The U.S. National Central Bureau (USNCB) of INTERPOL is the American branch of the international police organization, serving as a communications clearing-house for police seeking assistance in criminal investigations that cross international boundaries. Directed by the U.S. Attorney General and working under the Department of Justice in conjunction with the Department of the Treasury, the USNCB focuses on fugitives, financial fraud, drug violations, terrorism and violent crimes. It can refuse to respond to any of the 200,000 annual inquiries from other nations and, as required by INTERPOL bylaws, does not assist in the capture of suspects.
INTERPOL was founded in Austria in 1923 as the International Criminal Police Commission, created to facilitate cross-border police co-operation and help prevent international crime. Its headquarters was located in Vienna until Austria came under control of Nazi Germany during World War II, and the headquarters was moved to Berlin. For the remainder of the war, INTERPOL was a tool of the Gestapo, Germany’s secret police. Following the end of the war, European officials reorganized INTERPOL into today's organization, which is now headquartered in Lyon, France. INTERPOL is the world’s largest international police organization, with 186 member countries.
The US bureau of INTERPOL did not come into existence until the 1960s because of reluctance on the part of American officials to embrace the organization. The FBI did not post wanted notices with INTERPOL until 1936. When FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover observed INTERPOL's success in apprehending criminals, he persuaded Congress to order the US Attorney General to accept INTERPOL membership in 1938. Hoover became the permanent American representative to INTERPOL, with only the FBI authorized to do business with the group. However, in 1950, Hoover pulled the FBI out of INTERPOL for reasons that remain unclear. The US Treasury Department did continue to maintain informal contact with INTERPOL and became the official U.S. representative in 1958.
It wasn’t until the administration of President John F. Kennedy that the US began moving toward a closer relationship with INTERPOL, thanks to US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's willingness to work with the organization as part of his fight against organized crime. The USNCB became operational in 1969 with a staff of three and an annual caseload of 300. Since then it has grown considerably, responding to the increasing internationalization of crime, as well as a jump in the numbers of foreign nationals entering the country. USNCB staff consists of agents, computer specialists, analysts and translators plus administrative and clerical support. The agents operate in divisions dedicated to specific investigative areas, while the analysts review case information to identify patterns and links. The USNCB operates by linking the Treasury Enforcement Computer System, the FBI's National Crime Information Center, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) files and DEA records to INTERPOL.
The U.S. began accepting counter-terrorism cases from INTERPOL in 1985. In 1990, the U.S. and Canadian governments established an INTERPOL interface between the USNCB and the Canadian NCB in Ottawa. This link allows police to tap into law enforcement networks across the border to verify driver registrations and vehicle ownership.
US officials, however, have been reluctant to fully trust INTERPOL with all American intelligence information. In fact, the vast majority of US information regarding international terrorism cases is not placed into INTERPOL’s system because of concerns by American officials that the system is not secure enough to prevent terrorists from tapping into the organization’s records.
The U.S. National Central Bureau of INTERPOL is the American branch of the international police organization, serving as a communications clearing-house for police seeking assistance in criminal investigations that cross international boundaries. Unlike the domestic and foreign law enforcement organizations it supports, USNCB is not tasked with solving crimes or apprehending suspects but rather with providing assistance to the law enforcement community by coordinating information for international investigations and providing communications between U.S. federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and the National Central Bureaus of other INTERPOL member countries. The USNCB also works with U.S. border agencies to check the identification of international criminals and fugitives trying to enter the country.
The bureau’s organizational structure consists of the Office of the Director and Deputy Director, Office of the General Counsel, INTERPOL Operations and Command Center, Alien/Fugitive Investigative Division, Terrorism and Violent Crimes Division,
Drug Investigative Division, Economic Crimes Division and State and Local Police Liaison.
The State and Local Police Liaison Division facilitates the exchange of information between foreign and domestic police. It also conducts training seminars on new developments in international police-to-police assistance. An INTERPOL liaison office is maintained in each state as well as in American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands plus numerous major cities throughout the country. These offices are typically located within a state police agency, state bureau of investigation or major city and act as a point of contact for local law enforcement.
