International co-operation through the Interpol system to counter illicit drug trafficking


Guiding principles of international police co-operation
Organization of Interpol
Drug criminality - Drugs Sub-Division
Special studies and surveys
Co-operating with other organizations


Author: W. J. LEAMY
Pages: 55 to 60
Creation Date: 1983/01/01

International co-operation through the Interpol system to counter illicit drug trafficking

W. J. LEAMY Head, Drugs Subdivision,ICPO/Interpol,General Secretariat,Paris, France


The International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO/lnterpol), whose main aim is the prevention and suppression of ordinary crime, has 135 member countries. The Government of each of these countries has designated an Interpol National Central Bureau to co-operate and liaise within the framework of Interpol. The Drugs Sub-Division of Interpol's General Secretariat monitors and responds to incoming communications on drug enforcement matters, conducts intelligence analysis of information and produces tactical and strategic intelligence reports as well as statistical and other specialized reports. It received 33,181 and dispatched 6,741 drug-enforcement-related communications in 1982, which was over 60 per cent of the entire communications of the General Secretariat. The Drugs Sub-Division participates in drug training and drug strategy seminars world-wide. Interpol also carries out drug liaison officer programmes in five regions of the world.


The International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO/Interpol) was founded in 1923. Since 1946, the Organization's headquarters has been in France.

According to the terms of article 2 of the ICPO/Interpol constitution, the aims of the Organization are :

  1. To ensure and promote the widest possible mutual assistance between all criminal police authorities, within the limits of the laws existing in the different countries and in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ;

  2. To establish and develop all institutions likely to contribute effectively to the prevention and suppression of ordinary crimes against the law.

The limits of its action are laid down in article 3 of the constitution which reads: "It is strictly forbidden for the Organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character."

Guiding principles of international police co-operation

International police co-operation within ICPO/Interpol has always been governed by certain guiding principles, which are highlighted below.

Respect fornational sovereignty

Co-operation is based on the actions of Interpol-affiliated police forces, operating in their own countries in accordance with their own national laws.

Enforcement of general criminal law (article 3 of the constitution)

The Organization's field of activity is limited to crime prevention and law enforcement in connection with offences against general criminal law. This is the only level at which there can be agreement between all member countries.


Any member country may co-operate with any other country, and such co-operation should not be impeded by political, geographical or linguistic factors.

Equality of all member countries

All the Organization's member countries receive the same services, irrespective of their financial contributions to the Organization.

Co-operation with other agencies

Co-operation is extended through the Interpol National Central Bureaux to any government agency concerned with combating offences against general criminal law.

Flexibility of working methods

Although governed by principles designed to ensure regularity and continuity, working methods are flexible enough to take account of the wide variety of structures and situations in different countries.

Organization of Interpol

Staff members

The 225 staff members at the Secretariat (representing 30 different nationalities) include 75 police officers from 20 member countries.

National Central Bureaux

In each of the 135 member countries there exists an Interpol National Central bureau. This is the office designated by the Government to be responsible for international co-operation and liaison within the framework of Interpol. All the National Central Bureaux are able to communicate with each other and with the General Secretariat, using one of the four working languages : Arabic, English, French and Spanish. Sixty member countries utilize radio telecommunications systems. For the rest, contact is maintained by telex or, for less urgent communications, by post.

General Assembly

The policy-making body of Interpol is the General Assembly, which consists of delegates from all member countries. Among its functions, it determines principles in accordance with the constitution and examines and approves the general programme of activities prepared for the following year. It votes on the budget and elects the President, Vice-Presidents and other members of the Executive Committee, which is the body responsible for supervising the administration and work of the Secretary General.

Drug criminality - Drugs Sub-Division

The Drugs Sub-Division is one of the three elements of the Police Division of the Interpol General Secretariat. The other two sub-divisions are responsible for monitoring :

  1. Crimes of violence, robbery and theft ;

  2. Economic crime and counterfeiting.

The Drugs Sub-Division is the largest single unit of police officers at the Secretariat, presently staffed with 19 police officers and 5 administrative personnel. The police and specialist staff of the Sub-Division is international in composition, with representatives from : Australia, France, Germany, Federal Republic of, Hong Kong, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Senegal, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, the United States of America and Uruguay.

In addition, a Regional Drugs Liaison Office is located in Thailand, which is staffed by an officer from Malaysia. A vacancy exists for a liaison officer for Scandinavia which will be filled in the near future.

