"Invasion U.S.A."! Tracking the Interpol conspiracy theory through right-wing media

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

Right-wing media figures including Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Chuck Norris have been running with debunked conspiracy theories that President Obama has ceded U.S. sovereignty and given Interpol the right to circumvent the U.S. Constitution and even to arrest U.S. citizens. In fact, as even some conservative commentators have noted in debunking the conspiracy theory, Interpol first received immunity under President Ronald Reagan, that Obama's action does not cede sovereignty, that Interpol has been given the same immunity as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Pacific Halibut Commission, and that Interpol has not gained the right to arrest U.S. citizens.

Executive order does not give Interpol power to arrest U.S. citizens

Obama's action extends Interpol immunity originally granted by Reagan. On December 17, Obama signed an executive order amending a previous executive order originally signed by Reagan that granted certain immunities to Interpol, the international police agency to which 188 countries, including the United States, belong. Under the International Organizations Immunity Act, Reagan gave Interpol "the same immunity from suit and every form of judicial process as is enjoyed by foreign governments, except to the extent that such organizations may expressly waive their immunity for the purpose of any proceedings or by the terms of any contract." Obama's order added that "[p]roperty and assets" of Interpol "wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall be immune from search, unless such immunity be expressly waived, and from confiscation. The archives of international organizations shall be inviolable."

Executive Order amendment process began during Bush administration. The New York Times reported on December 30: "In 1983, President Ronald Reagan extended some rights -- including immunity from lawsuits or prosecution for official acts -- to Interpol, which was holding its annual meeting in the United States. But Mr. Reagan's order did not include other standard privileges -- like immunity from certain tax requirements and from having its property or records subject to search and seizure -- because at the time, Interpol had no permanent office or employees on United States soil" [emphasis added]. The Times added that Interpol subsequently opened an office at the United Nations in New York City. The Times then quoted Interpol spokeswoman Rachel Billington saying: "When the office opened in 2004, we said look, we'd like to have the Interpol staff working in the office in New York afforded the same immunities as other international organizations. ... It's only for the New York office." The Times further reported: "The State Department recommended approving the request, but the Bush White House did not complete the matter before its term ended, and so it rolled over."

Interpol is not a traditional police force that can arrest and extradite U.S. citizens. In that same December 30 article, The New York Times also quoted Billingsley saying: "We don't send officers into the field to arrest people; we don't have agents that go investigate crimes. ... This is always done by the national police in the member country under their national laws." Similarly, in a January 8 article, Human Events quoted Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble saying: "We don't have any armed agents. We don't have police officers who go into other countries and make arrests. ... It's not like the movies. It's not like James Bond, not like 'The International.' " Human Events continued:

Interpol's charge is to serve as a communications center and clearinghouse for law enforcement in its 188 member countries. The agency keeps records on terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals, operates a lost-and-stolen passport service, and aids police in tracking down fugitives who may have crossed borders by sending alerts to other countries.

Once a fugitive is discovered, any arrests are made by local law enforcement, not Interpol agents. Instead of a Glock and a license to kill, he said, the average agent carries nothing more dangerous than a Blackberry. Think Chloe, not Jack.

Interpol's mission is "to facilitate cross-border police co-operation." According to Interpol's website:

INTERPOL is the world's largest international police organization, with 188 member countries. Created in 1923, it facilitates cross-border police co-operation, and supports and assists all organizations, authorities and services whose mission is to prevent or combat international crime.

INTERPOL aims to facilitate international police co-operation even where diplomatic relations do not exist between particular countries. Action is taken within the limits of existing laws in different countries and in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. INTERPOL's constitution prohibits 'any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.'

Gibbs: Executive order does not give Interpol "police powers." Asked by Fox News' Major Garrett whether Obama's executive order gave Interpol "police powers," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stated: "Of course not."

