight] meetings, they say their number-one priority is to deal with organized crime, drug trafficking, and terrorism — and then some of the people at those meetings go back home and immediately reduce their local law-enforcement budgets by 10 percent or something like that. I have seen that happen many times.

FP: Which countries?

RK: It’s not a matter of one particular country. It is a general trend — spending lots of time talking about international crime, but acting only when something happens. For instance, in June of last year, 58 Chinese people suffocated in a truck that was going from Belgium to England. And suddenly French politicians decided that the illegal movement of people is a problem, that they must do something. But in fact, trafficking in people is something we’ve been concerned about, and asking governments to do something about, for at least 10 years.

FP: Sure. But isn’t there a long tradition of the police bashing politicians, accusing politicians of getting interested in their problems only when a high-visibility crime generates a public reaction?

RK: You’re absolutely right. Politicians make decisions on the basis of good information. It seems that effective communication between police and governments is not there.

FP: Could it be that communication is breaking down because of Interpol? That governments do not trust Interpol, and therefore they would rather bypass you and develop relationships with specific foreign police departments? For instance, when the case of money laundering at the Bank of New York broke, you said you were reluctant to share information with your Russian counterparts because you had a sense that the information could end up in the wrong hands.

RK: I think that is a fact of international political life. We have to manage as best we can. We cooperate with nations that have so many different types of regimes, so many different types of police systems, so many possibilities for corruption. The misconception on the part of the people who have this mistrust is that they think that any information that comes into an organization like ours will be automatically distributed to all the member countries simply because they are members. This is absolutely untrue. We don’t own any information, we are entrusted with it. The country that gives us information sets the conditions under which we can share it.

FP: Is Interpol really that secure? A former senior U.S. intelligence official told me with certainty that Interpol had been compromised.

RK: Interpol is secure. We may have, from time to time, like in any organization, some corruption. But I can remember only one such incident at the General Secretariat in almost 30 years.

FP: Tell me, what can Interpol do well and what can it not do well?

RK: There are some basic things that only Interpol can do. For example, being able to circulate throughout the world, throughout 178 countries, information about a wanted person, a stolen work of art, or a missing child. What it cannot do is undertake street action. Interpol cannot do that, and I don’t believe it will ever be able to do that in the foreseeable future.

FP: Our sources tell us that recently, Interpol has launched a new project, a new kind of information database. That you have moved from sharing basic criminal information tied to specific events to sharing criminal intelligence and analysis. We are told that a core of 50 or so Interpol member states, including the United States, is collaborating on a project designed to track the activities of Eurasian organized crime in and outside of the former Soviet sphere. Is this true?

RK: It is true.

FP: How is this project an innovation for Interpol?

RK: Before, a lot of information was passed to us that then went into a database that was never exploited. Now, all that data is being examined globally from the intelligence point of view. The key role of strategic intelligence is not to identify specific operational targets, but rather to focus attention on new threats, identifying changing situations and providing the basis for forecasting future trends. We look at such things as the movement of people or goods to find if there is any way we can predict where the next organized activity is going, where we should be looking next.

FP: What is Interpol’s Millennium Project?

RK: A majority of European countries are participating in the Millennium Project, providing intelligence information on the newest and most dynamic of the major international organized criminal groups — gangs from the former Soviet Union. The latest estimates are that about 1,000 Russian organized-crime groups are operating internationally, plus 8,000 to 10,000 operating in the area of the former Soviet Union. Each group ranges in size from 50 to 1,000 members. They are best understood as loose networks; they may work together in specific cases and cooperate against common threats, but there is little top-down control and coordination. Their activities include cigarette and other contraband smuggling, drug smuggling, illegal immigration, extortion, prostitution, vehicle theft, and arms dealing. The Millennium Project has demonstrated the difficulties in investigating these organizations in one country or even bilaterally. They operate from several countries and are diversified enough to make it extremely difficult to investigate using traditional methods. Unless approached in a truly multilateral way, with countries really collaborating efficiently, these criminal groups will always have the upper hand.

