Interpol, United States National Central Bureau

Interpol, United States National Central Bureau


As the United States branch of Interpol, an international police organization, the National Central Bureau (NCB) in Washington, D.C., serves as a communications clearing-house for police seeking assistance in criminal investigations that cross international boundaries. Directed by the U.S. Attorney General and representing sixteen law enforcement agencies under the Department of Justice in conjunction with the Department of the Treasury, the USNCB focuses on fugitives, financial fraud, drug violations, terrorism, and violent crimes. It can refuse to respond to any of the 200,000 annual inquiries from other nations and, as required by Interpol bylaws, does not assist in the capture of people sought for political, racial, or ethnic reasons.

Although Interpol dates back to 1923, the USNCB did not come into existence until the 1960s because of a lukewarm American attitude toward the organization. Hesitant about the benefits of international policework, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the Department of Justice did not post wanted notices with Interpol until 1936. When J. Edgar Hoover (1895–1972), head of the FBI from 1924 to 1972, observed Interpol's success in apprehending criminals, his subsequent support of the police force prompted Congress to order the Attorney General to accept Interpol membership in 1938. Hoover became the permanent American representative to Interpol with only the FBI authorized to do business with the group. In 1950, Hoover pulled the FBI out of Interpol for reasons that remain unclear. The Treasury, however, continued to maintain informal contact with the organization and became the official U.S. representative in 1958. When the U.S. decided to establish an NCB in 1962 as part of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's fight against organized crime, the history of American involvement dictated a sharing of power between the two agencies, with Justice as the dominant partner.

The NCB became operational in 1969 with a staff of three and an annual caseload of 300. Agents are complemented by computer specialists, analysts, translators, and administrative and clerical support personnel drawn largely from the ranks of the Department of Justice. The agents operate in divisions dedicated to specific investigative areas while the analysts review case information to identify patterns and links. The law enforcement agencies represented at the USNCB include the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the Environmental Protection Agency; the FBI; the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network; the Fish and Wildlife Service; the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS); Internal Revenue Service; U.S. Customs Service; the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Justice, Criminal Division; the Department of State; the U.S. Marshals Service; the U.S. Mint; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the U.S. Secret Service. Additionally, each state, the District of Columbia, and New York City have established points of contact to receive international criminal reports from the NCB.

The USNCB operates by linking the Treasury Enforcement Computer System, the FBI's National Crime Information Center, the INS files, and the DEA records to Interpol. The international organization then funnels information from country to country. Classified information, including the vast majority of international terrorism cases, is not placed by the U.S. into Interpol channels because the flow of intelligence cannot be controlled and there are concerns that terrorists may tap into Interpol's intelligence system to plan strikes against the U.S. However, Interpol is utilized as a weapon against potential terrorists. The U.S. began accepting counter-terrorism cases in 1985. In 1990, the U.S. and Canadian governments established an Interpol Interface between the USNCB and the Canadian NCB in Ottawa. This link allows police to tap into law enforcement networks across the border to verify driver registrations and vehicle ownership.

The USNCB has grown considerably since its founding, responding to the increasing internationalization of crime as well as a jump in the numbers of foreign nationals entering the country. As these trends are likely to continue, the USNCB will likely see its crime fighting role increase in the future.



Anderson, Malcolm. Policing the World: Interpol and the Politics of International Police Co-operation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Bresler, Fenton. Interpol. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1992.

United States Department of Justice and United States Department of the Treasury. Interpol: The International Criminal Police Organization. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2002.


Classified Information
FBI (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation)
DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration)
Department of State, United States
INS (United States Immigration and Naturalization Service)
Internal Revenue Service, United States
Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization)
Justice Department, United States
Law Enforcement, Responses to Terrorism
Secret Service, United States
Treasury Department, United States

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