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Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward C. O’Callaghan Delivers Remarks At INTERPOL Washington’s 50th Anniversary Celebration


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

It is my honor to speak today at the 50th Anniversary of the United States National Central Bureau for INTERPOL.  Today is a great day to celebrate the storied history of INTERPOL Washington, and recognize all of those who have contributed to its innumerable successes over its first half century.

It is great to see that so many important guests have come together to join this celebration, including the acting Deputy Secretary David Pekoske of the Department of Homeland Security.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) appreciates the close working relationship we share with DHS, and we are grateful for their dedicated contributions to the mission of global security.

In addition to recognizing DHS’s important contribution to the success of INTERPOL Washington, it is great to see many Directors of INTERPOL Washington, past and present, here today who have served as great stewards for this organization over the past half century.  I want to thank current Director Wayne Salzgaber and Deputy Director Michael Hughes for their continued leadership over the important work INTERPOL Washington does every day. 

We are especially pleased to host this gathering in this majestic Great Hall here at the Department of Justice.  Many great Attorneys General and other leaders have graced this stage and delivered remarks that have called upon the assembled audience to forge ahead with their respective missions all in the collective goal of promoting the rule of law.  Just outside the doors directly behind us you will also find the magnificent courtyard of the Department of Justice, known as the Great Court, with its fountain reminding us all of the wisdom and integrity that flows through these hallways every single day.

I encourage you to take the opportunity to walk outside to experience the grandeur of this courtyard, and also to read some of the inscriptions on the interior walls – not everyone gets the opportunity or few take the time to take advantage of it.  One of the inscriptions above the entrance recites a Latin phrase, “Privilegium Obligatio,” the English translation of which is “Where there is a privilege, there is an obligation.” At the rededication of the Great Court on July 25, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft described the meaning of that phrase to DOJ when he said: “We have the honor and the privilege of being stewards of justice. With this privilege comes an obligation to uphold and defend the freedoms of all Americans. Today, perhaps more than at any time in our history, it is vital that we pursue this obligation vigorously, for justice has enemies in the world. Her defense is more than an intellectual exercise or an academic pursuit; it is the calling of our time.”  All of us assembled here today have the privilege of working together in the interests of justice to do our best for the countries we represent and our global community.  With that privilege comes the obligation to exercise our authorities, both independently and collectively, consistent with the rule of law.

INTERPOL Washington truly exemplifies the best ideals of teamwork and collaboration in the realm of global law enforcement.  INTERPOL Washington receives sensitive law enforcement information from all 50 states and the federal government to coordinate criminal investigations and responses with the rest of the world.  It receives similar information from virtually every nation on earth to similarly aid their law enforcement efforts and help safeguard their own countries.

INTERPOL Washington, therefore, has been, and remains, after 50 years, the ultimate team player in the domestic and international fight against crime—and you all should be proud of that legacy.  Today, even when nations have differences on many issues, everyone can still count on the basic principle of cooperation that serves as the foundation of this organization: police helping police across the world to keep innocent people safe and bring criminals to justice. 

The primary mission is simple: identify, locate, apprehend and assist in the lawful extradition of fugitives subject to valid criminal prosecution in member states. The typical U.S. example follows a case pattern I saw often as an Assistant U.S. Attorney: A Boston heroin dealer, knowing that the Drug Enforcement Administration is zeroing in on him or has obtained a warrant for his arrest, flees the country to avoid prosecution.  The Boston Police Department and DEA contact INTERPOL Washington, who swiftly files a red notice to ensure the criminal does not escape justice.  When he is located, our international partners—border authorities, police, and other government officials—coordinate information.  Charging documents and arrest warrants are lodged. The extradition process is pursued and court orders and foreign ministry decisions are obtained to ensure that extradition occurs.  And ultimately, thanks to the efforts of INTERPOL Washington and the partners with whom they collaborate, the criminal is returned to the United States to face justice for committing federal crimes.

INTERPOL Washington works closely with law enforcement leadership from our 50 states to ensure they are receiving the most current and accurate information they can from the INTERPOL platform so that it can be deployed to fight crime and protect our law enforcement officers. They have an ongoing effort called “FEDERATION” that allows state queries of “N-LETS” to also query international criminal and wanted person data on the INTERPOL data system platform.  There are currently 14 states who have adopted this tool and more are coming on line each year.  For instance, in just the last month the state of Colorado joined those states who have adopted this tool and their queries of INTERPOL data skyrocketed from approximately 700 each month to over 330,000 just in the month of August.  This tool helps keep our officers on the streets safe and ensures that our state and local partners have every bit of information about the individual they are encountering.  

Indeed, over the past 50 years, INTERPOL Washington has become much more than just an arrest clearinghouse.  The greatest testament to its tradition of cooperation and excellence is that so many governmental agencies rely on it for so much more than criminal investigation coordination.  If there is a law enforcement emergency, or even just a general public safety emergency, either inside or outside of the country, it is INTERPOL Washington that taps into this already existing communication network to address it. 

Whether it is identifying and locating stolen cultural artifacts, processing DNA checks of South American drug dealers, the phone location data of a child kidnapped in France, or a teenager in India posting online a threat to harm himself, it is INTERPOL Washington that often gets the call from our domestic and international partners.  Earlier this year, the USNCB’s Operations Center was contacted by the NYPD who reported they received a 911 call from a concerned citizen who received a text message from a family member on vacation in Chile.  The NYPD reported that the vacationing family member had texted their relative in New York the latitude and longitude of their small boat which was disabled off the coast during a site seeing cruise.  Evidently, the vessel did not have any way of communicating with rescue personnel on shore as the vessel had lost power.  The USNCB took this information and dispatched it to authorities in INTERPOL Santiago, resulting in the Chilean authorities locating the distressed vessel and rescuing eight U.S. citizens and two Chilean nationals.   