FP: The Millennium Project has been quite effective in tracking property that Russian crime bosses are buying in Colombia.

RK: Yes, that’s correct.


FP: What was the most controversial decision you made in your 15-year tenure?

RK: Perhaps the Rainbow Warrior case. As you may recall, in 1985 a ship belonging to Greenpeace was sunk in the harbor in northern New Zealand. The people who claimed to be responsible for the attack were carrying, of course, Swiss passports. To cut a long story short, it turned out that they were members of the French Secret Service. The New Zealand president’s position was that the crime has been committed, people should be punished, this is a criminal matter. The French authorities said, "You should not be dealing with this case. This is a political case." Well, I said, "No, this is a criminal case."

FP: What other controversial decision or what other decision looms large in your memory?

RK: Several cases led to controversy when Interpol cooperation was requested. When Interpol refused to help in an investigation of the Chinese religious group Falun Gong, for instance, or an investigation of the instigators of a coup in Qatar. And of course, there was Interpol’s involvement in the Pinochet case.

FP: How did the decision to go after General Pinochet come about?

RK: It was initiated by a Spanish judge. If the British had said they didn’t agree, that this action shouldn’t involve Interpol, then I would have never made the decision to say, "Well, I think it should." But I didn’t have to make the decision. Nobody objected.

FP: What was your role, Interpol’s role?

RK: Interpol supplied the official channel to enable the Spanish magistrate to contact the British police and provided the legal cover to Spain’s extradition request.

FP: And now you’re charged with the capture of Slobodan Milosevic.

RK: When I heard there were plans to create this international tribunal for dealing with war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, I said, well, that’s fine to have a tribunal, but how are they going to bring people before it? So I wrote to [then United Nations Secretary-General] Boutros Boutros-Ghali and said we will place at the U.N.’s disposal Interpol’s system for circulating warrants on these people. At the moment I think there are something like 40 or 50 of these warrants in existence, including one for Milosevic.

FP: And of those that were issued, how many have been captured?

RK: I think about half a dozen. It’s kind of interesting that, in fact, there can be real international legal action. And the plan now to create an international criminal tribunal, which unfortunately is being opposed by a certain number of countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, is a good sign that we will see more of this.

FP: We are increasingly witnessing how countries cede some specific aspects of their sovereignty to an international body such as the World Trade Organization or the IMF. We are also beginning to see more frequent instan-ces in the area of international law enforcement. Do you think that the world is heading toward more and more global tribunals and, perhaps one day, a global justice system?

RK: The movement started with the war-crimes tribunal that was created for Yugoslavia and was then extended to Rwanda. I think you will find that inevitably it will become a global thing and not restricted to certain countries. The more crime becomes global, the more justice and law enforcement in general will have to become global.


FP: You’ve repeatedly made governments furious by deciding early on and publicly stating that the criminalization of drug use is wrong.

RK: Part of the confusion in attitudes comes from terminology. Words like "depenalization," "liberalization," "decriminalization," and so on can be interpreted a bit freely. I have always strongly believed that a drug abuser is not the same as a criminal. He is not victimizing somebody else, he’s not stealing anything. He has a problem, a personal problem that leads him to take drugs. Over the years, I have advocated not reducing the amount we spend on law enforcement, but balancing whatever we spend on repression with at least an equal sum dealing with treatment, education, and so on. That way, we reduce the demand, so producing countries can’t say it’s not their problem. Because they have a point. It’s not really fair to accuse them all the time of being responsible for our problems.

FP: The Clinton administration’s drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, has said that your way of thinking would result in "significantly higher rates of drug abuse particularly among young people and exponential increase in human and social costs to society." How would you respond?

