Istanbul '09 Workshop

Dealing with Illicit Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Arms, Drugs, and WMD Materials
in Afghanistan And Other Areas at Risk

Ms. Elaine Dezenski
Managing Director, INTERPOL’s Global Security Initiative for the 21st Century

Ms. Elaine Dezenski


The crucial military component of law enforcement and the civilian component, while complementary in nature, operate on different timelines, involve separate groups of stakeholders, and address unique aspects of the underlying problem. But they both share the same overarching goal, which is to enhance the capacity of local law enforcement and effectively transfer the expertise of global partners that is necessary to achieve long-term independence and be self- sustaining.


The International Criminal Police Organization, or INTERPOL, is the world’s largest international police organization, with 187 member countries. Created in 1923, it facilitates cross-border police cooperation and supports and assists all organizations, authorities, and services whose mission is to prevent or combat international crime. Afghanistan has been an INTERPOL member country since 2002.

With a view to supporting its member countries, INTERPOL has core functions that focus on three main areas: namely, capacity-building, policing training, and regional projects and operations. Capacity-building aims to develop and enhance close cooperation with the National Central Bureaus (NCBs) of the member countries in order to enhance their operational capacities and responsiveness. Police training aims to strengthen NCB staff’s abilities in INTERPOL’s core functions and their knowledge of INTERPOL’s tools and services. It also works to increase awareness of INTERPOL within national law enforcement departments. The aim of regional projects and operations is to assist in specialized crime areas through coordinating joint or simultaneous operations.

The Global Security Initiative (GSI) aims to strengthen global policing and complement and support the work of the INTERPOL community by acting as an “incubator” for innovation and to establish partnerships with governments, the private sector, and other international organizations. GSI embodies a broad, cross-sector approach to tackling the challenges of 21st Century crime based on five pillars that are vital in INTERPOL’s role of enhancing the safety and security of citizens worldwide. These pillars are global security, secure global infrastructure, global law enforcement capacity, strategic global partnerships, and innovation. In particular, global law enforcement capacity ties in closely with INTERPOL’s focus on capacity building, policing training, and regional projects and operations.


In the “Trafficking in Persons” (TIP) report published by the U.S. Department of State, Afghanistan is identified as a Tier II country, meaning that significant trafficking takes place and that the government has not undertaken appropriate initiatives to combat the problem. Under normal circumstances, this categorization would make Afghanistan liable for a range of sanctions, but, because of its special designation as a transitional state, it remains immune from such repercussions. However, without sustained progress (specific to prosecuting known traffickers and providing protection for victims), the eventual exit from this transitional period will prove doubly traumatic.

In particular, failed and/or transitional states risk becoming a magnet for this type of trafficking. Furthermore, this type of illicit activity eventually supports the Taliban and other forces opposed to stability and the rule of law. Thus, increasing civilian law enforcement capacity and close coordination with the military are important enabling factors that help defeat this established dynamic.

In 2001, INTERPOL established a specialist group to address the issue of trafficking in women for sexual exploitation. Approximately 50 countries participate in the group, whose current focus is on practical operational investigations, sharing of new techniques, best practices, and use of the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Message via I-24/7. The group also looks at other forms of trafficking such as trafficking in labor and organs.

In 2000, the General Assembly mandated the INTERPOL Working Group on Trafficking in Women for Sexual Exploitation to develop the “Trafficking in Human Beings—Best Practice Guidance Manual for Investigators.” Paul Holmes, a British police officer (now retired) and former chair of the working group, undertook the task and in 2002 the manual for investigators was issued with great success.

In 2005, the working group decided that the manual should be revised in order to take into account additional regions and other forms of human trafficking such as trafficking of women, men, girls, and boys as sources of labor and organs. Again, Paul Holmes was invited to author the updated version, and Claire McKeon, an intelligence officer at INTERPOL, undertook coordination. The resulting manual is a tool, a best practice guide for law enforcement working with trafficking cases. It is structured to assist the investigator in identifying and locating advice on any specific issue during the investigation. Its contents bring together collective international investigative experience to date.