This episode shows that INTERPOL Washington lives up to its reputation for being there when countries need each other, and for being there always: a law enforcement agency that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.  INTERPOL Washington takes no days, hours, or even minutes off.     

But as we look forward to the next 50 years, there are many challenges ahead.  Illegal fentanyl importation from foreign countries has threatened the health and safety of United States citizens.  Fentanyl is now the top cause of drug overdose deaths, and drug overdose is the top cause of death in the United States for people under the age of 50.

Cyberattacks and crime imperil our privacy, property, and even national security.  Cyber actors destroy computer systems, steal data, engage in cyberfraud, violate personal privacy, infiltrate critical infrastructures, and pursue malign foreign influence operations. 

And consistent with that dilemma, we now must pursue criminal organizations that have found ever more inventive ways to enshroud their misdeeds in digital encryption or the “dark web.”  Child pornography, firearm trafficking, narcotics dealing, contract killings, illegal weapons sales and other serious crimes often thrive in these zones of anonymity and darkness.

However the Department addresses these criminal issues of our time, we recognize INTERPOL Washington’s unique importance as part of the international solution to these problems.  INTERPOL Washington is the principal avenue to consult, interface, and speak with our international law enforcement partners on these critical issues.  INTERPOL has taken the lead in new human trafficking initiatives, as well as developing projects to address the opportunities and threats posed by drone technology.  As we have in the past, we will continue to call on INTERPOL Washington to help us confront the criminal problems of this era.  

In addition to these criminal threats, it is important to acknowledge the threat to the institution of INTERPOL itself posed by countries that abuse its trust and seek to misuse its capabilities. Over the past few years, it is well documented that countries have issued red notices for political dissidents who have committed no real crime except to speak out against the government of their country.  We cannot allow INTERPOL to be weaponized against journalists, dissenting voices, and oppressed minorities.  We must ensure, with your help, that INTERPOL remains a system designed to catch those who seek to escape criminal justice, not those who endeavor to escape persecution.

In recent years, it appeared that system was in peril.  In October 2018, a month before the INTERPOL general assembly, its President—Meng Hongwei of China—disappeared after leaving INTERPOL headquarters in Lyon, France for his home country.  His wife reported him missing, while media reported that Chinese authorities had snatched him as part of some undescribed “investigation.”

The sudden arrest of the President of this prominent international law enforcement organization symbolized the trouble posed by individuals and countries who do not respect the rule of law and the legal order of INTERPOL.  In the vacuum caused by the President’s sudden disappearance, many reported that Russia sought to fill the vacancy caused by his absence by having their own candidate elected President, thereby seeking to take control of the leadership of Interpol.   Much uncertainty fell over the future of the organization in the weeks that preceded the 2018 general assembly. 

Serving as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General at the time, I can attest to our Department’s commitment and contribution to preserving the integrity of this organization and the rule of law that underpins its existence.  When the time for the General Assembly came last November, our former Deputy Attorney General (DAG), Rod Rosenstein, gave an impassioned speech to the INTERPOL General Assembly in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

He spoke about many of the same subjects and issues discussed today.  He identified the peril of cyberattacks.  He spoke of the concealment of crimes on the dark web.  But he principally spoke of the global rule of law—and its importance to sustaining INTERPOL and the countries that comprise it.  He related that the rule of law was essential to the function of criminal justice throughout the world, and to the function of this great organization that was built upon the trust that those who commit crimes will be brought to justice, no matter where they are.  In these remarks, DAG Rosenstein reminded the General Assembly, and all of us, of the obligations that we owe to this organization. 

This speech, notably, took place under the shadow of the alarming void in the President’s office, the increased abuse of the red notice system by some nations, and the designs of an ambitious sovereign who saw INTERPOL as a possible tool to deploy against domestic and foreign enemies.  However, in the face of such dire threats, the members of this great organization stood up and voted in favor of maintaining the rule of law by electing an Interpol President who will work with the rest of the body to maintain its integrity and promote its appropriate deployment of law enforcement cooperation.  Indeed, the election of current President Kim Jong Yang stands as a crucial victory for maintaining and advancing the rule of law through the righteous operation of this important global law enforcement body.

Accomplishing what has been called in the American press a “diplomatic victory,” would not have been possible without the strong leadership of Director Wayne Salzgaber over INTERPOL Washington.  From my personal involvement in the efforts, I know it was Director Salzgaber who spearheaded the effort to mobilize resources and relationships from DOJ, DHS, Congress, and the State Department to accomplish the result we achieved.   

INTERPOL Washington should not rest on its laurels.  We must stay vigilant to ensure that this venerable institution remains the bulwark of international justice. 

You all have accomplished so much over the last 50 years.  Thousands of criminals all over the world have been extradited and brought to justice for crimes committed against innocent people in countries across the globe.  Lives have been saved.  International relationships have been built and maintained. 

Thank you all for a half century of professionalism, cooperation, law, order, and justice.  As we enter the next half century, we are all assured that this great institution, with the proper international support and in the best traditions of advancing global rule of law, will continue to deploy all the tools it has at its disposal to accomplish its mission and keep our country, our international community, and fellow citizens safe.

Updated September 17, 2019