Drug control: policies and practices of the International Criminal Police Organization


The International Criminal Police Organization and its aims
The Drugs Sub-Division
Efforts by the International Criminal Police Organization to counteract heroin trafficking along the Balkan route
The FOPAC group
Specialized training
Automated search facility
International cooperation


Author: R. E. KENDALL
Pages: 3 to 10
Creation Date: 1992/01/01

Drug control: policies and practices of the International Criminal Police Organization*

R. E. KENDALL Secretary General, International Criminal Police Organization, Lyon, France


Drug trafficking and drug abuse are among the major social issues that the world has to grapple with. The far-reaching consequences of drug abuse in humanitarian, social and economic terms have led to intensive, action on the part of Governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. The International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO/Interpol) plays a key role as the central command for the joint efforts of the national law enforcement agencies of its 158 member States.

The present paper outlines the role of ICPO/Interpol, particularly its Drugs Sub-Division, in international drug control efforts. It includes a discussion of ICPO/Interpol policies and practices related to drug control and of recent developments in its information and communication capabilities.


To meet the increasing demand for illicit drugs, drug trafficking organizations have emerged on an unprecedented scale in many countries. The profits derived from their activities are immense.

National, regional and international drug control strategies have been implemented to monitor and control illicit drug trafficking. At the -same time, Governments and organizations have established educational, preventive and treatment programmes to reduce drug abuse and the demand for illicit drugs.

The International Criminal Police Organization (ICPO/Interpol) assists in coordinating such strategies. In 1990 and 1991, the ICPO/Interpol General Assembly reaffirmed that maximum priority must be given to the fight against the illicit production of, demand for and traffic in drugs and related international criminal activities.

The International Criminal Police Organization and its aims

ICPO/Interpol has nearly 70 years of experience in fighting crime at the international level. In 1923, police chiefs from Austria, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece and Hungary met at Vienna. They decided to set up a body that was called the International Criminal Police Commission until 1956, when its name was changed to the International Criminal Police Organization. ICPO/Interpol has played a key role in fighting drug trafficking almost since its inception. It. has made major contributions to international conventions and agreements. Starting in 1926, it collaborated closely with the League of Nations. Its close cooperation with the United Nations since the end of the Second World War was further strengthened in 1971 with the signing of a special agreement with the Economic and Social Council. The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988 [1] has offered a unique opportunity for ICPO/Interpol to develop its role in combating drug-related crime at the international level.

*Parts of the present article are based on P. Higdon, "At the crossroads of international co-operation: the Drugs Sub-Division at the Interpol General Secretariat", International Criminal Police Review. No. 404, January-February 1987, pp. 11-18.

ICPO/Interpol activities related to the fight against illicit drug traffic should be considered within the context of the overall aims of the organization, which are as follows:

  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, adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly in its resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948;

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

The Drugs Sub-Division

The Drugs Sub-Division of ICPO/Interpol evolved from a drug group within the organization that had come into existence pursuant to a resolution adopted by the Third International Police Congress, held at Antwerp in 1930.

Within the overall aims of ICPO/Interpol, the Drugs Sub-Division has the following objectives:

  1. To enhance cooperation among national drug law enforcement services and to stimulate the exchange of information among all nations and international bodies concerned with countering illicit production, traffic and use of drugs;

  2. To strengthen the ability of national services to control illicit drug traffic.

To accomplish these aims, the Drugs Sub-Division maintains a data bank containing all relevant drug-related information with an index of identified drug traffickers; coordinates requests for information and investigations; and compiles and disseminates tactical and strategic intelligence.

The Drugs Sub-Division, which is part of the Police Division of the ICPO/Interpol General Secretariat, is currently staffed by 30 police officers, analysts and administrative personnel from 20 countries. The diversity of staff ensures a range of knowledge and of experience in dealing with problems in the field of drug law enforcement. The Sub-Division comprises two groups: the Operations Group and the Intelligence Group.