Because of the expected closure of the U.S. airbase in Kyrgyzstan, announced in February 2009, and a worsening of the security situation on the main land route from Pakistan that resulted from Taliban attacks on cargo vehicles, the U.S. has stepped up its efforts to secure alternative supply routes for the NATO troops serving in Afghanistan. Considering that Uzbekistan is the only central Asian country with a rail connection across the Afghan border, at Hayraton-Termez, this will probably serve as the main entry point for goods. According to Ria Novosti (the Russian newswire service), once the transit route becomes operational, 700 wagons will be sent weekly via this line, carrying commercial supplies such as construction materials, water, fuel, and medicines. This development raises the issue of the capacity of the transit countries to inspect 700 wagons every week. Due to the commercial nature of the cargo, the U.S. and NATO forces will not be responsible for controlling the wagons’ contents. Therefore, it appears there will be a high risk of increased smuggling of the precursor chemicals needed to extract heroin from opium from Europe into Afghanistan and illicit drugs from Afghanistan into Europe in the returning freight cars.

These developments emphasize the urgent need for an increased civilian capacity focused on border control in Afghanistan. The trade in illicit narcotics, primarily heroin, is a major funding stream for the Taliban. The narcotics trade is characterized by a complicated web of tribal alliances, politics, underdevelopment, and poverty—the major growing regions are likely to be stressed by increased coalition military action during the summer of 2009. What is absolutely clear is that Afghanistan has no viable future unless it can limit the influence of the illicit narcotics trade within its borders. Accomplishing this will require a multipronged approach, including military action, political will at a national level, better development programs, and, very critical, an enhanced law enforcement capability to control the nation’s borders through better training, superior equipment, and coordination with domestic, coalition, and international partners.

INTERPOL’s Drug Intelligence Unit collects and analyzes data obtained from member countries for strategic and tactical intelligence reports. It disseminates these reports to the concerned countries, responds to and supports international drug investigations, helps to coordinate drug investigations involving at least two member countries, and organizes operational working meetings between two or more member countries in which INTERPOL has identified common links in cases being investigated in these countries. It also organizes regional or global conferences on specific drug topics, the aims of which are to assess the extent of the particular drug problem, exchange information on the latest investigative techniques, and strengthen cooperation within law enforcement communities.

INTERPOL has embarked on a number of projects to deal with drug problems. For example, project NOMAK was launched to increase effectiveness and efficiency in the exchange of information regarding Southwest Asian heroin trafficking along main routes. Another example is project WHITEFLOW, which concerns the smuggling of cocaine from South America to Europe via west, central, and southern Africa. The goal is to facilitate communication, intelligence sharing, and collaboration between the concerned countries by collecting all data on traffickers (fingerprints, DNA, photos, etc.). This project also aims to promote joint investigations and operations against cocaine trafficking rings linked to Africa.

Last but not least, the Drug@net initiative enables the General Secretariat to address an emerging crime area not currently handled by any other international organization. This project aims to form a global network on Internet-related drug offenses and provide training in close cooperation with all Sub-Regional Bureaus.


Most if not all of us are aware of the interdependencies of separate trafficking operations. Stable revenue from the opium trade goes to purchase arms that equip Taliban and insurgent forces utilizing the same protected supply channels and trusted distribution mechanisms. The Afghan police, military, and coalition forces cannot solve any of these challenges in the near, mid, or long term without continuing to enhance the capacity and coordination of Afghan law enforcement and civilian agencies.

INTERPOL’s bioterrorism project, funded by grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, aims to raise awareness of the bioterrorist threat, counter bioweapons proliferation, develop police training programs, and strengthen the enforcement of existing legislation as a complement to international treaties.

INTERPOL’s Firearms Program is a three-pronged approach to assisting countries in the mining of available intelligence from firearms used in crime: namely, identification—using the Interpol Firearms Reference Table (IFRT); tracing—using INTERPOL’s Firearms Tracing Instrument; and ballistics—using INTERPOL’s Ballistic Information Network (IBIN).

In 2008, INTERPOL launched the INTERPOL Firearms Reference Table. We know that well over one third of all firearms trace requests fail because of the inaccurate or incomplete description of the firearm. The IFRT can help solve this problem because it is an easy-to-use web-based application available on the I-24/7 network that enables investigators to correctly identify a firearm before submitting a trace request to the proper country. The IFRT has over 250,000 firearms references, giving investigators detailed descriptions and 57,000 high-quality images. It is currently available in French and English. The web-based application was developed by INTERPOL using the data supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This force is our valued partner in this endeavor, supplying us with updates each year to keep the system current.

