EVENT TRANSCRIPT: How Russia Abuses Interpol – And How To Stop It
DATE: 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm 25 September 2018
SPEAKER: Dr. Theodore R. Bromund
EVENT CHAIR: Sophia Gaston
FULL NAME OF FIRST SPEAKER: Dr. Theodore R. Bromund
Sophia Gaston: Hello everyone, although we may not need it “inaudible” a more intimate discussion tonight. My name is Sophia Gaston I’m the deputy direction here at Henry Jackson Society and also just launching here a new research centre called the Centre for Social and Political Risk which will be publishing its first paper next month. I am delighted to welcome here tonight Dr. Ted Bromund, he is from the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom. We are obviously here to talk this evening about the subject of Interpol and Ted is a really eminent expert on this topic. He’s written extensively on the subject for the Heritage Foundation and of course all sorts media outlets and has been an expert witness in several Interpol cases in the US and in the UK as well so we are very privileged to have him here tonight for hopefully quite an in depth discussion about this subject. So welcome Ted.
Ted Bromund: Thank you
Sophia Gaston: And I think we’ll just kick things off because I’m not sure what the level of knowledge about Interpol and its intricacies will be in this room but I think maybe it might be helpful Ted if you can just talk us through a little bit about what Interpol is, and how it’s helpful from a security perspective.
Ted Bromund: Certainly. So Interpol is an international organisation. It legally speaking is actually an organisation of police organisations, which sounds a bit paradoxical, but in practice it’s really an organisation made up of states. Almost every recognised state around the world is an Interpol member, the only significant place that is not is North Korea. So that’s 192 national members. Interpol is structured a little bit like the United Nations, it has a General Assembly which is its supreme authority. There is no Interpol equivalent of the UN Security Council, however. Interpol, below that, has an executive council structure led by a President, and then a Secretary General who handles the day-to-day, week-to-week running of Interpol. Interpol works, you may be familiar with Interpol through Hollywood depictions or movie depictions or television, where you will see Interpol agents crashing through doors, carrying guns, arresting people, all these exciting kind of things. Wipe that image from your mind. All of that is Hollywood fantasy, none of it exists, Interpol agents are not deployed around the world, they don’t carry guns, they don’t arrest people. All of that is non-existent. Really you can understand Interpol best by thinking about it as bulletin board. It’s a bulletin board that police agencies from around the world can stick ‘wanted’ notices on, and other police agencies can look at them and act on them as they see fit. Some of those notices are formalised into a series of coloured notices, most famously the Red Notice. This is commonly called an International Arrest Warrant, it is no such thing. It is merely a formalised statement by Interpol that one of its nations wishes to locate and promises to extradite an individual who’s wanted for a crime. There are also a series of other colours of notices. Interpol also has its own communications network and its own set of essentially “inaudible” forms, that allow an enormous amount of bilateral communication. In other words it doesn’t go through Interpol headquarters. It’s always useful to remember that about ninety-six percent of “Interpol” communications don’t go from one member of Interpol to Interpol headquarters and out to the world. Ninety-six percent or more go direct from one nation to the next without Interpol headquarters being involved in any significant way. So the net result is that you have an organisation that annually publishes most recently in the mid-tens of thousands of Red Notices annually, and upwards, we don’t really unfortunately have a very exact recent figure on this, but around about twenty thousand Diffusions annually. And these are essentially emails from one member state to another member state asking for the location and the arrest of an individual, just like a Red Notice asks. So you end up with thirty five or so thousand arrest requests made in one form of another every year.
Sophia Gaston: And I suppose one of the reasons why most people may have become aware of Interpol recently is this Bill Browder case. Are you able to just quickly explain what happened there but also what it really tells us about Russia and the way in which it’s engaging with the Interpol system?
Ted Bromund: Yeah the Browder case has of course been widely publicised, and it goes without saying that I have enormous sympathy and support for Mr. Browder. But I think it’s also worth bearing in mind before I explain a little bit about his case to bear in mind that Mr. Browder is thanks to his business acumen exceptionally well off and quite capable of defending himself, which does not mean he shouldn’t have our support too, but there are many people out there who are roughly in Mr. Browder’s situation who are very much less well off than he is, and in practical terms I’m much more concerned with them than I am with Mr. Browder. But all that said, Mr. Browder’s case illustrates what’s going on with particular clarity. Mr. Browder, originally an American citizen, now resides in the UK has an interesting family background, his grandfather was the head of the American Communist Party. And, in the, 1930s stood for President I believe twice against FDR, at least once. Mr. Browder decided to take revenge on his family by as he puts it, since his grandfather was the biggest communist in the United States, he would become the biggest capitalist in East Europe. So after the Wall came down he went to Russia and through a series of clever investments, which essentially focussed on trying to root out corruption in the then emerging Russian private sector, and making money when companies soared after competent management was inserted, managed to make quite a startlingly large amount of money. He says it was the most successful venture capital firm every created and I have no good reason to doubt him. Unfortunately it turned out that Vladimir Putin who initially appeared to be an ally of efforts to root out corruption, was actually more interested in taking on the corruption himself rather than genuinely rooting it out. And it then became clear that Mr. Browder was in fact working against Vladimir Putin’s interests rather than in favour of them as he originally had thought. He was expelled from Russia. He managed to sell his assets secretly and get his money out. And after that happened his lawyer, Magnitsky, Sergei Magnitsky, was arrested in the course of a very complicated tax fraud that a series of Russians were attempting to pursue. Magnitsky was held in jail, refused to recant his story, was ultimately beaten to death in a particularly gruesome kind of way, which led Mr. Browder to decide that he would devote the rest of his life to seeking justice for Sergei Magnitsky. This is the origin of the Magnitsky laws, which the UK, Canada, the United