Operations Group

The Operations Group is staffed by 11 liaison officers, each of whom is responsible for liaison with police authorities in a specific geographical area. The liaison officers regularly visit the national drug services in their assigned areas and prepare situation reports and assessments concerning the extent of trafficking and drug abuse. The reports and assessments enable the General Secretariat to propose activities for each region, such as training courses or regional conferences aimed at coordinating the activities of several countries against a common target. The country visits of the liaison officers also give national police officials an opportunity to discuss any difficulties encountered in the international coordination of investigations.

The work of ICPO/Interpol is financed by contributions from its 158 member States, and liaison officers must always remember that respect for the national sovereignty of member States is their primary obligation. Cooperation is based on action taken by the specialized services of member States operating within their own national borders and in compliance with their own laws. Liaison officers do not act on behalf of their own countries: they are sent by the General Secretariat to countries for specific purposes and they serve the entire international community. They collect and coordinate information but do not carry out investigations. Their contacts are limited to high-ranking police officials responsible for the day-to-day work of the ICPO/Interpol national central bureau in the country in question and the specialized drug services.

Besides their liaison work, liaison officers are responsible for analysing messages received from the national central bureaux in their geographical areas. The messages, which are handled by the ICPO/Interpol radio network, include reports on drug seizures or requests for assistance in ongoing investigations from other national central bureaux or the Drugs Sub-Division. By analysing the messages, officers in the Operations Group are able to keep abreast of any significant activity in their regions.

The information supplied to the General Secretariat enables it to discern the links between drug traffickers operating in different regions. The links are less likely to be apparent to individual police services concentrating their efforts on a particular target than to a liaison officer in the Drugs Sub-Division, who has a broader perspective and who can then share that knowledge with the individual police services.

Once an investigative link has been established between two or more regions, an informal meeting may be proposed and organized by the General Secretariat. The meetings are usually attended by the pertinent case officers from the police forces of the countries involved. Information is shared, common goals are identified and strategies for neutralizing the drug traffickers are formulated. Because so many of those meetings have led to success, they are rapidly becoming a vital element in international cooperation. They are an essential tool in the Drugs Sub-Division programme of interregional cooperation.

The concept of interregional cooperation has been well established since 1976, when the ICPO/Interpol South-East Asian Liaison Office was created at Bangkok. The liaison officer there interacts with drug law enforcement services in South-East Asia in the same way as officers assigned to the General Secretariat.

Intelligence Group

The Intelligence Group complements and works in close cooperation with the Operations Group. The Intelligence Group is responsible for assessing the worldwide drug trafficking situation. The periodical reporting by national central bureaux provides information on new drug trafficking routes, new methods of concealment, drug abuse patterns, significant seizures of drugs and essential chemicals for drug production, and the extent to which different nationalities are involved in drug trafficking. The Intelligence Group collates incoming investigative data in order to develop and disseminate strategic intelligence. A computerized strategic intelligence system helps officers to process incoming data and perform in-depth area studies.

Whereas liaison officers are assigned specific geographical areas for which they are responsible, intelligence officers are assigned to a section that deals with a particular drug type or that works on specific projects. At present there are sections specializing in cocaine, opiates, cannabis and psychotropic substances. The intelligence officers in each section are expected to acquire an in-depth knowledge of the substance concerned, its forms of abuse and its worldwide movement. Each section prepares periodic reports on the situation with regard to the substance in question.

The Psychotropic Substances Section, for instance, gathers intelligence on four main categories of narcotic drugs and controlled substances:

  1. Legitimately produced narcotic drugs, such as codeine, morphine and pethidine, which are subject to the provisions of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol [2);

  2. Illicitly produced psychotropic substances, such as amphetamine, methamphetamine and lysergic acid diethylamide [LSD], which are regulated by the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 (3);

  3. Legitimately manufactured psychoactive substances, such as amphetamines, barbiturates and benzodiazepines, which are controlled under the 1971 Convention;

  4. Precursors and essential chemicals in Tables I and II of the 1988 Convention.

The illicit trafficking in precursors and essential chemicals continues to escalate, causing unique enforcement problems for police and regulatory authorities. Analysis and research conducted by the Psychotropic Substances Section influence regulatory controls. It is a principal source of information on illicit traffic for the United Nations, which needs such information when it considers proposals on the international control of drugs.