At the end of 2008, we created the INTERPOL Firearms Trace Request. This is a structured form on I-24/7 that requires the requester to identify five pieces of information about the firearm: the make, model, calibre, serial number, and country of origin or import. It provides a check against INTERPOL’s databases and a link to the IFRT. INTERPOL created this tracing form in recognition of the need to give law enforcement agencies the tools to combat firearms violence, as outlined in the United Nations 2005 protocol that calls for an international instrument to enable states to identify and trace, in a timely and reliable manner, illicit small arms and light weapons.

The third prong of INTERPOL’s Firearms Program is the INTERPOL Ballistics Information Network. Every firearm leaves unique microscopic markings on the surface areas of fired bullets and cartridge cases; in other words, a ballistic fingerprint. Current ballistics technology, similar to Automated Fingerprint Identification System technology, can enable us to share and compare thousands of ballistic exhibits in a matter of hours. However, no vehicle exists for the transnational sharing or comparing of ballistics data. IBIN will change that by connecting, with a central server at INTERPOL, the current 47 member countries/territories that use the Integrated Ballistic Identification System and choose to participate. It will also connect countries or regional alliances that may acquire the system in the future.

Just as fingerprint data has linked crimes and criminals across international borders, so too will the transnational sharing of ballistic data. IBIN will link separate crimes across international borders that we would otherwise not know were linked. Over time, we anticipate that the analysis of the shared ballistic data will reveal illicit firearms trafficking routes and point to illicit firearms traffickers. In the coming months, we will receive and install the network and develop the programmatic performance measures for IBIN, and IBIN will be operational in 2009. Turkey has the ballistic system to be used in the IBIN program.


Afghan Border Police number just over 3,000 officers (200 officers graduate every six weeks). To put that in perspective, there are about 65,000 international troops operating in the region, and this gap between existing capacity and desired capacity in terms of manpower is a linear problem that will be slow to resolve without access to additional trainers with the proper qualifications.

That is where INTERPOL comes in. By providing a crucial connection to law enforcement databases now, fewer personnel can accomplish more by leveraging existing technology. The primary objective is to connect police around the country with the Interior Ministry headquartered in Kabul (the location of Afghanistan’s INTERPOL office and/or NCB). Right now, no Afghan police offices in the country’s 34 provinces can take fingerprints and send them to Kabul to be entered into the international database (five to seven provinces were identified as pilot candidates for this program). Fixing this capacity gap solves a dual set of problems and satisfies both internal and external stakeholders (GSI stresses that mutually reinforcing benefits arise from global partnership).

Most arrest subjects do not carry documentation—access to the database can quickly identify repeat offenders who are typically released, turned around, and subsequently re-enter via an alternate route. Subjects linked to terrorist efforts abroad will be quickly identified and neutralized before perpetuating similar crimes in-country (previously established links to terrorism serve as a compelling basis for extradition and effective prosecution). This is the same basic approach that has been employed in Iraq—motivating principles are based on demonstrable success observed in the past (a Morocco case involving Abdesslam Bakkali, from August 2004).


In June 2008, the RAND Corporation released a report suggesting that NATO’s success in Afghanistan hinges in great part on the ability of the international community to build up the police force. Specifically, it referenced the Afghan police as “corrupt, incompetent, under-resourced, and often loyal to local commanders rather than to the central government.”

This presents a critical opportunity for INTERPOL to build upon its initial database project with additional GSI resources (currently under development) that align with the intermediate to long-term needs of the Afghan National Police as it matures as an organization and gradually becomes less reliant on direct military support. INTERPOL can bring significant added value to international efforts to combat the types of crimes discussed today. INTERPOL, as the largest international law enforcement organization, is best placed to coordinate the international law enforcement response, rather than merely respond to incidents through military actions.


Our panel has spent a lot of time focused exclusively on the situation in Afghanistan. It is important to note that trafficking in all forms constitutes a threat to global security—the impact of these crimes does not conveniently end at the border of a given nation. Furthermore, the interconnectedness and cross-jurisdictional nature of these criminal networks demand enhanced international cooperation. INTERPOL represents a prime example of the type of partnership that can be focused on a clearly defined set of transnational issues.

INTERPOL is uniquely positioned to bring the assets and strengths of global policing to the 21st Century problems these issues present. The experiences of the last decade demonstrate the futility of combating these problems unilaterally and, more importantly, of using an exclusively military response to them (with all deference to my co-panelists). As the Secretary General is fond of saying, “There is a need for nations to shift from a predominantly military-led approach to fighting terrorism to one that includes greatly enhanced global police cooperation.”

Top of page | Home | ©2010 Center for Strategic Decision Research