States and several other countries have. The Russians took this very poorly, understandably, and decided they would use any and all means possible in order to harass Mr. Browder and make his life difficult. And they settled on Interpol as a pre-eminent form of harassment. So there have been, depending on one counts, at least five Russian efforts to procure a Red Notice on Mr. Browder. Interpol to its credit has rejected these and, you know, I am an Interpol critic but credit where credit is due, they’ve done the right thing here. Russia also has used the Diffusion channel, that is the ‘just send an email’ channel, to get a different form of alert out on Mr. Browder. That went through the system because there are no functional checks whatsoever on Diffusions, and that in turn led to the cancellation of Mr. Browder’s permission to enter the United States, last September, 2017, and his fairly short arrest in Spain this spring 2018, when the Russian Diffusion was found to be lingering in Spanish systems. The only thing that really is exceptional about this case is first that Mr. Browder is a remarkable and very well off individual who has extraordinary abilities to defend himself ,which I’m very grateful for, and secondly that the Russians have been extraordinarily persistent in pursuing him. Unfortunately for individuals who have less good lawyers and fewer resources and a less well equipped Rolodex, it is remarkably easy to get a Red Notice through or even easier a Diffusion, and then you can go to jail for a very long time. I am currently working as an expert witness for one Russian exile in the United States, who has been held in jail in the US for over a year at this point. And just in case you’re interested, he was originally detained when President Obama was in office, and now continues to be detained. I’ve worked for another individual in the United States who was held on a similar spurious Russian Red Notice for over eight hundred days in a US jail and was released only a couple of weeks ago. So it is entirely possible that you will be sent to prison for a very long time, as the result of a Russian Red Notice or Diffusion, and there are other effects of being named in one of these documents that can linger in your life for a very long time if not forever, and make life in the West extraordinarily difficult.
Sophia Gaston: Now Interpol does have some criteria that are in place for assessing whether or not these Red Notices or Diffusions are considered to be worthy of being upheld, and I understand that if they are considered to be political in nature, then they should not be upheld. Can you tell us a little bit more about that actual process internally, how has that judgment been made?
Ted Bromund: There is, Interpol has a constitution which was created in 1956, and it contains most importantly probably Article Three, which as you says requires Interpol to avoid involvement in political affairs, also racial, religious or military affairs, although those don’t tend to come up quite as often. In other words, Interpol is supposed to pursue, or assist its member nations in pursuing, ordinary law criminals only. There are also a series of other requirements, the crime has to be punishable by a sentence of a certain length and so on and so forth. Unfortunately there really is no serious process of assessing what, how, whether or not a Red Notice request that comes in is legitimate or not. And the reason for that is really very simple. Interpol is based on the sovereignty on its member nations, and it assumes that that sovereignty means that all of its member nations are equally respectable and worthy of equal treatment and respect. So there is no such thing in the Interpol mind as a criminal regime. That concept just doesn’t exist. You are a member of Interpol, and if you are Russia you are as worthy of respect and your internal processes are as good as Japan’s, or Finland’s, or Canada’s, or any other decent country that you might care to name. So that’s a fundamental problem to have in a screening system because if your default assumption is that everything is good, that makes it very difficult. As a matter of practice Interpol itself has stated that ninety-seven percent all Red Notice requests go through without any substantive review whatsoever. The only thing that is done is an administrative check to make sure that nations have filled out the form properly. This is not a judicial review, this is not as we would say in the United States probable cause, you do not have to provide any evidence of any variety whatsoever. You do have to say you have an arrest warrant, or an equivalent judicial order. You don’t even have to provide an arrest warrant or judicial order. And that of course is a meaningless requirement if a regime or its judicial system is corrupt, because such an arrest warrant is easily procured. But you don’t even have to show that, if you don’t want to. All you have to do is describe the suspect, describe the laws that the suspect is accused of violating, describe the circumstances of the crime, and check a few other boxes. All of this is done online, it’s a web-based form, it goes into Interpol, and in ninety-seven percent of cases you will get a Red Notice very rapidly. And that notice will go to every Interpol member nation in the world, and if you care to you can make that Red Notice public. And you can look at these Red Notices, slightly redacted, if you go to Interpol.int, their website, right in the top right-hand corner there is a Red Notice database, click on that and you can browse through it. It’s not the complete database. A considerable share of Red Notices are kept private, but many are made public. And if you want to make someone’s life tough, make it a public Red Notice. Because then it gets picked up by every bank that has a Know Your Customer Requirement, it gets picked up by every Know Your Customer firm that’s working for a bank, and in very short order you will be ejected from the international financial system. Your bank accounts will be closed, your credit cards will be terminated, your money will be returned to you in the form of a cashier’s check and I have seen these checks and I have seen the banking correspondence that is produced, and you will be kicked out of the banking system. This database is also his by all the passport and visa systems of every Interpol member nation so, properly speaking, any visas you have will be cancelled, this is what happened to Mr. Browder in the United States case. When you cross the border everywhere you go your passport goes to the Interpol database yet again, and if you’re in the Interpol database, public or private, you will be stopped. At best you will get secondary interrogation, at worst you will be arrested. And that’s true in the United States, it’s true in the United Kingdom, it’s true in a great many other countries, almost every country as well. So it’s an extraordinarily wide-reaching system, and there are very few, really no meaningful checks on whether a Red Notice pertains to a genuine ordinary crime, or whether it is abusive. And that is inherent in the basic Interpol structure of trusting sovereign nations to be equal in their sovereignty and therefore equal in their respectability.