The Intelligence Group is also responsible for preparing and disseminating information on a weekly and quarterly basis. The following are among its recurrent publications:

  1. (a) >The Weekly Intelligence Message, developed as a means of circulating the latest information, is transmitted in four languages to all member States. It

  2. (b) >The Quarterly Enforcement Statistical Review (QUEST), which is circulated to all national central bureaux, contains ICPO/Interpol statistics on all drug seizures for the quarter under review, as well as useful and informative articles that are not necessarily related to the statistics;

  3. (b) >The European Quarterly Intelligence Report, compiled from submissions from 27 member States, encapsulates current trends in drug trafficking, operating methods of illicit trafficking organizations, types and quantities of drugs seized, nationalities of intercepted drug traffickers, levels of drug abuse and current drug prices. It also reviews some of the more significant seizures in Europe;

  4. (b) >The Special Report on Emerging Trends in Drug Trafficking provides information on such subjects as the Balkan route, west African drug traffickers, South-East Asian heroin trafficking, trafficking in cocaine destined for Europe, cannabis trafficking from North Africa to Europe, drug trafficking by commercial airlines, the amphetamine situation in Europe, and the worldwide situation with regard to fenetylline tablets sold under the brand name Captagon.

Psychotropic team

Recognizing the international community's concern over the movement of precursors and essential chemicals, the Drugs Sub-Division established a psychotropic team to monitor information on the illicit manufacture, diversion and distribution of psychotropic substances. It is preparing a five-year study on each major psychotropic substance subject to abuse, which will be routinely updated in order to provide ICPO/Interpol member States with information and intelligence on emerging patterns and trends. The psychotropic team is also creating a database on the diversion and seizure of precursors and essential chemicals. In close cooperation with the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States and the Drug Enforcement Administration of the United States of America, the psychotropic team is involved in organizing training seminars in Latin America and the Caribbean on measures to monitor the manufacture and distribution of substances in Tables I and II of the 1988 Convention and to prevent their diversion.

Special projects

An additional task of the Drugs Sub-Division is the development and management of special projects to combat specific aspects of international drug trafficking. The special projects encourage national drug services to join in a plan of action at the international level. One special project has involved research and analysis of heroin traffickers' increasing reliance on the Balkan route. Other special projects have focused on ethnic Chinese trafficking in heroin destined for Europe and on heroin trafficking by west African criminal organizations.

The special projects have at least three components: the setting up of a structured and coordinated system for collecting and processing information; the use of that system to provide national services with investigative leads and to enhance cooperation in connection with investigations; and technical studies and proposals to enable national, drug services to adapt their tactics and strategies.

Efforts by the International Criminal Police Organization to counteract heroin trafficking along the Balkan route

South-West Asian heroin is increasingly being transported by road to Europe along the Balkan route, i.e. through the Islamic Republic of Iran and countries of the Balkan peninsula: Albania, Bulgaria., Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia. According to seizure information of the General Secretariat, 65-75 per cent of the heroin seized in Europe in the period 1990-1991 had come via the Balkan route..

In 1990, ICPO/Interpol started the "Probalkan" programme to enhance the capability of its Drugs Sub-Division to counter. drug -trafficking via the Balkan route. One result of the programme is that information on drug seizures made along the Balkan route is filed separately in the ICPO/Interpol database. The ICPO/Interpol database makes it possible. to collate, evaluate and analyse strategic and tactical intelligence. ICPO/Interpol has greatly enhanced its capability to use telecommunications and computer technology to disseminate such intelligence to member States.

Traffickers have increasingly been relying on the Balkan route to transport heroin to Europe. In response to that development, several agreements have been signed in Europe as a result of initiates by international organizations and regional groups. The Seventeenth Meeting of European Heads of Police Services, held in London in April 1991, unanimously recommended the need for the development of an independent system for the collection of criminal information on the Balkan route. On the initiative of ICPO/Interpol, a working group comprised of representatives of European countries, United Nations entities and the Customs Cooperation Council (CCC) is considering a strategy to operate a common information system.