RK: I met General McCaffrey in Brussels a couple of years ago, and he was sympathetic, shall I say, maybe not agreeing of course, but he was sympathetic to the way I view things — making clear what we mean by "decriminalization," as I just did.

FP: Bottom line, your position is that if somebody is captured with cocaine, and there’s no evidence that this person has been trafficking or reselling cocaine, this person should not go to jail.

RK: There should be an alternative that enables him to go for treatment. And the only reason, I repeat, the only reason I think there has to be some administrative way of sending people for treatment is because it has been shown that the drug addict, unless you force him, will not voluntarily seek treatment.

FP: A generation or so from now, do you think your successors will look back at the way we fought the drug war these last two or three decades as a big mistake?

RK: Yes.

FP: A big misallocation of resources and —

RK: Now let’s be clear about this. I’m not saying that you should take resources away from what the law-enforcement people are doing and put them elsewhere. I say that the mistake is in not giving equal resources to deal with treatment.

FP: How does the balance fall now, globally?

RK: At the global level something like 80 percent is spent on law enforcement and only 20 percent on treatment.

FP: What are the most powerful tools to deal, not with drug consumers, but with the people who are actively engaged in drug production, funding, trafficking, and distribution?

RK: In terms of producers, a good, if limited example, is what the U.N. has tried to do with crop substitution for Bolivia’s coca fields. There are a number of approaches like this. If our job in law enforcement is to interrupt the supply of drugs, then our most powerful tool for attack would be international cooperation, good international intelligence, and so on. We produce at the moment a weekly drug-intelligence bulletin. Even our U.S. critics would have to recognize that quite a number of the big recent seizures they’ve made were based on information coming from our bulletin.


FP: You have said that governments were caught unaware by Internet crime and were unprepared to deal with it. But even if they had been aware, what could they have done? What can they do?

RK: I don’t think that governments can deal with this issue unless they do it with the private sector. Governments may say they are concerned about cybercrime, that they have created a special group to deal with it, and what does that mean? They just take somebody from the drug squad, somebody from the money-laundering squad, and pull them into a group and call it a cybercrime squad. The kind of expertise we need in this area, the kind of research and development we need, are all in the private sector. And even if you want to recruit the appropriate, qualified people, you can’t, because you can’t compete with the private sector in terms of salaries and incentives.

FP: Do you have a cybercrime unit at Interpol?

RK: I have a unit, which I would not claim to be better than those government units I spoke about. My people don’t have the expertise of those in the private sector. I’m willing to listen to anybody in the private sector who can come up with something we can do.

FP: Have you sought the help of the private sector?

RK: We are exploring a collaboration with a firm called AtomicTangerine, an independent consulting firm based in Menlo Park, California. We are exploring plans to provide relevant Interpol information to private firms, and, in return, to have those private firms, through Interpol, advise member nations of Internet threats. In the future, more private companies will have access to global intelligence, without cost, to assist them in defending their Internet activities from cyberterrorism and "hactivism." At the same time, law enforcement agencies will be able to benefit from sophisticated technology intelligence gathered by leading Internet firms.


FP: What percentage of Interpol’s time and resources is spent combating terrorism?

RK: The General Secretariat dedicates 8 percent of its police staff resources — mainly police experts seconded by countries that were, or are, victims of terrorism, such as Italy, Germany, and Spain — to fighting terrorism.

FP: How are the terrorists you encounter today different from the ones you encountered when you took your position at Interpol 15 years ago? And before that, when you were a British police officer?

RK: From exclusively politically motivated or funded terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s, we see a new era of terrorism motivated by pseudo-religious purposes. In fact, these "religious” terrorists are simply criminals. Osama bin Laden comes to mind. Extortion of funds is among the most usual motivations of terrorists, but hidden by ideological cover — the Irish Republican Army, Basque eta, or Corsican fnlc.

FP: Do you think your successor will have to deal with terrorist organizations that have nuclear weapons at their disposal?