Sophia Gaston: We’ve focussed a lot on Russia of course but I understand that other autocratic regimes like Turkey, China and so on have also been latching on to Interpol as a tool, and that there’s been quite an extraordinary level of growth in the number of these notices that are being applied for and I suppose issued as well, and that much of this growth is actually driven by these autocratic regimes.
Ted Bromund: Yeah the growth stems from a number of things, the autocratic regimes absolutely are part of it. An important fact happened back in 2009. Interpol established what it calls I-link, which is essentially a private email system, and an electronic way of requesting Red Notices. Just a few sort of quick number here. In 1998 Interpol published seven hundred and thirty seven Red Notices. Under a thousand in 1998. 2008, just before I-link and the whole electronic system becomes completely live, it published about three thousand. In 2017 it published over thirteen thousand. So you’ve had massive growth as the result of the creation of I-link. What Interpol did not realise was that that the old system, precisely because it was so cumbersome, offered a sort of practical proof against abuse. It was too difficult to deal with; therefore if you were trying to be abusive it wasn’t really worth your time. The new system is so slick and so fast that it actually makes abuse very easy and therefore very inviting. And people have jumped all over this possibility. The number of Diffusions by the way has also shot through the ceiling. The last time we had a number on Diffusions was 2015, when there were almost twenty-three thousand of them. So again that represents an enormous growth. But you’re absolutely right, this is not just a Russian problem, and I never want to give Russia a break on this, but I also don’t want to leave the impression that everyone else are a bunch of angels and only the Russians are guilty here. The single most abusive state by attempts is almost certainly Turkey. Turkey was caught last summer attempting, I praise Interpol for stopping it, attempting to request Red Notices on no less than sixty thousand people simultaneously. Bear in mind the Red Notice database doesn’t contain sixty thousand entries right now. They were trying to double the Red Notice database in a matter of seconds. Now that related to the purported coup against the Turkish regime, the details of which I don’t really feel we need to go into. But Turkey is remarkably abusive. Venezuela has an incredible record of abuse, less well publicised but certainly abusive. Iran is an exceptional abuser. UAE is notoriously abusive. Central Asian nations are notoriously abusive. A good deal East Africans have a very bad track record. People’s Republic of China draws less attention, but is certainly ranked among the most abusive states out there. And there are others. So this is not simply a Russian problem. The reason, I believe, that the Russians have drawn the most attention, is really pre-eminently because of Mr. Browder. Which is why, I’m always very supportive of Mr. Browder, but I don’t want to see this issue be reduced into a ‘Bill Browder versus the Russians and Interpol’ problem, because it is really much, much, much larger than that. The really sinister thing here is that it’s not I-link that is causing all of this abuse, we shouldn’t put it that way, I-link creates the possibility. What is sinister is that ten years ago, the idea of abusing Interpol, it was there, but there wasn’t much of it. Dictators are learning from each other. They have realised that the controls on abuse are too low, that abuse is easy, that it is effective, and they’ve realised that it doesn’t take much to do. So naturally people are copying abusive examples from one country to the next to the next to the next. I’ve just earlier this morning published on Forbes a two part study on the number of Red Notices that are annually deleted by Interpol, and I could talk at great length about how that happens. This, in 2016, Interpol deleted, this is an estimate but it’s an informed estimate, probably about a hundred and seventy Red Notices. Those weren’t deleted from 2016, they were probably mostly from 2015 because it, you know, takes six months or so to work through the system. The previous year Interpol deleted about half that number, about eighty-five. I wish I could be more precise but even working those numbers out takes about four pages of calculations and sort of working through various published numbers. So you’re seeing about a doubling currently in actual discovered, detected, reported and rejected abuse every year. And that does not of course include the enormous number of Red Notices or Diffusions that are abusive that don’t make it to the Interpol process, that are just lingering out there. I have no idea how many they are, I do not certainly believe that anything like a majority of Interpol’s business is abusive. That would be grotesque and there’s no way it’s anywhere close to that large. But most of the experts that I talk with about this issue, we’re inclined to believe that abuse is probably about five percent, maybe ten, but that’s simply a guess, right, it’s simply that’s simply a guess. All we can say for certain is that the abuse problem is growing, and it is growing much more rapidly than the number of Red Notices is growing, which itself is growing quite rapidly.
Sophia Gaston: Some people would look at what’s happening with Russia and their use of Interpol and many of these other countries and say, well, shouldn’t we be removing them from the system altogether, shouldn’t they be expelled for bad behaviour. Can you talk us through a few reasons why that would not be a good idea.
