INTERPOL CBRNe – International co-operation for a safer world

HMN - INTERPOL CBRNe International co-operation for a safer world

Written by Kevin Cresswell

The damage caused by a CBRN event, particularly the bio-terrorist threat, could reach untold magnitude, causing widespread illness and death, and instilling fear and panic on a global scale. Countering CBRNe runs through the entire framework of the INTERPOL strategy and hits all seven global policing goals beginning with countering the threat from terrorism. 

The terrorist incidents in London, Madrid, Oslo, Tokyo, manifested the reality of those materials and devices used by terrorists to inflict large-scale damage. In 2003 INTERPOL’s Command and Coordination Centre issued an Orange Notice on the occasion of New York’s metro explosion possibility. Jihadists were trying to generate an explosion in New York’s metro system by installing an explosive device named Mubtakkar (Arabic: innovation). The device should have released cyanide gas that could kill hundreds. The terrorists’ plans have changed and the explosion did not come in force. If that cell had not altered their course of action, the explosive would have detonated before INTERPOL had issued the Notice. 

 An Orange Notice is for warning against dangerous materials and bombs potential for an attack. Red Notice is given when seeking an arrest. INTERPOL’s Notices System warns a member state about individuals who are suspected of being involved in crime or need to be extradited. A Blue Notice is a request for information while a Green notice is a heads up to a country about an individual or organization likely to commit crime across borders.

Hazmat is usually the primary response to natural or man made incidents and if on a large scale would often receive some for of military support. It may surprise some to know that terrorism involving CBRN not always sees the involvement of the military at least not until an incident occurs. If it is a CBRN criminal event, Hazmat receives the support of law enforcement. In comparison to natural or man-made disasters in consequence of which the response of the military comes among the first, terrorism involving CBRN not always sees the involvement of the military.

HMN - INTERPOL CBRNe International co-operation for a safer world

Though the military are generally not involved in the counter-CBRN activities of the police, there are several ways they can get involved in counter-CBRN measures. The involvement can include detection and identification, computer hazard modeling, laboratory support, decontamination, medical support. The military can provide CBRN material detection and identification equipment that can be identical to the one in use by the civilian services or could be completely different. They can predict where the CBRN cloud may travel from the contaminated area, provide laboratory analysis of the agents, implement personnel decontamination, and military doctors can demonstrate more expertise and experience in treating casualties from CBRN attacks than civilians.

If the military are not involved in the “process of preparation” before the incident, it’s often extremely difficult to integrate during the incident. The establishment of ad hoc cooperation platforms will not always meet the desired level of integration of all the respondents at the moment of need. 

Law enforcement intelligence, military intelligence, strategic intelligence and traditional intelligence involving HUMINT look at the same information from different angles. Hence, it is vital to enlarge the circle of interaction in counter-CBRN activities to develop a multi-response capability to a single situation and single approach to multiple coordination issues. When it comes to translational and international CBRNe terrorism the long arm of the law calls on INTERPOL. The US and UK both joined in June of 1956.

In the Novichok poisonings incident in Sailsbury, England, although primacy for the command and control of the incident remained squarely with law enforcement, the British military deployed over 700 specially trained military personnel, including the Joint CBRN Task Force, mainly involved in the clean-up, of Salisbury, which was named ‘Operation Morlop’. 

It is recognized that the command and control of a multi-agency response to a terrorist incident of this nature is challenging, as it involves multiple aspects including:

  • a high threat scenario
  • multi-agency resources 
  • cross border police force areas
  • significant support from partners
  • intense political and media interest
  • an enduring impact upon communities. 
  • prevention is the most important phase of counter-terrorism efforts. 

The preparedness of the military in CBRNe, is directed largely at maintaining security and increasing readiness of the armed forces and not of the public in the narrow sense, although it’s necessary to emphasize that it is the military that have the strongest expertise in counter-CBRN operations with large intelligence-gathering network and procedures, since the military are among priority targets of CBRN terrorist attacks. 

INTERPOL services play a vital role in monitoring, detecting and preventing the trafficking of CBRN materials and suspected individuals. A clear example of coordinated effort was Operation Cobra in 2011, seven west African nations coordinated to seize over ten tons of illicit pharmaceuticals and the gangs involved. A year later Operation Black Poseidon, involving INTERPOL Bureaus in Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Turkey and Ukraine led to the seizure of agro-chemicals.

Smaller CBRN incidents in the majority of cases has been resolved on national law enforcement level with or without coordination with INTERPOL, if there is a transnational aspect, National limited reach can utilize INTERPOL’s resources in 190 countries worldwide, its’ strength is in information and intelligence sharing with national these authorities. Support is also obtained through Operational Police Support Services who can share terrorist act or natural disaster forensic specialists, subject matter experts can deploy to any country if required.

