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Podcast: Role of INTERPOL in Fighting International Crime

Podcast: Role of INTERPOL in Fighting International Crime

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Many criminal activities like human trafficking, cybercrime, drug trafficking, and organized crime go beyond national borders. In this podcast episode, AMU criminal justice professor Dr. Jarrod Sadulski talks with Mikel Irizar, Operations Specialist at INTERPOL’s Command and Coordination Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Learn how INTERPOL assists its 194 member-nations by coordinating criminal investigations, providing resources, sharing intelligence data, and even serving as a diplomatic outlet among countries that may not have other diplomatic ties.

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Good morning everybody. Welcome to today’s podcast. We are welcoming our guest all the way from INTERPOL in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Our guest today is Mikel Irizar. How did I do in the name? Was I close?

Mikel Irizar: That was great, Jarrod. Thank you very much for having me here. It’s definitely a pleasure to be here.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Welcome, welcome. We’re glad you’re here. To tell you a little bit about our guest, Mikel is a global security practitioner who works with INTERPOL’s analysis and operations directorate since 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has experience with coordinating operations, emergency incidents, evacuations, different forms of management logistics, as well as being associated with a British private security firm. Currently, he’s based in South America, enriching his knowledge in sociopolitical dynamics of the South American region.

As we begin, what we’re going to be discussing today is INTERPOL. INTERPOL is not a well-known facet of law enforcement. That’s the purpose of today’s podcast and to give our audience a little bit of background of what INTERPOL is before we ask our guest some questions.

INTERPOL’s full name is International Criminal Police Organization, and it’s a inter-governmental organization that includes 194 member countries. INTERPOL helps to improve public safety through law enforcement in these 194 countries, which work together to share intelligence and information to combat a wide range of crimes.

In each country that INTERPOL is a part of, there is an INTERPOL national central bureau that acts as the central point of contact for the general secretariat of INTERPOL, and also between the different INTERPOL offices around the world. Basically what that means is they act as intelligence and coordination fusion centers to share intelligence, to share criminal investigation information among different countries that have a border nexus to transnational crime.

So with that said, the main headquarters is in Lyon, France. INTERPOL is responsible for policing initiatives in counter terrorism, cyber crime, and organized, and emerging crime. INTERPOL participates in fugitive investigative support, police data management, forensic support, criminal analysis, special projects, and also operates different command and coordination centers. Does that sound about right, Mikel?

Mikel Irizar: Pretty much so. That’s who we are, that’s what we do.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Let me ask you, can you provide us a brief overview of your background at INTERPOL in Argentina?

Mikel Irizar: Absolutely, Jarrod. I first started working for the organization in Lyon headquarters. Arrived there, how do you call it? Junior operations specialist. Started there for a few months just learning the ropes of this trade at the command and coordination center, which is the unit where I’m working at the moment since I ever started working for INTERPOL.

Now, after those first training months, I got the opportunity to be flied to Argentina, to Buenos Aires, where I still work with the command and coordination center. We have our duty station in here. So the Corona Coordination Center is, in a nutshell, the on-duty room. At the INTERPOL we work 24/7. It’s the first point of contact for any country requiring urgent assistance from the general secretariat or from any other country basically.

So as I said, we work 24/7, we have three duty stations, we’re in Lyon, as I said before, we are in Buenos Aires where I work, and we’re also in Singapore. So you can imagine it’s a shift work. We do eight to 10 hours sometimes and then we hand the shift over to the next duty station.

So when I say we are the on-duty unit at INTERPOL, it’s basically because we’re always on, up and running, 24 hours. When lights go off at the headquarters in Lyon, it’s us who are still working. We are able to channel any particularly urgent inquiry from any member country to any privileged or specialized type of contact working at our organization that may be able to assist with the task handed to us at that particular moment.

Apart from that, we coordinate communications between national bureaus, we run checks against our databases. You probably have heard of the notices that’s pretty relevant nowadays, the red notice in particular, we publish them in coordination with the INTERPOL legal department and many other things.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: That’s really interesting. Could you further explain how INTERPOL serves the international and national law enforcement community?

