Addressing Chemical and Explosive Threats Through INTERPOL's Project Watchmaker

By Mr. Lasha Giorgidze, Specialized Officer and Project Watchmaker lead, Counter-Terrorism CBRNE & Vulnerable Targets (CBRNE-VT) Sub-Directorate, INTERPOL

INTERPOL is an inter-governmental organization with 195 member countries to help police work together make the world a safer place. To do this, INTERPOL enables law enforcement around the globe to share and access data on crimes and criminals, and offers a range of technical and operational support. All of our countries are connected via I-24/7, our communications system. Countries use this secure network to contact each other, and the General Secretariat. It also allows them to access our databases and services in real-time, from both central and remote locations. INTERPOL also coordinates networks of police and experts in different crime areas, who come together through working groups and at conferences to share experiences and ideas. INTERPOL supports member countries in countering CBRNE threats by implementing prevention and response mechanisms, involving all agencies concerned such as police, customs, border controls, public health professionals, the military, and intelligence services. One of the initiatives in this field is Project Watchmaker, which supports the ability of INTERPOL member countries to prevent and respond to chemical or explosive attacks and threats by collecting, analyzing and sharing intelligence on bomb-makers, devices, materials and networks.

A GLOBAL CONCERN

Terrorists use chemical and explosive devices to indiscriminately kill and injure tens of thousands of people every year. These individuals do not limit their activity to a single country, but seek to transfer knowledge on device manufacturing and concealment techniques in order to spread their use across international borders. The use of biological, radiological or nuclear materials, and technologies such as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) can further enhance the devastating effects of these devices.

PROJECT OBJECTIVES

INTERPOL’s Project Watchmaker is a global, neutral platform, which allows specialized agencies in member countries to exchange information to counter the threat of chemical or explosive attacks. It also seeks to enhance national capabilities in chemical and explosive prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. Project Watchmaker was formally launched in 2015, following an initiative by the inaugural International Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (CIED) Leaders’ Forum. The Forum clearly supported the creation of a Global Alliance to unite and focus efforts in combating the IED threat. Under this umbrella, a coalition of willing partners has been developing a coordinated international effort based on four interconnecting key pillars: component controls, capacity building, public awareness and information sharing. As a global, neutral organization with the means to exchange both unclassified and classified information between member countries, INTERPOL was uniquely positioned to lead and support information sharing efforts to counter IEDs. While Project Watchmaker’s main area of focus was initially IEDs, developments in the global threat landscape led INTERPOL to include Chemical Warfare Agents, Explosive Precursor Chemicals, and Toxic Industrial Chemicals that can be used in the manufacture of chemical or explosive devices. The Project also covers IEDs enhanced with biological, radiological, or nuclear materials, as well as emerging technologies, such as UASs, used to deploy chemical or explosive devices.

SCOPE & STRUCTURE

Terrorist groups within certain regions can be characterized by their use of devices, their manufacture and the modi operandi. For this reason, Project Watchmaker applies a country or regionally tailored approach to its programming. This enables INTERPOL to provide targeted support in terms of data collection and analysis and to coordinate effective cross-border operations. Project actions and deliverables in these countries and regions are structured around four targeted activities: 1. The identification of individuals involved in the acquisition, manufacture or use of chemical or explosive devices, or those enhanced with CBRN materials, and emerging technologies used to deploy these materials; 2. The identification of devices through component material sourcing, device profiling, signature characterization, tactical characterization, technical categorization, and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) development; 3. Intelligence analysis, including trend and pattern analysis, linking devices to individuals, identification of precursor trends and illicit movements, and identification of device construction regional trends; 4. Operational activities to assist member countries identify, locate and arrest targeted individuals by collecting and sharing biometric data and with nominal information retrieved from travel and identity documents.

WATCHMAKER AS AN INFORMATION SHARING TOOL

To support investigations, INTERPOL coordinates the exchange of information including component material sourcing, device profiling, signature characterization, trend and pattern analysis, as well as tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) related to chemical and explosive incidents. This information is stored in INTERPOL’s databases to establish links between individuals and devices, observe regional trends, and identify travel movements of individuals. Tactical and operational analysis allows us to transform data into actionable intelligence. Analytical reports are subsequently distributed to beneficiary member countries as a supplementary tool to inform decision-makers, military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies. INTERPOL Notices, which are international requests for cooperation or alerts, are also distributed to warn law enforcement agencies of the transnational movement of targeted individuals, identify a new modi operandi, and highlight emerging threats.

WATCHMAKER AS AN OPERATIONAL TOOL

Project Watchmaker actively operationalizes the data provided by countries, which ultimately supports the detection of targeted individuals as they cross international borders, thereby alerting countries to take appropriate legal action. This is achieved through initiatives that pair operations at major but vulnerable air, sea and land borders by training local officers in database use and border control skills. Both permanent and temporary access to databases in such locations, and access to INTERPOL’s expertise in forensics, specialized training and investigative skills, remain key components of this approach.

WATCHMAKER AS A BIOMETRICS COLLECTION MECHANISM

Project Watchmaker facilitates the exchange of nominal and biometric data related to known and unknown terrorists who display patterns consistent with efforts to weaponize chemical or explosive materials. This information and intelligence is collected from sources such as national authorities, battlefields, prisons and hotspots, through a coordinated approach from military, judicial, and law enforcement bodies. Nominal and biometric data forms a key component of the information included in terrorism-related INTERPOL Notices, allowing relevant national agencies to share critical crime-related information and prevent terrorists from weaponizing chemical or explosive materials.

A U T H O R

Lasha Giorgidze is a Specialized Officer and Project Watchmaker lead who has worked for INTERPOL's Counter-Terrorism CBRNE & Vulnerable Targets (CBRNE-VT) Sub-Directorate since 2013. Before joining INTERPOL, he served in law enforcement agencies in Georgia for more than eight years, including managerial positions. Currently, he has been planning and implementing a number of projects directed at enhancing INTERPOL member country capabilities in CBRNE prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.