RK: I personally don’t think this is a serious threat. Making a nuclear bomb is not an easy thing to do. We have worked with atomic-energy authorities in a group of countries to try and assess the nature of the threat. The general conclusion up until now has always been that for a terrorist organization to do something like that, it would need a great deal of — There are other ways they can do things without going that far.

FP: Are you thinking about terrorism with biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction?

RK: Yes, that is a possibility, though still unlikely. It would be more likely in that area than in the atomic area, in my view.

FP: Would you say the world is doing a better job fighting terrorism than fighting drug trafficking?

RK: Yes, I think so.

FP: Why?

RK: Well, the nature of the problem is such that people other than police become involved to a much greater extent, even at the highest political level. Politicians seem more interested in combating terrorism than drug cartels.

FP: Is there anything that can be learned from the fight against terrorism and applied to the fight against drugs?

RK: Intelligence. A greater application of the methods used to deal with terrorist organizations.

FP: For instance?

RK: Intelligence collection and intelligence analysis again and again, undercover operations, satellite observation, phone and mobile-phone tapping, e-mail interception, and use of information technology.

FP: Which countries have the most effective approach to counterterrorism?

RK: I think the British have always had an approach to subversion that puts them in a good position, in the same ways the United States is in a good position. Also maybe the French. Any country that has a history of battling subversion is better able to handle terrorism than others.

FP: And the failures? Which countries frustrate you in their inability to fight terrorism effectively?

RK: Those countries where politics have prevented them from eradicating terrorism within their borders, and those countries that have used or are still using terrorism as a political tool. I won’t give you any names, but open your newspaper on any given day and you will recognize them.


FP: You said that you are relieved to be leaving your job. Was it a mistake for you to run last time, five years ago?

RK: I don’t think it was a mistake. I thought the last time I hadn’t really gotten far enough into completing all there was to be done. For instance, I hadn’t had time to adapt Interpol’s finances to future missions. Member countries request more and more from Interpol, but they refuse to increase our budget. Another term didn’t help, though. A solution will have to be found by my successor. Interpol needs more money.

FP: So now it’s time to retire?

RK: I think that it’s time for somebody else to take over. I don’t know why, but there are clear indications that the moment has come to turn the page. One of them, purely coincidental, was the death of Jean Nepote, my predecessor, a man who recreated and built up this organization immediately after World War II. He was a Frenchman, a farsighted person and, in a way, a little bit my mentor.

FP: What kind of advice did he give you?

RK: Mr. Nepote gave me a lot of advice, even after his retirement. The advice that has been most important to the organization was that Interpol needed to adapt to the information technology era.

FP: What have you done in the last 15 years at Interpol that makes you very proud?

RK: Well, I think the fact that the organization has reached the status that it has, in the United Nations General Assembly for instance. That puts you in a stronger position to deal with things than before. I mean, I personally have a kind of status that I did not have 10 years ago. When I started, if I visited a country, I never got to see the interior minister or somebody at that upper level. Recognition for Interpol is something I’ve struggled for, to get some recognition at the political level.

FP: But I’m interested in specifics. What were Interpol’s greatest moments during your tenure? The ones where it showed what it can do, or hinted at its true potential?

RK: The G7 [Group of Seven] summer meetings held in Lyon, France, in 1996, when we gained official recognition of Interpol’s prominent role in the fight against transnational terrorism; a day in June 1998 when I delivered my first speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York; my numerous meetings with U.S. presidents in Washington, D.C., and Davos, Switzerland — these were among the greatest moments in my career.

FP: I am surprised by that answer. I would have thought that you would have singled out specific achievements in your fight against criminals.

RK: There were many of those, but without the political support for Interpol I was fighting for, our efforts to fight criminals would have been doomed.

FP: Is your successor, the U.S. lawyer Ronald Noble, the best person available? Was that a good pick?

RK: Time will tell. But I don’t think I should comment on that.

FP: How does one get elected to head Interpol?