The FOPAC group

One of the main tasks of the ICPO/Interpol General Secretariat is to counteract money-laundering. The Fonds provenant d'activits criminelles (FOPAC) group was set up to deal with the problem. It is responsible for matters concerning money-laundering, the confiscation of assets of illicit origin, and financial investigation techniques. Among the tasks already accomplished by the FOPAC group is the publication of the fourth edition of the Financial Assets Programme Encyclopaedia, which was prepared in collaboration with CCC and is being circulated to ICPO/Interpol member States. The fourth edition of the Encyclopaediacontains information submitted by 71 member States.

The FOPAC group is also responsible for managing a computerized financial database on requests concerning problems relating to assets derived from illicit activities and other money-laundering operations. In collaboration with similar services, it is also involved in an international teaching programme to perfect police and customs training in financial investigation techniques. Since 1985 seminars, on such training have been held in Botswana, Kenya and Puerto Rico to provide basic knowledge, to promote the creation of multidisciplinary investigation teams at the national level and to facilitate international cooperation with similar services.

Specialized training

ICPO/Interpol, which has long been convinced of the necessity of training in drug law enforcement, has-issued numerous information publications on the subject and has developed teaching aids. One of its most successful teaching programmes involves the use of slides. Produced and -later updated with financial assistance from the former United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control, the teaching material for the programme consists of 318 slides accompanied by a text to be read aloud during their projection. The slides provide instruction in drug identification, illicit trafficking, the characteristics and treatment of drug addiction the destruction of illicit plantations and the introduction of substitute crops. Originally intended for use by drug service personnel, the programme can easily be adapted to suit more general audiences.

ICPO/Interpol, in conjunction with the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) and CCC, has developed a strategy to make drug law enforcement training more uniform. The strategy will facilitate the use of existing training resources within the three organizations in the most effective manner. Priority will be given to a programme for "the training of trainers", which will enable trainees to pass on their expertise in drug law enforcement to others in their home countries.

Specialists from the Drugs Sub-Division are frequently called on to lecture in drug-related training courses sponsored by international organizations and regional or national law enforcement services. In response to that demand, ICPO/Interpol has taken the initiative in developing drug law enforcement training programmes geared to countering illicit traffic in psychotropic substances.

The training programme is for police, customs officers, and regulatory officials responsible for controlling drugs. It can be adapted to meet the specific needs of trainees in different regions of the world with different professional qualifications.

Automated search facility

The expected upsurge in drug trafficking and the ingenuity of drug traffickers have resulted in improvements being made in the capabilities of ICPO/Interpol in communication technology. Because of the prospect of frontiers disappearing in Europe and the increased use of drugs throughout the world, advanced techniques, such as an automated search facility, will be needed to combat international crime more effectively in the 1990s. National central bureaux will be able to use microcomputers to gain access to selected information in computer files at the General Secretariat. The automated search facility will reduce from several hours to a few seconds the time needed to reply to an inquiry. The facility, which will become operational in 1992, will make ICPO/Interpol one of the most advanced and efficient police message response centres in the world.

International cooperation

For many years, ICPO/Interpol has cooperated closely with other international organizations involved in fighting or monitoring drug traffic, particularly United Nations entities such as UNDCP and the World Health Organization. It has also cooperated with the Association of South-East Asian Nations; the Colombo Plan Bureau; the Council of Europe, including its Pompidou Group; CCC; the Permanent Secretariat of the South American Agreement on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances; the Organization of American States and the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation.


Illicit drug trade, including its supply, transport and consumption aspects, transcends not just national but also regional boundaries, giving an inter- national dimension to the challenges that it poses. ICPO/Interpol, an intergovernmental organization mandated since 1923 to collect information related to crime, to collaborate with member States and to coordinate crime control measures worldwide, has developed highly sophisticated systems for gathering and disseminating intelligence. This augurs well for future efforts to counteract illicit drug trafficking.



United Nations publication, Sales No. E.91.XI.6.


United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 976, No. 14152.


Ibid., vol. 1019, No. 14956.