The Drugs Sub-Division of the Secretariat is a team of drug enforcement officers from many countries specialized in seeking improved international co-operation to counter illicit drugs traffic. One particular feature is the liaison officer programme, which is outlined below in more detail.

Working meetings dealing with significant international trafficking organizations, attended by officers from all the countries concerned, are also a feature of the work of co-operation performed by the Drugs Sub-Division. Interpol is not a police force that carries out operational work, and the officers are not international policemen who travel anywhere to make arrests. National sovereignty is always respected, operational action remains in the hands of the local law enforcement officers.

Intelligence responsibilities

All specialist officers are organized into six functional groups in order to more effectively monitor and respond to incoming communications and conduct analysis of information on: opiates (south-west Asia - Europe), opiates (south-east Asia), cannabis, cocaine, psychotropic substances and intelligence.

Messages received by the Secretariat from member countries reporting drug-related arrests, seizures or intelligence are reviewed, analysed and, if necessary, responded to by an officer from one of the disciplines above. The number of communications received and sent by the Drugs Sub-Division continues to increase year by year. In 1982, the Sub-Division received 33,181 communications and dispatched 6,741 communications concerning drug enforcement matters. This represents more than 60 per cent of the entire communications of the General Secretariat.

The staff members assigned to the intelligence group produce tactical and strategic intelligence reports, statistical studies and other specialized reports.

Working groups

The continuous receipt and review of information on international illicit drug trafficking enables the Drugs Sub-Division to have a broad picture of the international drug trafficking situation. Often because of the volume of information available in the records centre, the Drugs Sub-Division is called upon to conduct in-depth analysis of particular traffickers or groups of traffickers. This process usually leads to a meeting at the Secretariat of police officers from many countries working against the same traffickers to exchange information and develop a common law enforcement strategy.

Drug trafficking awareness programmes

Officers from the Drugs Sub-Division participate in drug training and drug strategy seminars throughout the world in order to share experiences.

In order to maximize the impact of structured training programmes, Interpol participates in concert with United Nations bodies and with national training entities in national and regional seminars. The Drugs Sub-Division has published a number of guides intended to elevate the drug interdictive ability of national police services. In addition, a slide teaching programme on drugs consisting of 318 35-mm slides with accompanying instructor's text was recently completed and is available for distribution to national drug squads.

Drug liaison office programme

Towards the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, serious drug-related problems increased in Europe. The Drugs Unit of the General Secretariat had existed since 1951 , but as late as 1972 there were only seven officers working in this Unit. Responding to the alarming drug problem, the European member countries decided to employ three part-time liaison officers who, under the auspices of the General Secretariat, regularly visited the European countries, analysed the illicit trafficking situation and made recommendations for improving co-operation. After the third mission of this type, it was agreed among the European countries that the liaison officer programme should be extended. Hence, from 1 January 1975, five liaison officers were employed full time. Since then the programme has been further augmented and extended to cover other continents.

At present, liaison officers are designated for the following areas : Europe (six officers), south-east Asia (one officer, stationed in Bangkok), South America (one officer), Near and Middle East (one officer) and Africa, south of the Sahara (one officer).

The responsibilities of the liaison officers have increased and now are:

  1. To collect, process and distribute information;

  2. To promote the exchange of information between different countries;

  3. To co-ordinate investigations carried out by different countries concerning the same trafficker or the same trafficking group.

They also address meetings or training seminars in which ICPO/Interpol takes part. .

Production of reports

A variety of documents are produced by the Drugs Sub-Division to enable drug enforcement services in member countries to elevate their ability to counter illicit drug trafficking. Some of the documents are intended exclusively to serve the police administrations, while others are of interest to the international organizations concerned with illicit drug trafficking as well. All documents are produced in Arabic, English, French and Spanish.

Special studies and surveys

The General Secretariat is frequently called upon to conduct in-depth review of membership activities carried out to counter crime in member countries. Many of these special studies involve drug criminality and require a survey of techniques and methods used within the Interpol membership to deal with a particular problem. For example, studies are, at present, being carried out on the following subjects :

  1. Developing improved methods for exchanging drug samples among countries for analytical research and evidentiary purposes ;

  2. Survey of national laws allowing seizure and forfeiture of assets derived from drug crime ;

  3. Accumulation of data concerning the appearance in the illicit traffic of drugs not yet under international control.

Co-operating with other organizations

The ICPO/Interpol General Secretariat maintains close co-operative contact with all international and regional organizations to ensure the maximum co-ordination to counter international illicit drug trafficking. Only through such joint initiatives can success be achieved.