Ted Bromund: I endorse that approach wholeheartedly, and then I have to add that it’s not going to happen. And there are many things that we can do that would be much more constructive than arguing about whether or not Russia should be expelled from Interpol. The common argument against doing that is that expelling Russia would create a black hole in which criminals could hide easily. Well my response to that is, you’re telling me that without Interpol’s membership Russia would be run by criminals? This to me is just not a sensible answer to the question of whether we should or should we expel Russia. The problem is that the only entity that can expel Russia is Interpol’s General Assembly. Interpol’s General Assembly last fall voted three-to-one to admit the Palestinian Authority as member of Interpol, in spite of the fact, as I’ve detailed in an extraordinarily long paper on the subject, the Palestinians repeatedly stated that they plan to abuse Interpol before they got into it, and they were admitted anyhow. What are the odds that a General Assembly which voted three-to-one in favour of the Palestinians will vote the Russians out? What are the odds that a member of the United Nations General Assembly would be expelled? They are zero. Why is that? Because there are too many people in the room who know that if one nation is expelled, they might well be next. So that is not going to happen. I think it’s a great idea, but it is not a useful recommendation. Let me suggest something that we could do, however. Interpol does allow its General Secretariat, its administrative core in Lyon, France, to suspend Interpol member nations, certainly for up to three months. The Western nations together, the top fourteen democracies paid in about forty million dollars of the fifty-three million dollars that Interpol receives annually in statutory contributions. And the democratic share if you take in voluntary contributions is even higher than seventy-four percent. I would suggest that the top contributing democracies go to Interpol Secretariat and say ‘you will start suspending abusive nations’. Until the next General Assembly meeting because that all you’re legally allowed to do. ‘And if you don’t do that your salaries are personally at risk’. I think that that has the potential to attract some interest in the Interpol Secretariat. I’m quite convinced that no other step other than a threat of removal of financial contributions from the nations that pay the overwhelming share of Interpol’s finances will draw a serious response.
Sophia Gaston: What else could be done to re-design the system. If only a fraction of these notices are being reviewed is that an issue with manpower, could more money and more personnel actually help this?
Ted Bromund: Coming from a conservative foundation as I do, it may surprise you but I do think that we should probably be contributing more to Interpol, under certain conditions. But it is really not practical to think that one can annually review in substance something like fifteen thousand Red Notices. This is just not a practical recommendation. And what’s more if you did that, you would immediately push a lot of the abuse into the Diffusion system, which has no controls whatsoever. So focussing on Red Notices is just, as long as the Diffusion system remains out there and uncontrolled, it’s a balloon, you can squeeze the abuse into another part of the system, but you haven’t really solved anything. I would suggest a couple things. First, don’t make the system worse. Interpol is currently launching a voice database, a database that contains samples of voices. Nations are not supposed to contribute voice samples unless they are from a person who is genuinely credibly accused of a crime. It’s not easy to get someone’s fingerprints covertly. It can be done, obviously, but it takes an effort. It is terribly easy to get a voice sample in this day and age of cell phones. What kind of abusive potential are we creating for autocratic regimes around the world to collect voice samples from dissidents, or political opponents, or inconvenient businessmen, stick them in the voice database and say ‘we intercepted this unknown voice while surveying terrorists or criminals’. It’s so easy. I recognise a voice database could have useful purposes. It should be cancelled nonetheless. The abusive potential is too high. Second, the leadership of Interpol is a disgrace. Its President, Meng Hongwei, is the former head of the Chinese Political Police. Yes, the current head of Interpol is a Chinese secret policeman. Its European Vice-President, Alexander Prokopchuk, is the former head of the Russian NCB, which is the Interpol branch of Russia. He therefore bears a direct and personal responsibility for all Russian abuse of Interpol that took place, including the pursuit of Mr. Browder, before he took on his current job of Interpol. And yet, he is the European Vice-President of Interpol. My view is that the West, as these positions rotate into vacancy, should put up clean candidates from the West, and should then go around to other Interpol member nations and tell them quite firmly that ‘You will vote for our candidates or there will be repercussions. We have a financial power here and we will use it unless you vote for clean people’. So start kicking people out. And over time, I think we could probably get back to the democratic dominance of Interpol, which we’ve only lost over the last couple of years. So start taking personnel seriously. Third, we should ban abusive states, and by we I mean the United States and the UK, and other democratic countries, we should ban abusive nations, starting with Russia, from accessing the data we supply to Interpol. We are entirely within our rights to do that, that is an unquestioned right of an Interpol member state. We can lock the Russians and other abusive states out of all of our data. We should do so. We should also announce a policy that we will not respect the Red Notices or Diffusions produced by any Interpol member state that does not have the right to access our data. Just a simple non-cooperation policy. I’ll stop with this last one, but I do have about seven or eight more, and some of them are even more fun. We should use all our branches of Interpol, every Interpol member nation is something called the National Central Bureau, NCB, which is run and funded by that member nation. It’s convenient to call it Interpol’s branch in that country but really it’s that country’s corresponding office with Interpol. We should use our NCB’s to actually intervene with Interpol’s headquarters when Interpol’s headquarters is considering a request that we think is potentially abusive. It is our unquestioned right under the Interpol system to do this. Interpol itself says that NCB’s from around the world play a vital role in policing the system, and make sure it remains unabusive. We should carry out that role. By and large Western NCB’s focus more on requesting things themselves rather than policing other people’s requests. If we don’t police the system, who will, so we should start following the rules there. You’ll notice that everything I’ve recommended is scrupulously within Interpol’s rules. The problem is not Interpol’s rules. The problem is our willingness to take action within those rules to make sure that Interpol stays focussed on ordinary crimes. That is the problem.
Sophia Gaston: Thinking about what’s going on with Interpol now and sort of taking a step back, how does this for you feel emblematic of broader challenges that many of our multi-lateral, supra-national institutions are facing at the moment?
