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Interpol was hijacked by the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich

Posted in Espionage, Historical articles, History, Law, World War 2 on Thursday, 23 January 2014

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This edited article about Interpol first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 524 published on 29 January 1972.

Interpol arrest smugglers, picture, image, illustration

Interpol officers arresting smugglers by C L Doughty

Shortly after midnight on October 4, 1952, the Dutch vessel Combinatie was sailing calmly and quietly along the southern coast of Spain. She was on her way from Tangier to Malta with a cargo of nearly 3,000 cases of cigarettes, and her master, Captain Van Delft, was on the bridge making sure that everything was in good order for the night.

He was just about to go to his cabin and sleep, when a white motorboat suddenly shot out of the darkness and stopped alongside. There was a sound of machinegun fire, and he was ordered to stop his engines and prepare to be boarded.

A few minutes later five masked and armed men climbed on to the Combinatie, and the ship’s crew was tied up and locked below deck. The vessel was then forced to sail to Corsica, where her cargo was taken ashore and the captain and his men were set free.

This act of piracy on the high seas came under the jurisdiction of no one country. The ship was Dutch, and she was sailing off Spain with a cargo of American cigarettes which was last seen on French soil.

At first Captain Van Delft could not decide who should be notified of the crime. Eventually, after returning to Tangier, he took his story to Interpol – or the International Criminal Police Organisation.

It was not until three years later that the pirates were captured and put on trial for the theft of £40,000 worth of cigarettes. But the crime – and the apprehension of the criminals – was typical of the 11,000 cases which Interpol now deals with each year.

Few people – except international crooks themselves – have much idea of what Interpol actually is and how it operates. Contrary to popular belief, it does not have its own team of detectives, and indeed its entire staff consists of no more than some fifty dedicated men and women – most of whom are concerned with clerical duties.

Interpol’s chief function is the exchange of information, ideas and methods between the police forces of the world. All this is done from a modest grey-stone house at 37 Rue Paul Valery in Paris, and from the organization’s radio station thirty miles outside the city.

A few decades ago there was no such thing as an international police network. Interpol was not even thought of until 1914, when Prince Albert I of Monaco invited a group of prominent policement, jurists and magistrates to meet in the Principality and discuss the problem of world-wide crime and its growth.

The officials at the history-making conference agreed that something must be done to prevent crooks from defying the police forces of individual nations. But before their resolution could be codified and put into effect, the First World War broke out and the revolutionary idea had to be shelved.

It was not until the Criminal Police Congress of 1923 that the scheme was again discussed, and 130 delegates at Vienna laid down the aims and principles of international police co-operation.

Money to launch the organization came from twenty different countries, and it was agreed that the International Police Crime Commission, as it was first called, would work on the following lines:

“To ensure and officially promote the growth of the greatest possible mutual assistance between all criminal police authorities, within the limits of the laws of their countries.

“To establish and develop all institutions likely to contribute to the efficient suppression of ordinary law crime.”

To begin with the organization worked from headquarters in Vienna, when each day it dealt with such offences as the counterfeiting of cheques and money, the forgery of passports, and the apprehension of crooks who had committed crimes in one country and then fled to another to avoid arrest.

It was made possible to remove such offenders. One of the leading members of the organisation in its early days was Ronald (later Sir Ronald) Howe of Scotland Yard.

He supported the opening of the first international radio network in 1934, and saw the number of vital telephone calls each day rise to a maximum of more than two hundred.

With the coming to power of Hitler, however, the Commission was taken over and used by the Nazi Party for its own ends. Despite numerous protests, the headquarters was moved to Berlin, and at the beginning of the Second World War all the files and records were helping to further the progress of the Third Reich.

The Commission came under the control of the German police general, Reinhard Heydrich, and he exerted his influence and power to develop the German espionage service abroad.

International crooks were recruited to work as agents for the German government, and this state of affairs lasted until 1942, when Heydrich was assassinated.

With the defeat of Germany, however, the records were rescued from the ruins of Berlin and the Commission was again set up.

A new and third headquarters was established in the anonymous-looking house in the centre of Paris, and Interpol, as it was re-named, made a fresh start on its war against international crime.

Such offices as the unique Department “S” were set up, in which criminals are listed under 17 different types of offences, and in 177 different physical and personal characteristics.

The men – and women – are filed according to their height, weight, race, complexion, mannerisms, and such identifying marks as scars, moles and tattoos. Their modus operandi, or working methods, are also carefully classified and recorded.

The crimes are divided into three main categories: those of murder, burglary, confidence tricks, theft and assault; false pretences, fraud, smuggling and forgery; and drug trafficking and currency counterfeiting.

The fifty workers at the headquarters are taught to speak the three main international languages – English, French and Spanish – and the fingerprints of some 90,000 known criminals are currently recorded.

The work of the organisation is more concerned with the prevention of crime than the capture of wrongdoers. In 1970, 150,000 messages were carried on its radio network.

Today more than a third of Interpol’s cases involve the distribution and smuggling of drugs, which is recognised as the world’s greatest crime problem. In the period from June 1970 to June 1971 600 arrests were made through the organisation.

At the moment there are 38 member countries, and the Interpol network covers Europe, North Africa, the Near East and South America. Only the United States has so far resigned from the operation for political reasons, and refused to rejoin it.

With the growth of jet travel, and the subsequent “shrinking” of the globe, Interpol realises that its present activities are not forceful or widespread enough. To balance this it plans, in 1973, to open a new and even more powerful radio station in the South of France.

Interpol has seen to it that crime on an international scale is now a losing proposition.

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