The detonation of an improvised nuclear device (IND), radiological dispersal device (RDD), or the placing of a radiological exposure device (RED) would lead to serious consequences. Such incidents would damage human health and the environment, create panic, and affect economic and political stability. The threat from bioterrorism is real, with current reports indicating that individuals, terrorist groups and criminals have both the capability and intention to use biological agents to cause harm to society. Attacks using explosives and chemicals endanger public safety, and can severely impact the economic and political stability of countries.

HMN - INTERPOL CBRNe International co-operation for a safer world

High-profile incidents have affected all regions of the world; the past decade has seen thousands of bombings around the world including in Brussels, Abuja, Boston, London, Madrid, Moscow, Mumbai and frequent chemical attacks in Syria and Iraq and recent military chemical attacks in Syria and bio attacks or attempts using Novichok, anthrax and ricin in the UK and USA. The damage caused by these events could reach untold magnitude, causing widespread illness and death, and instilling fear and panic on a global scale.

While INTERPOL is somewhat of a toothless tiger when it comes to mounting arrest or seizure operations, it contributes immensely, to national capacity building in detection, prevention, response and prosecution of terrorism and CBRN materials trafficking.  As well as cooperation at the international and regional levels, INTERPOL also work with national law enforcement agencies, health, academia and industry, to tackle this challenging crime and are engaged in a number of projects and activities designed to reduce the threat of a CBRNe act and establish effective countermeasures as part of a global security strategy. This prevention needs to encompass any measures directed at controlling CBRN materials and preventing their acquisition and deployment of non-state actors and terrorist groups. 

The INTERPOL organization is present in almost all the countries of the world. Consequently, it is always an issue of sharing information based on equality. As any multilateral organization, INTERPOL is non exclusive, working on partnerships and alliances. There are also rival states and opponents that would do everything not to share information with each other even if it is acknowledged that by these means national or regional security could be in danger.

Every country is different in civil-military cooperation. In some countries law enforcement closely cooperates with the military, in others there is a strict division between them, while some jurisdictions have law enforcement structures as part of the armed forces. In Spain, Italy and France, for example the Gendarmerie is part of the national armed forces. These peculiarities all matter in coordination of counter CBRN measures through INTERPOL.

 Access to knowledge and data is also increasingly available through the Internet, and criminals use hidden and anonymous streams of communication, such as the Darknet, to buy, sell and share data and communicate with each other, law enforcement and intelligence services expertise in this area far outpaces the military. This is a real area of expertise for INTERPOL.

As part of their first joint project with the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre (UNCCT), INTERPOL ran workshops for investigators covering four main areas: detecting terrorist-related activities online; collecting electronic records; requesting e-evidence across borders through police-to-police cooperation; engaging with the private sector to advance investigations by law enforcement agencies.

The workshops (conducted in 2018 and 2019, disrupted by Covid-19) also served to enhance participants’ operational picture on the phenomenon of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) more generally.

Complementing the workshops is a Handbook, jointly published by INTERPOL and UNCCT, entitled “Using the Internet and Social Media for Counter-Terrorism Investigations”. It offers investigators practical guidance on how best to generate online investigative leads and collect and preserve electronic records often across international borders to contribute to successful investigations and prosecutions. This project was funded by the Governments of Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

INTERPOL’s CBRNE Terrorism Prevention Program, consists of three units: 

–   Radiological and Nuclear Terrorism Prevention Unit (RadNuc), 

  • Bioterrorism Prevention Unit (BioT), 
  • Chemicals and Explosives Terrorism Prevention Unit (ChemEx).

The three units are operating based on intelligence sharing, combatting CBRN materials dispersal and investigation of CBRN threats and incidents. 

  • RadNuc is threat-based, intelligence-driven and prevention-oriented. Project Geiger, a joint initiative between INTERPOL and IAEA maintaining a database of illicit traffic in radiological and nuclear materials, contributes to the coordination, prevention and response in this area. So far there have been around 2,500 cases related to nuclear and radiological trafficking registered in the Project Geiger Database. Operation Fail Safe is another tool in facilitating anti-terrorism cooperation. Launched in 2012, it allows the tracking of individuals involved in the trafficking of nuclear and radiological materials.Tracking is implemented via a Green Notice. 
  • BioT aims to disrupt a bio-terrorism attack while concentrating on the areas such as planning and preparedness, agreements, training, detection and alert systems, response, pursuit and recovery. INTERPOL has also published a Bioterrorism Incident Pre-Planning and Response Guide, which sets important tools for bioterrorism prevention and response for law enforcement and wider national communities, as well as increases knowledge in detection of CBRN agents and timely dissemination of Intelligence can identify smuggling routes for the trafficking of dangerous materials and agents. 
  • The ChemEx Unit  complements the existing Bioterrorism Prevention Unit and the Radiological and Nuclear Terrorism Prevention Unit and will provide support to all 190 INTERPOL member countries in three main areas: criminal intelligence analysis; capacity building programs, such as training courses for law enforcement officers; and operational support.