Ted Bromund: Yeah it’s a really, it’s a really good question, and one of the reasons I got into the Interpol business was precisely because I felt that it was emblematic of both broader opportunities and some really serious problems. Interpol, at its base, is doing something that I regard as a fundamental obligation of civilised people. We should not, the United States, the United Kingdom, whoever, we should not be a refuge for foreign criminals who are justly accused. Right, we should not, you know, allow foreign murderers, or rapists, or, you know, car thieves, et cetera, to take up home in the UK or the United States and say well you know they come from abroad it doesn’t really matter. That is in my view a violation of all of our obligations to civilisation in general. So I think Interpol fulfils what is basically a very right and just purpose. And I have really no complaint, or very few complaints, with its fundamental design. I could go into why, the story of Interpol’s design is a lot of fun, but the problem is not Interpol’s constitution, or its rules, or its procedures basically. The problem is making sure the rules are enforced. And that is the core challenge with a lot of these international organisations. It’s not that the international organisations themselves are badly drawn up or certainly ill-intentioned. But if you want a serious international organisation, it is very difficult to run it on the basis that it’s going to be a universal membership organisation, and it has rules. You can have universal membership, but then you’d better not have too many rules about how you’re going to use the system, because if you have a lot of rules and everyone’s a member, the odds are pretty good that you’re going to have a serious policing problem, trying to make sure that the rules are actually enforced.
Sophia Gaston: Well it’s the European Union with Hungary and Poland right now.
Ted Bromund: It is a great many international organisations. In some respects it is probably the United Nations itself. But really the more you get down to sort of technical organisations that genuinely do things, the worse the problem of enforcement becomes. You can have UN General Assemblies talking shop, and it maybe is credible to have Syria in there, blathering on about human rights, but in some respects it’s worse to have a genuinely functional organisation like Interpol, with the Chinese political police and the Russians at the head of it. That in my view is probably worse because Interpol actually does things. And until very recently there really was not an abuse problem, significantly, in Interpol. Now there is, we have a lot of people in the press, the political realm, everywhere, complaining about the threat to our international institutions, and the liberal international order is in peril. Hey, if you believe, that, step up and start enforcing the rules. If you’re just going to blather on about how the order is in peril, but you’re not actually going to take steps that are completely within the rules, to make sure that a genuinely functional international organisation keeps on doing what it’s supposed to do, and doesn’t do stuff it’s not supposed to do, then I don’t have a lot of sympathy with all your complaints about the end of the liberal international order, because you’ve proven you’re not willing to do anything whatsoever to sustain it.
Sophia Gaston: That sounds like a good moment to open to the floor, so we’ll go to questions now and if you can just say your name and any affiliation that’s relevant. We’ll start with this gentleman here in the second row.
Question One: Neil Barnett, Istok Associates. I’ve worked on a couple cases, one of which had a political dimension the other didn’t, where the people involved were in this sort of Kafka-type situation where they would travel round the world, everything would be fine for years, and then randomly one day they’d be pulled from an airport, interviewed, told there’s an Interpol notice of some kind against them. Maybe they get detained, maybe they don’t, maybe they get their passport held for several months and can’t travel, then it seems to be resolved, they don’t get to the bottom if it and then it happens again a year or two later. And in your experience what exactly is going on here?
Ted Bromund: I can tell you exactly what is going on here. First, I’m sure you know this but you can’t trust people when they say something is an Interpol Notice. Because people don’t know the difference between an Interpol Notice and a Diffusion. So, you know, unless you’re talking to someone who is genuinely knowledgeable just assume you don’t know there. What is happening is that your clients got, and obviously without the details I don’t know myself, they either got a Red Notice, or a Diffusion, or potentially both at some point. And, Diffusions can be sent to only one country, or several countries, or a selected group of countries. Red Notices have to go to everyone. So in circumstances when someone is being stopped at one border but not at another, I’m very, I’m much inclined to blame Diffusions for this. That is not an absolute give-away but it’s very diagnostic it’s probably a Diffusion. The other possibility is that it was a Red Notice that was rescinded. But nations have the ability to download the Interpol database, which I would say is something that should definitely be changed because what happens is, a Diffusion is transmitted or a Red Notice published, it is later deemed abusive and revoked, but someone has already downloaded the database and they don’t update it. They are required to update it by Interpol’s rules but they don’t update it. And so this is what happened to Bill Brower when he went to Spain this spring. There was a Russian Diffusion back in the fall of 2017, it was cancelled as non-compliant, but the Spanish had already downloaded it, and they didn’t update their systems. So their system generated a warrant for his arrest. When he got into the country he showed his passport, not at the border, it’s an EU country, he showed it at the hotel. The hotel reported it to the police. The Spanish system then triggered, he’s got an Interpol ‘warrant’ on him, which is not the right terminology but police never understand what they’re talking about in these sorts of situations, and then he was arrested. Now he was released when his lawyers and the Spanish government went and talked to Interpol and Interpol said ‘No, no, no this isn’t us,’ and then a sort of tiresome squabble ensued where Interpol blamed the Spanish, correctly, and the Spanish blamed Interpol, et cetera. So the thing to do in this kind of situation, and it is Kafka-esque because if you want to appeal to Interpol, specifically Interpol CCF, the Commission for Control of Interpol Files, you have to first prove to the CCF that Interpol holds data relevant to you before you can file a case. But of course the data is secret. So you, it is genuinely Kafka-esque, I mean there are people out there who have been trying to appeal what is clearly a Red Notice or a Diffusion for years but it’s not public. So they can’t prove they’re in the database. But if you can’t prove you’re in the database you can’t file a case to get out of the database. Remarkable. So, you know, your clients need to go to the CCF with any evidence you can muster, and there is a real evidentiary problem here, to make sure that they are out of the Interpol system. And then unfortunately you have to go nation by nation, yeah, I mean I can see some people’s eyebrows in the audience going up, but there’s no other way. I mean, if I had a Red Notice on me or a Diffusion, I would know if I had a Diffusion, but if I had a Red Notice and I knew it, there are a lot of countries I simply would not go to. There was a case, and I find this incredible, and innocent, I’m not even going to say here name because she’s had enough trouble in her life already, a completely innocent British housewife had a Red Notice published on her as a result of a bungle by the British NCB earlier this year. Well of course it was deleted. Who has downloaded that? Right? I, if I were her I wouldn’t go to Spain ever again in my life, alright, I would never take a Mediterranean holiday and I sure as hell wouldn’t go to Kazakhstan, or a lot of other places, because they will have downloaded this and you don’t know until you show up. And, you are unlikely to be deported to Russia coming from the UK, you know, the British government will make representations, other people will chime in, you’ll probably be okay. But if you’re Turkish, or you’re Bulgarian, you know, many other possibilities here you could quite well be deported back to wherever the place is that wants you. So I mean I wish I had a better course of action for you, but what’s happening is – is very, very clear – and it’s one of my core recommendations Interpol should stop giving nations the ability to download chunks of the Interpol database. That may have been a justifiable approach twenty years ago, when internet connections were slow and sometimes kind of wonky. My view now is that any nation that doesn’t have a reliable internet connection is not sufficiently competent to be regarded as a legitimate Interpol member. And they should, you shouldn’t be allowed to download stuff. That doesn’t solve the problem, but it would make it much tougher for nations to get Interpol grit in their systems and keep on rumbling around for years and years and years.
Sophia Gaston: Thank you very much. This gentleman here in the front row.
Question 2: You referred again to Mr. Browder apparently he handed over a file on Russians money laundering.
Ted Bromund: Yes, he’s been most assiduous in this.
Question 2: And the national government crime agency was having a money laundering investigation into that, and I read that that’s been closed down by someone in the Foreign Office. Why would the Foreign Office seek to do that, and how is it that they can override the law?
Ted Bromund: Well, I think this takes me a little bit outside of my area of expertise, since I am really more of an Interpol expert than a money laundering expert, so I think this takes me a little bit away from what I really know a decent amount about. I guess I would say, I’m not by any means approving of British government action here insofar as understanding what’s going on, but it is of course always up to the potential prosecuting authority to decide if they care to pursue allegations, and in Mr. Browder’s case I have no doubt these allegations are exceptionally well founded, that a crime has been committed. For what it’s worth I think the British government if I understand the case correctly, has made the wrong decision here. But there is nothing here that is going to involve Interpol one way or another. At least not, sort of, on the facts of the case as I understand them.
Sophia Gaston: The gentleman in the blue at the back.
Question 3: Thank you very, very much indeed, (inaudible) vigorously taking notes. The only reason I arrived ten minutes late is I was in conversation by accident in the street with a renowned anti-money laundering expert who was visibly annoyed that he couldn’t attend because of a private engagement he wasn’t aware that (inaudible).
Ted Bromund: Thank you very much.
Question 3: The name’s Euan Grant, I’m a former customs and excise intelligence analyst for the ex-Soviet states. I subsequently worked with the border guard HQ and the state security service in Ukraine. I’m now with the Institute of Statecraft. I’ve met Mr. Browder several times. My question is, in relation, in the case of Mr. Browder and perhaps a few other very high profile cases, had, were the Spanish authorities aware of the existence of Google, because surely a quick search would’ve been “inaudible”, there’s a lot more, I would also say, that applies to the US as well.
Ted Bromund: It does, yes, yes quite right.
Question 3: But also, basically, are we, now given that these numbers have shot up, is enough being done to raise the quality profile and properly resource qualitatively the staffing levels. We could be here all night if we went into further on that article about John Benton and so on. All I would say, from personal experience I would tend to side with John Benton but there’s a lot, lot more to that, an awful lot more.