RK: You need a two-thirds majority, two thirds of the country representatives present to vote. That’s usually about 140 to 150 members. Of course, it’s not as if people are being asked to vote from a selection of candidates, there’s a preelection procedure.

FP: And how does that work?

RK: There are 13 countries on our executive board. They choose one person out of a number of candidates presented by their member countries for the job. Then that one has to go before Interpol’s General Assembly.

FP: So 13 people meet in a small room and decide who the next head of Interpol will be, and then they take it to the General Assembly for rubber stamping. Would that be an unfair characterization?

RK: I think it would be unfair. Those men sitting around in a small group are all individually elected by groups of countries. There are three members from each continent. So it’s a bit like countries that have a system where their president is elected by their parliament as opposed to being elected directly by all the citizens of the country.

FP: Throughout the multilateral world, every time there is a need to pick a leader of a multilateral organization, be it the leader of the IMF, the World Trade Organization, or the U.N., there is always a highly political process. Many critics say that the process is so political that very often, the merits of the candidates are not as central to the selection as they should be. Is Interpol different?

RK: When I was appointed, I came from within the organization. I was head of the criminal division, I was seen as the natural successor. The organization had to invent the process for my successor. What is tricky is that now, Interpol has reached the point where political considerations have become very important.

FP: Among Interpol’s staff, as well as in the secretary general’s office, no? One of the criticisms that has been leveled against Interpol is that the organization gets stuck with either second-rate police officers who countries can afford to do without and send off to your headquarters in Lyon, or officers who are good at milking the system and have their eyes on the easy life of an Interpol functionary.

RK: I can agree with that as a general criticism. Once, perhaps it was true. I think it’s no longer valid in the same way. There are ways of fighting that sort of thing, but it remains an issue. Still, so long as the organization doesn’t pay its staff directly, totally finance its staff, there will be a problem. The situation has changed in the last decade, and now countries are recognizing the fact that sending highly qualified staff to Lyon contributes to their profile in global police cooperation. But if we want to have a good staff, we need to pay them accordingly.

FP: So, you have drug trafficking that cannot be contained. You have cybercrime that cannot be fought without recruiting the help of the private sector. You have international trafficking in individuals, including children. You have frail democratic regimes that are prone to corruption and capture by criminal organizations. You have international networks that are capable of matching governments technology for technology. And facing all of that, you have a multilateral organization, Interpol, that is neither staffed with the best people nor funded sufficiently to keep up with fast-moving crime. Are you pessimistic?

RK: If I were totally pessimistic, then I would not have remained in office. The feeling I have is that we have been doing a lot of experimentation, without a true strategy to deal with crime globally. Part of it has to do with the major disparity between developed and underdeveloped countries. But then again, there are sufficient indications of successes to go with the failures. For instance, although the world production of counterfeit currency has probably increased by something like 30 percent in the last few years, if we look at the counterfeiting of U.S. dollars, that seems to have gone down. We do have bits and pieces of good news here and there. But the global picture is certainly not cause for celebration.

FP: The European Union has established Europol, and the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have launched Aseanpol. These groups of countries all seem to be setting up their own shop. What does that say about the performance of Interpol?

RK: All it says to me is that people have decided, all for different reasons, to reinforce their crime-fighting capabilities. Let’s take the European Union. Here we have 15 like-minded countries that came together for political or economic reasons. Inevitably, they will become interested in their internal security, which is very laudable. And if they are willing to put resources into it, that’s fine. But they have to understand that there are no drugs, other than synthetic drugs, produced in the eu. So to confront even a basic problem like drug trafficking, they are going to have to look outside the union. And then there is a need for cooperation with European countries outside the eu.

FP: And that’s where Interpol comes in?

RK: No group of countries can act in isolation, period. The value and the power of an organization like ours is to be able to create a global frame within which these other people can work together. Unless the world learns how to do that quickly and effectively, international crime will continue to grow.

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