Many international organizations have received this immunity. The National Archives lists numerous international organizations that have received immunity under the International Organizations Immunities Act, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Monetary Fund, the International Coffee Organization, and the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

U.S. Interpol office reportedly set up for "express purpose of maintaining and updating a U.N. Security Council watch list of designated Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects." From a January 9 blog post by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff:

What's more important, says Noble, is what Interpol's office in New York actually does. It was set up in 2004 for the express purpose of maintaining and updating a U.N. Security Council watch list of designated Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects. Interpol officers translate the names on the lists into wanted posters that are distributed to airports and border-control authorities -- all for the purpose of catching terrorists when they cross international borders.

In late December, right-wing blogs went into black helicopter mode over executive order

December 21: Conservative blogs highlight, attack executive order. On December 21, the Pierre Legrand's Pink Flamingo Bar blog posted Executive Order 12425 under the headline: "Executive Order 12425 What The Hell Is This? What Did Obama Just Do?" The original post did not contain any analysis of the executive order. A December 21 entry cross-posted on the Brutally Honest and Wizbang blogs cited the Pierre Legrand post and stated: "Let's hope this is all one big misunderstanding right? I'm sure you folks are aware of this right? I mean, usurping the sovereignty of the United States of America and granting powers to foreign agencies is something I know the MSM would be all over ... right?" Later that same day, citing Brutally Honest, Clyde Middleton wrote on The Patriot Room blog that the executive order "means that we have an international police force authorized to act within the United States that is no longer subject to 4th Amendment Search and Seizure." Middleton added: "INTERPOL, an international criminal police organization, is now poised to reside above the United States Constitution -- in a place of sanctity beyond our FBI, CIA, DIA, and all other criminal investigatory domestic organizations."

December 22-23: Conservative bloggers claim Obama has ceded U.S. sovereignty. In a December 22 post on NoisyRoom.net, Terresa Monroe-Hamilton cited Legrand and wrote of the executive order, "We have just handed over our sovereignty." Monroe-Hamilton later added: "I contend this is the foundation for an international governing and policing body. A modern day SS here in the US if you like." On December 22, takethatradio.com posted a podcast of an episode of the Steve Schippert Show during which Schippert and Middleton asserted as fact that Obama's executive order ceded U.S. sovereignty. On the show, Schippert asked whether the executive order was "laying the foundation for an international governing body" and tied it to the conspiracy theory that the Copenhagen climate talks also were aimed at setting up a world government. Schippert subsequently asked: "Isn't Interpol going to be essentially the envisioned law enforcement arm of this international governing body whatever it turns out to be?" Subsequently, on December 23, Schippert and Middleton posted an item on ThreatsWatch.org, in which they cited Middleton's Patriot Room blog post, stating that, as a result of the executive order, Interpol, an "international law enforcement body now operates -- now operates -- on American soil beyond the reach of our own top law enforcement arm, the FBI, and is immune from Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests."

December 23: NRO's McCarthy fearmongers about International Criminal Court. Citing the ThreatsWatch.org post by Schippert and Middleton in a December 23 post on National Review Online's The Corner, Andy McCarthy asserted that Interpol "will be unrestrained by the U.S. Constitution and American law while it operates in the United States and affects both Americans and American interests outside the United States." In the post, McCarthy raised the specter of U.S. acceptance of the International Criminal Court in relation to the executive order: "Interpol works closely with international tribunals (such as the International Criminal Court -- which the United States has refused to join because of its sovereignty surrendering provisions, though top Obama officials want us in it). It also works closely with foreign courts and law-enforcement authorities (such as those in Europe that are investigating former Bush administration officials for purported war crimes -- i.e., for actions taken in America's defense)." McCarthy later added: "Why is it suddenly necessary to have, within the Justice Department, a repository for stashing government files which, therefore, will be beyond the ability of Congress, American law-enforcement, the media, and the American people to scrutinize?"