Mikel Irizar: I was thinking these past few days, we do several things. Most of all, I believe we are a lighthouse, we are a forum, and also a tool to help all the 194 member countries. We’re mainly a platform for international cooperation. Most of all, we provide a framework where countries that otherwise may have no diplomatic ties, or any other ties for that matter, can find some common ground to communicate.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: So let’s say the United States was looking for a fugitive and they were hiding in Argentina, they would contact your office for support, is that correct?

Mikel Irizar: That’s correct. That’s definitely one way to perform communications. But it is true that being a tool for the police community, we encourage INTERPOL national bureaus to go directly to any other national bureau. So they could get to us to the command and coordination center, but they could also run their errands directly with the national central bureau at hand they need to contact to find this fugitive.

Let’s say that it’s more difficult than that. Maybe we are talking about a national central bureau that because of the circumstances don’t have language capabilities to contact the national central bureau in Central Asia. This is a very urgent matter, the fugitive is about to jump on a plane to a different country.

They will come to us for support, and we will use our privilege network of contacts or direct channels within the general secretariat plus our language capabilities to bring support to this particular matter facilitating police cooperation.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: So I understand that in each of the 194 member countries that there’s an INTERPOL national central bureau. How does the national central bureau work with the national police force?

Mikel Irizar: So every national central bureau is basically a point of entry for any authority, police body within that concrete country. So let’s say that you have somebody in California running a case, this case involves certain connections in any other foreign countries. They would contact the national central bureau in order to link with INTERPOL general secretariat.

So that’s the route any police officer anywhere should be following in case they believe they could take advantage of INTERPOL capabilities and resources. They will go to their national central bureau contact and within this national central bureau, the guys there will run that case, so anybody from the INTERPOL network is aware of it and starts providing support and assistance to watch those cases we are talking about.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: So is there frequent communication between the various INTERPOL offices in different countries?

Mikel Irizar: Oh, definitely, Jarrod. So as I said, from the general secretariat, we encourage direct communication between national central bureaus. So here at the command and coordination center anytime, every second, we see communications from national central bureaus addressing other national central bureaus.

It’s perhaps that we are just on copy as a witness of what’s going on there or there’s a certain matter that will need our special acting upon the case that we are talking about. But it’s very, very common to see national central bureaus from all member countries addressing other national central bureaus. And most of the time, that’s the quickest and the most efficient way to run a case.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Excellent information. So our next question is in general terms, how does INTERPOL use criminal analysis to solve crime?

So linking with what we were conversing before, we offer a micro-layer for those police officers investigating international cases. INTERPOL is an international crime police organization and we offer analysis capabilities that transcend national borders. That’s the main vantage point.

Also, we will say that we deal here at INTERPOL with databases and other capabilities for information that goes all over the world, our databases are in fact fed by those 194 countries.

Mikel Irizar: So from INTERPOL, we put to the police officer that information in their hands, enabling them to see things differently, to join the dots and make the links. INTERPOL stores literally millions of records from law enforcement and it is worldwide in our various criminal databases.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Okay, so you conduct criminal analysis and through that criminal analysis, which is human intelligence and other sources of intelligence on an international scale, you produce an intelligence product that you’re able to provide law enforcement to be able to act on? So in other words, you provide actionable intelligence based on analysis, is that correct?

Mikel Irizar: Operational and at the strategic level as well. It was very recently that our guys put a report together on new crime trends, right in a way COVID-19 pandemic, for example. And just very recently, we released a report on how COVID-19 is impacting child sexual abuse. So we produce those in a regular basis, but we also have more operational stuff that we deliver in a case-by-case basis.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: What are some of the most common crimes that INTERPOL is used for?

Mikel Irizar: Basically, everything, Jarrod. We have various departments, we do counter terrorism, maritime security, piracy, human smuggling, human trafficking, drug trafficking, organized crime, more broadly we do cyber crime. We have an innovation hub in Singapore working towards finding new ways in which the international police community can work for a better future.

Always, and this is important to highlight, we follow our global human rights framework as per our organization’s constitution article two, we as an organization need to ensure and promote the widest possible mutual assistance between all criminal police authorities within the limits of the laws existing in the different countries and in the spirit of the universal declaration of human rights.

So this is very important, and also linking to this, it is true at our organization, we don’t touch anything that goes on the intervention or activities of political, military, religious, or racial character.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: You mentioned human trafficking, is human trafficking a major issue in Argentina?

