Interpol Chief Calls U.K. Lax In Terror Fight

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 10, 2007

LONDON, July 9 -- The head of the international police cooperation agency Interpol said Monday that British anti-terrorist efforts are "in the wrong century" and faulted officials here for failing to share information on terrorism suspects.

In an interview with the BBC, Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble also said the United States, along with most countries, failed to use Interpol's database of 7 million stolen passports, even though there is a "clear link between stolen passports and al-Qaeda-linked terrorist activity."

Noble, who was traveling to Africa on Monday and could not be reached, said Britain is readying a system to access Interpol's stolen-passport database, the world's largest, "within months." Still, he faulted Britain for failure to share information and consult global databases useful in fighting terrorism.

His comments come at a time when many Britons worry that the country needs to do more to identify terrorism suspects and block them from entering the country. In late June, police foiled bomb attacks in London and Glasgow, Scotland. Eight suspects are in custody.

"We have received not one name, not one fingerprint, not one telephone number, not one address, nothing from the U.K. about the recent thwarted terrorist attacks," Noble said. "My view is that the U.K.'s anti-terrorist effort is in the wrong century."

Referring to the London police, he said, "We don't have one Metropolitan Police officer from the anti-terrorist unit assigned to Interpol -- not one. Can you explain to me why that is?"

Britain is working with U.S., Australian and Indian officials in its investigation of the attempted car bombings June 29 and 30. Law enforcement agencies here, as in the United States and elsewhere, often prefer to share information with selected countries rather than Interpol, the police agency based in France that has 186 nations as members. Noble is a former U.S. law enforcement official.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said last week that British authorities would expand "a watch list" of potential terrorists to share with other countries. In a televised interview Sunday, Brown said a better system for sharing data on potential threats and terrorists was "a matter of urgency."

Brown's office declined Monday to respond to Noble's remarks, referring questions to the Home Office, which oversees domestic security. A spokeswoman there said, "We are committed to improving, recording and sharing criminality data." She also said British police agencies do, in fact, "work closely with Interpol."

Noble said authorities in Switzerland, one of the few countries that uses the stolen-passport database, sends 300,000 queries to the system each month and typically receives 100 "hits" on stolen passports. Still, he said, only 17 of the 186 member countries take advantage of the system, even though the computer check takes two to three seconds.

In an open letter published Sunday on Interpol's Web site, Noble also said that Britain "has not shared its terrorist watch list" and that "until this happens, any time another INTERPOL member country consults our database about any of the individuals on this watch list, INTERPOL will have to report that they are unknown, meaning that the UK might lose a significant investigative lead."

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