December 23-26: Right-wing blogosphere explodes. Following McCarthy's post, numerous conservative bloggers ran with conspiracy theories regarding Obama's executive order, Interpol, and U.S. sovereignty, including Hotair.com blogger Ed Morrissey. A post updated on December 26 on the Radio Patriot blog titled, "CREDIT NEW MEDIA BLOGGERS FOR SOUNDING ALARM ON OBAMA EO RE: INTERPOL," lists 37 blog posts attacking Obama over the executive order. All of those posts cited McCarthy, Schippert, Middleton, Brutally Honest, Monroe-Hamilton, or Legrand as their source or cited blogs that linked to one of those sources.

December 26-31: Examiner.com, IBD, Malkin join in attacks. Several conservative media outlets picked up the attack. For instance, writing about the order in a December 26 opinion piece on Examiner.com, Anthony G. Martin asserted: "A coup is underway in the United States of America." In a December 30 editorial, The Washington Examiner stated: "[T]his new directive from Obama may be the most destructive blow ever struck against American constitutional civil liberties. No wonder the White House said as little as possible about it." Investor's Business Daily also published editorials on December 28 and December 31 attacking the Obama administration for giving Interpol unprecedented powers. And on December 29, Michelle Malkin attacked the White House for, in her opinion, "stonewall[ing]" on questions such as whether Interpol is now "an international police force above American law."

Fox News personalities, Limbaugh, Chuck Norris then joined the attack

Gingrich suggested order could lead to investigations of U.S. officials. Appearing on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich claimed that the order "basically releases Interpol from all American constraints" and gives the organization "all sorts of extralegality in the United States in a way that has never ever before been offered to Interpol." He further asserted, "What I'm told is that it could lead to a number of investigations by Interpol in the United States potentially aimed at American officials." Gingrich commented that he was "very curious as to why the president is doing this" and asked, "Why would the president of the United States give that kind of extralegal protection to an international police force?"

Limbaugh lists order as either Obama " screw-up" or "on purpose." Addressing Obama's comment that the security failure that led to the attempted Christmas day bombing was a "screw-up," Limbaugh asked: "Is lifting an executive order, giving Interpol immunity from American laws a screw-up?" After asking whether several other things that have happened since Obama became president were "screw-up[s]," Limbaugh stated: "No, all of this is on purpose. Everything I've just gone through is on purpose."

Beck asked, "[W]hat special interest group asked for this?" On his Fox News show, Beck said of the executive order: "I have been trying to find out the answer why, and no one in the White House will respond." He continued: "This Congress attacks our CIA and FBI, but the European group Interpol they give immunity to?" Beck also stated, "This doesn't make sense," and asked, "[W]hat special interest group asked for this?"

Hedgecock: "Obama Order Strips Americans of Constitutional Rights." In a January 8 piece for HumanEvents.com headlined "Obama Order Strips Americans of Constitutional Rights," radio host Roger Hedgecock wrote: "While our 'Constitutional Scholar' president insists on full Constitutional rights for terrorists, he has at least attempted to repeal the 4th Amendment protections for Americans, with particular impact on the men and women in the U.S. military." Hedgecock also joined other media conservatives in raising the specter of the International Criminal Court: "Recently, 3 SEAL team members were arrested by the U.S. military and face court martial for giving an arrested terrorist a fat lip. Will this nonsense now be raised to the level of 'war crimes' to be tried in the ICC?"

Chuck Norris: Federal government is "abandoning our Constitution and dissolving America's sovereignty." On January 11, WorldNetDaily.com published a piece by Chuck Norris, in which he asked: "Is it possible the Obama administration specifically and soon plans to use Interpol's New York office for some covert purpose that would require Interpol's exemption from having its property or records subject to search and seizure?" Norris also asked: "Is it merely coincidental that Obama signed this executive Interpol order and that he often goes out of his way to sympathize with and advocate pro-Muslim culture, beliefs and issues?" Norris continued:

Is it merely coincidental that Obama signed this executive Interpol order and that the following events are converging at this time in America's history: the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the closure of Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention facility, Obama's indifference and even defense of Islamic extremists like the Fort Hood shooter or Northwest flight 253's attempted bomber, the feds' decision to conduct jihadists trials in New York and the search and seizure exemption of Interpol in New York and throughout the U.S.?

