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The World's Top Cop
(Continued from previous page)

Streamlining the notice procedure was not the only change introduced by Noble. When he took office, Interpol was operating on a 9-to-5, five-days-a-week schedule. He immediately began preparations to keep the agency open around the clock, 365 days a year. The new schedule was set to go into effect on Sept. 17 last year. When the planes smashed into the World Trade Center on the 11th, Noble put it into effect immediately. "We will never again turn out the lights and close the doors at Interpol headquarters," he says. "The world changed on 11 September, and so did Interpol."

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Interpol's systematic involvement in global antiterrorist activities dates from 1985, when the General Assembly called for the creation of a specialized division to "coordinate and enhance cooperation in combating international terrorism." Since then, the Anti-Terrorism Branch has been responsible for dealing with matters relating to terrorism, firearms and explosives, attacks and threats against civil aviation, maritime piracy and weapons of mass destruction.

The Anti-Terrorism Branch has concentrated its efforts in three areas: gathering and analyzing intelligence about terrorist activities, eliminating illegal trafficking in weapons and shutting down international financial systems that support terrorism. Noble added another priority: creating a global database of travel documents so any nation's immigration officials can instantly determine if passports from other countries are valid. "If we don't do the little things now, like having countries share data about fraudulent identity documents, we're going to continue to have a terrorist problem," he says.

Two new crime-fighting tools will be added to Interpol's arsenal this year. The first, developed in cooperation with the U.S. Treasury Department, is a database of people and organizations suspected of financing terrorist activities. That is expected to be up and running in February. The second tool is a machine that can check a suspect's fingerprints against millions of others stored in police databases in a matter of minutes. Interpol is now working with the FBI, Scotland Yard and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to test it at border crossings. Canadian police say they will be using this technology within a couple of months to screen undocumented refugees coming into Canadian airports.

But Interpol's most important anti-terrorism weapon is its global intelligence network, made up of tens of thousands of police in all of the member countries. While police in some other countries might not be as sophisticated as America's, they have a vital role to play in anti-terrorist efforts, Noble says. "The best information often comes from neighbors who see unusual things near their homes or businesses, and this information is ordinarily given to local police officers, who then are in position to relay the information to national or international police. It's a chain reaction that begins at the local level."

In fact, Noble believes that if the United States and other wealthy nations want to wage an effective war on terrorism, they need to invest in law enforcement agencies in poorer countries. "Investing in the world's police forces and Interpol is the only way to ensure that valuable intelligence can be gathered, analyzed and shared internationally," he observes. "Police officers worldwide must be properly equipped, trained and motivated to stop terrorism. ... If you prevent someone who's dangerous from leaving his country, then you protect your country."

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