With the understanding that “global border security is directly connected to U.S. border security,” INTERPOL Washington has been making great strides with international partners in efforts to catch criminals or terrorists attempting to travel using lost or stolen travel documents, Deputy Director Marc Zimmermann said.
“Project TERMINUS is the outer ring of U.S. border security,” Zimmermann told HSToday Executive Editor Kristina Tanasichuk. “When we can help ensure the Maldives, where we’ve done work, Panama, Indonesia, Nigeria that they’re safe and secure, it’s leading to the safety and security of the American people and that ultimately is our goal.”
Zimmermann was appointed to his current role in 2021, having previously served as assistant director of the Transnational Crime Division at INTERPOL Washington since 2019. He came to INTERPOL after his service as assistant special agent in charge at Homeland Security Investigations in San Francisco. Before that, Zimmermann served as deputy chief of staff for HSI and law enforcement advisor to the counterterrorism coordinator at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington.
INTERPOL Washington is a law enforcement component of the Justice Department. “We come together and exchange law enforcement data to work on capacity building to ensure that we are fighting crime across borders using resources from country to country,” Zimmermann said. Along with the ability to work across DOJ, INTERPOL Washington is able to “leverage the tremendous resources of DHS to bring the full weight of both departments to bear on the deterrence and the dismantlement of transnational criminal organizations.”
“What we’re trying to do is bring information from across 195 countries to the decision makers at the border, the decision makers in rural communities and in cities across America, to ensure the safety and security of the American public,” he added.
Project TERMINUS, a partnership between INTERPOL Washington and the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism that began in 2016, provides expert technical assistance to select countries that want to integrate INTERPOL’s Stolen and Lost Travel Document (SLTD) database – containing records on more than 96 million travel documents – into their border security systems in order to better share information that can lead to the interception of transnational criminals and terrorists as they attempt to travel.
“TERMINUS takes INTERPOL connectivity, INTERPOL information, and extends it out to countries to give them access to the INTERPOL 24/7 communication system – countries that either don’t have the technology or the resources to make it happen,” Zimmermann said. “So we here at INTERPOL Washington, with our partners at State and others, take the technology and the resources that we have and bring it out to these countries.”
Partner nations receiving help through Project TERMINUS include Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Panama, Kyrgyzstan, and Maldives. In October, for example, INTERPOL Washington sent a team to Jakarta who discovered and fixed an equipment failure that was hampering Indonesia’s ability to receive critical INTERPOL Notice data.
“Our first country was Indonesia – now I can tell you 98 percent of all people who enter Indonesia legally have been checked against our systems,” Zimmermann said. “That’s tremendous. That’s 173 border locations in Indonesia.”
“Work that goes on in Indonesia directly affects U.S. border security because we are catching organized crime figures, child pornographers, foreign terrorist fighters in these overseas encounters,” he added. “What does that mean? They will not be at the southern and northern borders of the United States and they will not be at any of the interior ports of entry. So that work that we’re doing overseas directly affects our border security here.”
Zimmermann said that when connectivity was established in Project TERMINUS’ work with Nigeria 147,000 records from the country on lost and stolen travel documents went into the system in the first 45 minutes.
“If there’s not a record in the system of the lost travel document, that travel document can be used by any criminal or terrorist around the world to attempt to enter through legal means another port of entry,” he noted. “So when that passport is uploaded in the INTERPOL system, all INTERPOL countries now have the ability to see that that passport is not valid and can prevent entry into their country, arresting and deporting an individual who shouldn’t be there.”
“Here’s where the INTERPOL system works every day: Each and every person encountered at a port of entry in the United States, each and every person trying to transit over U.S. airspace on a U.S. carrier or fly to the U.S., come on a cruise ship to the U.S., they are checked obviously by CBP,” he continued. The data alerts U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials if “an individual from country X has a stolen passport that’s coming out of the INTERPOL database.”
TERMINUS, Zimmermann stressed, is “just an extension of us securing our border by securing another country’s border through connectivity.”
“We inform decision makers. We’re not at the front line. We’re not on patrol. We’re not out doing the raid at the house,” he said. “We’re providing the information for the decision maker on the ground, for the commander of the command post, and for the senior official back in headquarters or in the field to make large strategic decisions on what they need to do in their area of responsibility.”
Zimmermann said similar concerns that underscore the interconnectedness of global agencies are heard from law enforcement from Africa to Europe: human trafficking, weapons trafficking, border security, and cyber crime.
INTERPOL Washington’s role on the digital border has included facilitating leads with partners for millions of images related to child pornography and the facilitation of threat material as well as counterfeit goods. “You’ll find both overseas and in the United States, whether it’s on social media or some of these gaming sites, there’s threats to schools, mass violence threats, mass shootings and threats to themselves, people talk about suicide – tech companies will reach out to law enforcement to reach out to us or reach out to us directly with a lead, saying this is what we see on our platform, it’s happening in country A, B or C or it’s happening on your platform in the United States, can you facilitate the movement of that threat material,” he said. “And we do it on a weekly basis and we’ve had some tremendous success saving lives in suicide attempts and ending mass violence, shooting threats against schools.”
Zimmermann said both INTERPOL Washington and their international partners are consistently considering how technology can better shape and support their mission.
“Our goal is to ensure information gets into the hands that need it as soon as possible,” he said. “Technology will continue to play an ever-increasing role in this endeavor.”