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As Crime Spans Globe, Interpol Is Catching Up

January 04, 1998|JACK NELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"We have to be involved in these most horrible types of crime," Kendall said.

"In terrorist crimes, if it's strictly a local case, say involving an Israeli-Palestinian dispute, then we have no role," Kendall said in an interview. "But if it occurs in Paris or London, it brings it into our orbit."

The Road Ahead

Despite security concerns and mutual distrust among some member countries, U.S. agencies are finding it necessary to cooperate with Interpol more than they have in the past.

The FBI and Interpol are working more closely than ever before, said Imoff, the FBI agent in charge of Interpol's Washington office. The value of collaboration is rising with the globalization of crime, he said, and Interpol's Washington office is handling 6,000 to 9,000 messages a month seeking or providing information about international crime.

In fact, Interpol's communications network, which handles about 2 million messages a year, has become so important to the U.S. strategy for combating global crime that the FBI has offered to give Interpol access to its massive--though technologically troubled--Integrated Automatic Fingerprint System, which has 34 million sets of fingerprints.

Interpol's 13-member Executive Committee is studying the offer, and informed sources say they expect the plan to be approved within a year.

Interpol's own database contains only about 100,000 sets of fingerprints.

The harder challenge on the horizon is picking a new secretary-general. With Kendall turning 65 this year and contemplating retirement even though his term doesn't end until 2000, the French are already jockeying to regain control.

"The French always considered Interpol theirs, and they're not happy a bit that a Brit is still in charge," said a U.S. agent at Interpol headquarters.

The Executive Committee, at Kendall's request, is searching for a successor. Only two candidates, both with strong ties to Interpol, have stepped forward--Richardot and Noble, who is bidding to become the first American to head Interpol.

Now a professor at New York University, Noble has served on Interpol's Executive Committee and is an unpaid financial consultant to the organization. He considers Interpol "extremely valuable to international law enforcement and an essential tool in fighting global crime."

Raymond W. Kelly, an Interpol vice president and Noble's successor as Treasury undersecretary for enforcement, agreed that the organization is crucial in the fight against international crime, but he is worried that its resources are still largely unknown to many law enforcement agencies in the United States.

"We've got to do a better job of spreading the word about Interpol's capabilities," he said.

Noble would undoubtedly try to persuade law enforcement agencies in the United States to make greater use of Interpol's resources and to be more cooperative in exchanging information. He believes that agencies in the United States can find ways to satisfy legitimate security concerns while getting over what he calls "a long-held feeling that we can only trust ourselves."

"International crime is increasing dramatically because criminals are getting smarter and taking advantage of technological advances, while in many places law enforcement is falling further and further behind," Noble said in an interview.

"But Interpol already has the infrastructure in place to make the difference, and ultimately Interpol will determine the world's success or failure in fighting international crime."

Nelson is the chief Washington correspondent for The Times.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Global Police

As the economy becomes global, crime becomes international, and many experts believe Interpol is vital in bringing transnational crooks to justice. Here's a look at the organization

Name: International Criminal Police Organization. The term "Interpol" is drawn from its telex identification.

Headquarters: Lyon, France.

Members: 177 nations

Budget: $30 million

Staff: About 320

History: Began as the International Criminal Police Organization based in Vienna. Was moved to Berlin in the late 1930s and became an arm of the Gestapo. After World War II, it was renamed and its headquarters moved to Paris. Offices moved to Lyon in the late 1980s.

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