Mikel Irizar: I think it’s one of the main criminal issues all over the world. Here in Argentina, we have ad hoc task force dealing with human smuggling and human trafficking networks in Central America. It is a project being sponsored by the Canadian government that is trying to understand better how human trafficking networks operate in Central America and South America.

And also, they bring new variables for analysis on this respect, particularly gender variables. How these networks treat women? What’s the role of the victim, the role of the survivor? And how this interacts with the way police deal with the human trafficking cases in Central and South America.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: That’s great. And human trafficking is definitely an area that I’ve been actively involved with going into conducting in-country research in both Central and South America. And so, it’s definitely something that I agree is a problem worldwide. It’s $150 billion illicit industry worldwide and it’s interesting. And it’s great to hear that INTERPOL in Argentina is being proactive and working with your partners to address this prolific issue. What can you share with us about INTERPOL that is specifically related to Buenos Aires?

Mikel Irizar: We have a regional bureau based in here that serves all the South American region. That’s what’s central to INTERPOL here apart from the national central bureau. Obviously, it’s that regional bureau in charge of coordinating and giving almost personal assistance to those countries belonging to the South American region.

We have specialized officers here, obviously taking care of the human trafficking as we’ve been speaking about and cyber crime, we have also specialists on counter terrorism, et cetera. And we all try to give a regional perspective and a regional ethos to all INTERPOL that’s here. Always putting effort to understand how INTERPOL can assist better each country in here with their particular needs and dynamics and their own particular problems.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: INTERPOL plays such an important and critical role in transnational criminal investigations and in providing law enforcement, whether it’s on the national or local level, resources, intelligence data on crime trends, on fugitives, on investigatory information to enable them to do their jobs better.

So I’ve been studying up on INTERPOL and learning more about it over the last couple of years and it’s such a pleasure and a great opportunity to speak to somebody like yourself who’s an expert in INTERPOL and especially at South American has that perspective of being in South America and working with INTERPOL and with your background. So I’m truly grateful for the time that you’ve spent speaking with us. Are there any remaining thoughts that you’d like to share with us?

Mikel Irizar: Jarrod, what can I say? I just would like to emphasize we’re on the same boat, and now more than ever criminal activities go beyond national borders. So we as members of these international police community, even brother this international security community need to keep endeavoring to keep the world safe. And I think that what we are doing and we are doing every day, and I’m again, very happy, we as in here, are able to continue strengthening those efforts and building those bridges between countries.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Absolutely. To build on that, I’m also excited and grateful for American Military University, which really is taking the lead in helping develop partnerships with you and your organization all the way in a different continent in South America. And I think it really speaks to this opportunity for us to have this podcast and to share this information with our audience.

In terms of American Military University, we’re expanding our network to somebody such as yourself, an expert and professional all the way at INTERPOL in Argentina, which is really exciting. I want to thank you for being our guest today and for sharing this information, and that we truly appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

Mikel Irizar: You’re very welcome. Thank you for having me here.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Well, thank you for joining us today on this informative podcast. Thank you to our guest, Mikel Irizar from INTERPOL Argentina.

About the Guest: Mikel Irizar graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2014 where he completed a MS in Global Security (Strategy and Defence) presenting a dissertation comparing the dynamics between receding states and rising jihadist insurgencies in both Chechnya and Syria. After being awarded a grant from the Basque Government to promote the expansion of Basque business interests overseas, he spent six months in Edmonton, Canada. At the same time, he started a remote internship at Intelligence Fusion, a real-time risk mitigation platform based in Durham, as a Global Risk Analyst.

Upon returning to Europe, he landed a full-time job as Global Operator at Drum Cussac, a private security company, recently bought out by Garda Group. During the two years he spent at the firm, he was able to gain hands-on experience at a GSOC run by British ex-military personnel and participate in the coordination of various significant operations in high-risk countries and disaster-struck areas.

Mikel has been working for INTERPOL since September 2018 beginning in Lyon, France for the organisation’s Analysis and Operations Directorate, more specifically at their Command and Coordination Centre. After spending several months in Lyon, he was deployed to the Command and Coordination Centre duty station in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he has been carrying out his duties for almost two years.

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