Ted Bromund: Well those, those are two really good questions which I think cut to the heart of a lot of difficulties. First on the question of Google. The reason the United States cancelled Mr. Browder’s ESTA, his electronic permission to enter the United States, was is computers. It’s not taken by anyone, it’s simply an automatic database check that the US ESTA system hits the Interpol system, the Interpol-held databases, and if there’s a new Diffusion or a new Red Notice in there, ESTA’s automatically deleted. This is not a policy decision, just computers doing their thing. The same thing is true by the way, if you get a public Red Notice on you and it’s picked up as it almost certainly will be picked up by banks or Know Your Customer firms working for the banks. They’re not interested in the details of your case. They’re interested, and to be fair their legal responsibility is to reduce their liability to fines levied by the Securities Exchange Commission or the US Treasury for having potentially risky customers in the system. So again this is not a decision that’s taken by people. It’s automated. You show up on the public Red Notice database, you will be picked up by a screen by one of these firms, they will report it to Meryl Lynch, Bank of America, you know, Chase, whatever. Chase will look and say ‘Oh, crap, this customer of ours has a Red Notice.’ They’re not going to run off and do a bunch of Google research and construct some complicated case about, you know, how you’re really innocent and your money’s worth keeping, et cetera et cetera. Because even if you’re really rich, like Mr. Browder, the fines that can be levied against you are so enormous that it’s much safer just to throw you out of the system. So, the Google question, it’s a great question, but that’s not the answer. In some ways, weirdly, public Red Notices are worse than secret Red Notices. The only case I can think of where sunshine is not a disinfectant. Alright, sunshine is actually an abuse in the case of public Red Notices. It’s much more likely that secret Red Notices are legitimate than that public Red Notices are legitimate. It’s very strange. So, and with the Spanish case, I don’t want to, I don’t want to put this in sort of a deliberately offensive way, but most of the people who are dealing with the sharp end of Interpol are policemen. They are not there to think about politics or ask interesting questions about whether or not an individual is innocent or guilty. There is a valid warrant for someone’s arrest, and they are going to make the arrest. That is one of the core problems that we have in dealing with the problem of Interpol abuse, is that the bits of our government that relate to Interpol tend to be staffed primarily by policemen. And I make no criticism of that by and large because this is about genuine law enforcement. They shouldn’t be politicians in there, they should be cops. But just as I would not expect a diplomat to be well versed in tracking down dangerous criminals, I would not expect a policeman to be well versed in dealing with Vladimir Putin. So perhaps the bits of our government that deal with Interpol should have a little bit more representation that’s politically savvy, and not rely primarily on cops, who I have no doubt are very, very good at their jobs. And I’ve met some of the people who are responsible on the US side. There are formal US Marshalls, individuals of tremendously distinguished service, but they are not politically aware. I think we should have more political awareness in these sorts of institutions. On the Interpol personnel side, it’s very simple. With thirteen, fourteen, fifteen thousand Red Notices, right now Interpol would have to, if it wanted to review, it would have to review a Red Notice every forty minutes. That’s just not possible, with any level of seriousness. You could double the staffing. Great, you’d have to do one every eighty minutes. You know, for, how long does it take a complicated criminal case in the UK or the US to be sorted out? Months, potentially years. An eighty minute review is no better than a forty minute review. It’s, it, the numbers are too large to rely on any serious review of Interpol Red Notices. Plus, remember, all Interpol member nations are equal. That’s the rule. So, are you going to focus on Russians? Well I sure as heck would. And a number of other nations of course. But that’s not the founding assumption of the organisation.
Question 3: Which gets back to your point about it’s going to have to be committed nations to deal with this themselves.
Ted Bromund: Right, exactly, I mean Interpol’s basic assumptions militate it against it doing the things that are allowed for under its rules. The former head of Interpol, not the President, the Secretary General, Mr. Ronald Noble, an American. I regard Mr. Noble, I am sorry to say is a minor national embarrassment for reasons I will be happy to into. The current day-to-day head of Interpol, Mr. Jürgen Stock, from Germany, I regard as a much more effective, competent and useful individual. But Mr. Noble went on record as saying that the idea of suspending anyone from Interpol membership was, quote, “the craziest idea I’ve ever heard of,” even though it is explicitly allowed in the rules of his own organisation. Well that tells you what level of probability we can attach to Interpol taking any really serious enforcement measures on its own. It’s just not in the DNA.
Sophia Gaston: I think we’ve got time for just one more question because we’ve, we’re getting up really to seven o’clock. I’d like to take a question from this lady here in the second row.
Ted Bromund: Could we do that thing where we round up a few questions and I try to, sort of, not blather on about them too much?
Sophia Gaston: Yeah, okay. Let’s do that. So we’ll start with the lady in the second row, and then we’ll come down to this gentleman here in the front, and this gentleman here on the right.
Question 4: So, “inaudible”. So, it’s more of a comment, and a question as well. Let us imagine that the Western countries go to Interpol and say well, if you don’t suspend Russia and the other abusing nations, we will cut the funding. So let us then imagine that China triples the money that comes from the Western countries. What will happen, some countries will alternative system to Interpol?
Sophia Gaston: Could funding, our one advantage become another noose around their neck?
Question 5: My name’s John Dobson from the EDM, (inaudible). You’ve made me nervous, in that I’m not sure if I want to travel any more. (Inaudible) no reason for me being (inaudible). My question is this. Do you have any data on mis-identities?
Ted Bromund: That’s a good question.
Sophia Gaston: Thank you very much. And this gentleman here to round us off.
Question 5: BBC Russian Service, (inaudible). Have you got (inaudible) how many (inaudible) approximately abusing Red Notices (inaudible) Russia issue and how many of them are politically motivated. And then the question is, also, is it technically possible, politically possible, to confine the vetting of the notices only to publically (inaudible).
Sophia Gaston: Three exceptional questions.