In addition, through the Secure Global Police Communications Services, a global communication system for the law enforcement community is available. The system gives an opportunity to access a rich database,  Operational Data Services and Databases for Police holding crime and terrorist records world-over, member states access and coordinate via National Central Bureaus. It includes stolen/lost travel documents, known or suspected terrorist prints and photos, DNA, stolen vehicles and weapons tracing.

There are also several current projects:

  • Project Chasm; The Chasm course is designed to enhance the capability of law enforcement crime scene examiners in dealing with chemical and/or explosive contaminated incident scenes, outlining appropriate safety procedures and internationally recognized standard sampling techniques, while working in a highly dangerous crime scene environment. The course also aims to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate chemical attacks, manage chemical crime scenes and forensics protocols, and to foster cooperation among law enforcement agencies within the region.
  • Project Chief; The indiscriminate nature of the use of chemicals, Improvised Explosive Devices and their catastrophic consequences when deployed against civilian, police and military targets, highlight the importance of a thorough and accountable investigation. The immediate response and knowledge to undertake appropriate actions within the opening hours of a post-blast incident are essential.
  • Project Crimp; Project Crimp was delivered to Iraqi authorities in 2018.The first part of the training course produced the risk matrix of chemicals of specific concern to the country. It also identified areas of good practice, duplication of effort and potential vulnerabilities, and started to develop the multi-agency team that will oversee future activity. The second part continued building the working group to implement countermeasures and began the implementation. Overall, the program allows delegates to review their chemical security capabilities. They showcased areas of best practice in Iraq that have been shared with INTERPOL member countries, along with existing countermeasures that assist in safeguarding the people of Iraq.
  • Project Litmus: By increasing the likelihood of law enforcement entities to disrupt chemical attacks during the development and construction stage of a chemical weapon or Improvised Explosive Device (IED), Project Litmus highlights the need for agencies to move away from operating in professional silos. It demonstrates that the lack of communication between agencies, where a failure to exchange crucial information, could lead to an explosive attack for the simple reason of not knowing whom to tell. This unnecessary delay in identifying the criminal or terrorist, and the loss of crucial evidence, significantly decreases a country’s ability to disrupt attacks and prevent the proliferation of chemicals weapons, and fatalities.

Not everything in INTERPOL has always worked as it should – In the past there have been cases even when INTERPOL was accused in leaking sensitive information to the terrorists themselves (the Habash affair). Therefore, on one hand limited intelligence sharing increases security and confidentiality of sensitive information of certain member-states, and on the other hand, weakens coordination and timely response by those who have enough experience and expertise in terrorism combat and prevention.

Despite its politically neutral stance, some have criticized the agency for its role in arrests that critics contend were politically motivated. In 1938 the organization came under the control of the Nazi party. Critics argue that non-democratic states use INTERPOL to harass opposition politicians, journalists, human rights activists, and businessmen. The countries accused of abusing the agency include China, Russia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Iran, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Tunisia.

HMN - INTERPOL CBRNe International co-operation for a safer world

Earlier this year, the former president of Interpol was sentenced to more than a decade in prison. Meng Hongwei, the first Chinese national to assume the presidency of the France based international law enforcement organization, received the sentence for corruption Meng pleaded guilty last year to using his position in China to finagle more than $2 million in bribes between 2005 and 2017. Prior to his 2016 election as Interpol president, he served more than a decade as China’s vice minister of public security. After Hongwei’s removal in 2016, four American senators accused his presumptive successor, Alexander Prokopchuk of abusing Red Notices, likening his election to “putting a fox in charge of the henhouse!’

However, despite the small number of scandals that have emerged since it was formed in 1923, INTERPOL has enjoyed many more success than failures. By sharing information and working together, INTERPOL can support the international law enforcement community in engaging the threat posed by CBRN and explosives terrorism, which continue to claim lives every day across the world.Terrorism knows no state borders.

 A primary security layer for adequate preparation from threat situations is without doubt, international cooperation. The extensive and serious consequences of terrorism and rogue state actor actions, have clearly demonstrated the critical importance of joint preventative activities and exchange of information. 

The key is coordination. The goal is prevention!