[...]

I have no doubt that Interpol will become Obama's secret vault for terrorists' criminal records and evidence -- and whatever else he and his Cabinet want to place in there. This is just the beginning of what Washington can and will do with this executive order that Obama signed. And it's just one more example of the way your federal government has got the backs of those who are attacking our country, abandoning our Constitution and dissolving America's sovereignty.

[...]

In the end, there appears to be one true advantage for the president's executive order to exempt Interpol from search and seizure: There will always be a safe and tamper-proof place where Obama can store his original, long-form birth certificate.

Wash. Times' Gaffney: Order is part of "perilous bleeding out of the liberties and freedoms enshrined in and protected by our Constitution and sovereignty." From Frank Gaffney's January 12 Washington Times column:

Seasoned observers understand that, in official Washington, the so-called "death of a thousand cuts" technique is the preferred means of stealthily undermining, and ultimately defeating, initiatives and institutions too strong to be taken on via a frontal assault. The Obama administration appears intent on applying this approach of inflicting myriad attacks on the essential ingredient of American exceptionalism - our sovereignty - in ways that seem individually innocuous but that will, over time, surely prove lethal to our Constitution and country.

[...]

In other words, it appears that, in giving Interpol carte blanche, the transnationalists in the Obama administration - a group that includes, notably, State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and, not least, the president himself - have sliced away at the corpus of American sovereignty. They have done so in order to ensure that America conforms to the same standards as the other nations that host Interpol offices (namely, Third World nations like Cameroon, El Salvador and Zimbabwe),

Unfortunately, the transies are whacking away at our rights and liberties in a host of other ways, as well. The administration wants to subject the United States to: the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST), which would allow (among other travesties) international regulation of U.S. air and water, even in the absence of the sort of climate change treaty sought at Copenhagen; the International Criminal Court, exposing our officials, troops and citizens to capricious, politicized foreign prosecution; radical "international norms" governing what the U.N. considers to be the "rights" of women and children; and a Shariah-mandated Islamic blasphemy code barring and criminalizing speech that offends Muslims, a blatant threat to the First Amendment.

Even if these myriad "cuts" were not in the offing, there would be powerful reasons for rejecting Team Obama's efforts to expand Interpol's powers in the United States. Toward the end of last year, the Islamic Republic of Iran enlisted Interpol in its campaign to intimidate, hunt down and, if possible, silence its opponents outside the country. Ten Kurds who became Swedish citizens after fleeing Iran 20 years ago are now on the international police organization's wanted list - and at risk of arrest if they leave Sweden. The basis for these charges? Nothing more than Tehran's unproven and highly political accusations that they have been involved in "terrorism" and "organized crime."

Whether such abuses might be made more likely in America if this order is not rescinded or countermanded by Congress can only be speculated about at this point. What is unmistakable, though, is the cumulative effect of the thousand cuts being inflicted by the Obama transnationalists: a perilous bleeding out of the liberties and freedoms enshrined in and protected by our Constitution and sovereignty.

Asked about it by Fox, White House debunks Interpol conspiracy theory

At press briefing, Gibbs tells Fox News' Major Garrett that order does not give Interpol "police powers" or "threaten[] constitutional rights." From the January 8 White House press briefing:

MR. GIBBS: Major, you have one more, and then I'll -

Q Ann brought up feverish, sometimes, Internet debates. I wonder if you could address publicly the reaction that's gone on a bit on the Internet, since the President in mid-December signed an executive order granting Interpol certain rights and immunities here in the United States. There are some who are wondering if that has created a opening for Interpol to have extraordinary police powers in the United States. Who requested it? What is the administration's understanding of its role in the United States as a policing organization?