The USNCB provides many forms of assistance to law enforcement agencies under its Point of Contact for International Law Enforcement section. These include: General investigative services; law enforcement intelligence information; address verifications; all points bulletins; criminal record checks; disaster victim identification; humanitarian requests (death notifications, serious illness); voluntary interviews of witnesses; trace and locate fugitives wanted for extradition, missing persons and abducted children; locate stolen art and artifacts; telephone subscriber information (when court order not required); and weapons and vehicle traces.
As the US office for INTERPOL, the USNCB also is responsible for seeking the issuance of all INTERPOL notices on behalf of American authorities, alerting authorities to the existence of INTERPOL notices issued by other countries and communicating with the appropriate foreign or American authorities when the subject of a notice is located. A summary of INTERPOL’s color-coded notices system can be found here.
There are seven types of color-coded INTERPOL notices:
Red Notices: Seek the location and arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition. Blue Notices: Trace and locate, or collect information about a person of interest in a criminal investigation. Green Notices: Provide warnings and information for crime prevention and public safety about persons who have committed criminal offences and are likely to be involved in criminal activity in other countries. Yellow Notices: Locate missing persons, often minors, or help identify persons who are unable to identify themselves. Black Notices: Seek information on unidentified bodies. Orange Notices: Provide warnings about imminent threats that are likely to cause serious damage to property and/or injury to persons, including disguised weapons, parcel bombs and other dangerous materials.
INTERPOL-United Nations Special Notices: Warn about groups and individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist organizations who are the targets of UN sanctions.
The services of the USNCB are available to nearly 20,000 state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country, providing help to hundreds of thousands police, sheriff and other law enforcement personnel. Numerous federal agencies, both law enforcement and non-law enforcement, are eligible to receive assistance from the USNCB including, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Customs Service, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice, Criminal Division. Federal agencies represented at the USNCB include:
In 2002 the USNCB found itself caught up in the controversial ban ordered by President George W. Bush that forbade employees at the US Justice Department from unionizing.
Invoking national security concerns, President Bush issued an executive order affecting 500 workers at US attorneys' offices, the Justice Department’s criminal division, the National Drug Intelligence Center, the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review and the USNCB. The order, issued in January, angered unions, which claimed the president was exploiting the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 four months earlier to pursue a campaign against unions.
Bush, Citing Security, Bans Some Unions at Justice Dept.
The New York Times reported in 2004 that INTERPOL's database is only useful with immigration efforts, including apprehending terrorist suspects, if it is used at border control points around the world. But few countries do so, including the US, where the USNCB accesses the database in Washington, DC, but not at major entry points into the country.
If given access to the database, immigration officers at airports or border crossings could enter a passport number and get a near instantaneous response as to whether the passport had been stolen. From January to the end of July, nearly 200 stolen travel documents were discovered by police agencies checking the system.
The stolen documents on file were a small fraction of those circulating around the world. Still, INTERPOL says member countries should check all issued visas against the database to see which ones were obtained with a false document. The list of 1.7 million stolen documents fits on one floppy disk, making it easy for USNCB to share the information with immigration officials, if it chose to do so.
Martin Renkiewicz, a 28-year law enforcement veteran, began serving in July 2006 as director of the U.S. National Central Bureau of Interpol. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island in 1976, Renkiewicz held various supervisory positions at the INS, primarily overseeing fraud and alien smuggling investigations, until 1992 when he joined the USNCB.
In 2002 he was named assistant director of the USNCB Alien Fugitive Division, where he administered the Foreign Fugitive Notice Program and supervised agents and analysts assigned to fugitive related investigations. He then served as the USNCB's senior representative from the INS. In this capacity, he provided expertise on a wide range of immigration matters, including human trafficking, fraudulent identity/travel documents and visa fraud. In 2003 he was named deputy director of the USNCB and served in this capacity until being named director.