Ted Bromund: Three really, three really sharp questions there. On the question of money, you raise, you raise something that I’ve thought about and worried about quite a lot, that if you use the money weapon does it sort of bounce back on you. I agree there’s a risk here. But there is also a considerable risk in doing nothing, and, it’s not the case that what you’re describing here is not already happening, unfortunately. The guilty party here is the UAE. The UAE has set up what is a very lightly disguised front organisation, the so-called Interpol Foundation for a Safer World, and is then funnelling five million dollars through this purported NGO annually into Interpol. Would you care to take one guess on where the next Interpol General Assembly is going to meet? Just one guess, yeah I think you got it. So it’s not like Interpol is not taking money, it’s only very lightly under the table it’s in their annual report you have to read it fairly carefully to figure it out but it’s there. So it’s not like they’re not already taking money from abusive states. One of my recommendations is that the US and the UK should unilaterally publish all secret Interpol fundraising contracts, and then propose that Interpol in future rely only on national contributions. Just for the sake of fun, let me, let me sort of sum up the other one here. Interpol had a contract with FIFA, to stop corruption in sport. Well, I mean, FIFA does know a lot about corruption, so I can see why one would want to work with them. It has a, it has still a contract with the International Olympic Committee. It has a contract with Phillip Morris, to stop cigarette smuggling. Incredibly, just as the United States government ordered Kaspersky’s anti-virus software off its systems in 2017, out of concern that Kaspersky is linked with Russian security intelligence services, Interpol signed an agreement with Kaspersky, to focus on cyber-crime. They have an incredible ability to take money from really bad, or at minimum self-interested actors. So there is a risk to what you’re proposing, or what I’m proposing, but if we don’t do something, this problem is happening already, so we probably should take some action. To the gentleman’s question about mistaken identities, that’s a really good question. I don’t think that there is a significant mistaken identity problem with Interpol, although I could of course be proven wrong, because I’ve only seen a miniscule, tiny fraction of the amount of Red Notices out there. But generally the requirements for identifying an individual who is subject of a Red Notice or a Diffusion should be enough to prevent mistaken identity. I would, I don’t say that it always does, but I’m not aware of any mistake identity cases. I would be much more concerned as a journalist that if you write something that is disobliging to a particular regime, that a terribly easy way to get back at you is to send out a Diffusion, which is completely secret and has no checks whatsoever, and can have essentially the same effects as a Red Notice. That, that’s where I would get, sort of, the most concerned about, you know, how, how Interpol would intercept with my work. If you’re a well-known public figure, the odds are that you would eventually escape from this octopus. I still wouldn’t want to be in your shoes, however. Third, the question of volume of Russian abuse. I cannot give what I regard as a really solid estimate of the size of Russian abuse, I wish I could. What I can say is if you go to the annual reports of the CCF, the Commission for the Control of Interpol files, and I can give you the web address very easily offline, you can go and you can take a look at the number of nations that, the top ten list of nations that are the subject of complaints that are heard, and I believe acted upon by the CCF, although their wording is very opaque in a lot of these reports. Russia is always at the top of the list, always. And it always has at least twice as many complaints as the second nation down. So, there is no question, now I should immediately add of course that CCF, just because a complaint comes from a country does not mean it is justified. And, you know, it could miraculously be the case that these enormous volume of complaints against Russia are all from wanted criminals who are justly pursued. I think the odds of that are pretty low. So the evidence strongly suggests that Russia is the most frequently caught abusing nation, and it is the most frequently caught abusing nation by a volume of at least a hundred percent over its nearest competitor. I wish I could say more than that, but since we don’t even know how many Red Notices Russia requests, never mind how many it’s granted every year, we really have no basis for assessing, you know, what share is abusive and what share is not. I wish I could do better but unfortunately Interpol statistics are opaque, confusing, irregularly published in reliable formats, and very, very hard to work out. Unfortunately.
Question 5: The Czech Republic figures. The second half of my question was, you know, that, that many of the Russians requests are politically motivated. Can you (inaudible) of the question, just for the, say, members of opposition politicians (inaudible).
Ted Bromund: There are a couple of difficulties with that. First, Interpol would have to know who those people are. And that may not always be very easy. It would require a reasonably serious level of knowledge of Russia, or Ukraine, or wherever, to even deduce who might be a plausible victim of political abuse. The most frequently abused people are almost certainly businessmen, whose business Vladimir Putin has stolen, and he then tries to make this legitimate by accusing them of a crime. But what are the odds that someone at Interpol, who’s probably in most cases not looking at a Red Notice, what are the odds that such an individual would know that such and such a businessman, who is not a public figure, is really the victim of abuse, instead of being justly pursued for tax fraud, or whatever. I think the only credible way that you could hope to do a Red Notice vetting process is to say, Red Notice requests from Venezuela, Russia, Iran, Central Asia, China, and a few other places, Turkey certainly, are extremely likely to be abusive. Therefore, we will basically not look at the British requests, and the French ones, and the Belgian ones, and the Japanese ones, and the Australian ones, because odds are they are probably okay. We’re just going to focus on the top ten most abusive places. Again, I’m afraid that the numbers are too high and the barrier of knowledge is too serious to make that a really viable possibility. It also cuts against the grain of Interpol’s founding idea that everyone is equal. How do you ‘pick on’ Russia, or the PRC, or Iran, or Kazakhstan, without in some way implying that they are less than full and legitimate members of Interpol. And Interpol, even after it rejected the Turkish request for sixty thousand Red Notices, Interpol put out a public statement saying, we work with Turkey on precisely the same basis that we work with everyone else, and everyone with Interpol has equal legitimacy. Well, if you’re not willing to call someone after you’ve just turned down the biggest attempt to abuse Interpol in its entire history, what are the odds that you’re willing to do that with one-off, five-off, ten-off abusive cases. It’s just not in the DNA. It’s a good suggestion in theory, but impractical in reality.
Sophia Gaston: Well, what a huge privilege to hear your really fascinating and comprehensive and meticulous insights there on this incredibly important topic, so thank you very much for joining us and it just falls on me now to call on you to thank Dr. Bromund in the usual way.