MR. GIBBS: Well, the executive order updated Interpol's status based on the fact that within the past five years they've opened a permanent office here in order to assist in the type of information-sharing between governments that we all know is so important.

That simply - all that does is simply bring them - give them the same privileges and responsibilities that many other international organizations have in this country, like the IAEA, the Red Cross, and things like the IMF.

Q It doesn't give them police powers -

MR. GIBBS: Of course not.

Q - that in any way threaten the U.S. constitutional rights -

MR. GIBBS: Absolutely not an enforcement --

Conservative, other media outlets debunk the Interpol conspiracy theories

Fox News' "All-Star Panel" debunks, ridicules Interpol conspiracy theories. During Special Report's January 8 "All-Star Panel," conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer called the executive order "benign" and commented: "This basically is saying that Interpol has the same rights as the Swiss delegation, so it will not have to pay its parking tickets. Now, that may be a scandal; I think it is. But it's not a black helicopter landing in your back yard." Asked by host Bret Baier whether the order would allow Interpol to supersede U.S. authority, Krauthammer responded, "Absolutely not." Fortune magazine's Nina Easton stated during the same segment: "It seems like the Obama White House is simply extending the protections that go to the United Nations and other international organizations to Interpol, which finally opened an office here in 2004, hadn't done so before, and it basically protects its records from being shared with other countries and so on. It seems like a -- very straightforward." She then commented: "I don't see a conspiracy." Baier responded: "The White House saying that the immunities are actually less than diplomats across the board get."

NRA: Executive order does not pose a "threat." The National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action responded to "the latest scuttlebutt" regarding the order, stating that "[s]ome have argued that the order would make INTERPOL and its officials immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution, and that it would therefore allow INTERPOL personnel to seize firearms, kidnap Americans, and otherwise violate U.S. citizens' rights. Our legal staff has reviewed this order and does not believe it poses any of these threats." The NRA post also said, "[A]rticles on the recent order are incorrect in claiming that the order made INTERPOL immune from civil suits; INTERPOL was already immune. Some have also suggested that under the order, INTERPOL agents would receive diplomatic immunity, so they could violate Americans' rights without fear of criminal prosecution. There are several misconceptions here." The NRA post concluded:

Now don't take any of this to mean that we underestimate our anti-gun opponents, or that we don't believe they would happily and readily seize the opportunity to adopt and enforce measures that would limit our freedom. We know full well that they would. Rather, our message is this: Rumors abound, so don't believe everything you read. If it's a legitimate concern, rest assured your NRA-ILA will promptly address it and will give you the straight story.

Snopes.com: Claims that order gives Interpol license to arrest citizens, violate constitutional guarantees "are exaggerated." Responding to an email claiming that the executive order gave Interpol "unfettered access to US sovereign territory" and gives Interpol the power to "bring criminal complaints against US citizens," that "cases would be heard by the WORLD COURT in the Hague," the urban legend website Snopes.com stated:

While the fact of the executive order is real, the claim that it gives INTERPOL license to start conducting warrantless searches, arresting U.S. citizens, and violating other constitutional guarantees to due process are exaggerated.

The common perception of INTERPOL as a global police organization that sends agents around the world to track down suspects, make arrests, and haul criminals before international tribunals (such as the United Nations) for trial is erroneous. INTERPOL has no police force, and it does not conduct criminal investigations or make arrests. It is merely an administrative organization that services its member countries (currently 188 in number) by facilitating and coordinating the sharing of law enforcement organization. If, for example, one country should issue an arrest warrant for a suspect currently residing in a second country, INTERPOL merely passes along the warrant and related information to the second country - it's completely up to the latter's government to decide if their laws justify an arrest and, if so, to send their own agents to effect it.

FactCheck.org: Executive Order does not give Interpol "the right of search and seizure on our shores without due process or any subpoena." Replying to the question, "Did Obama sign a new bill where Interpol will now have the right of search and seizure on our shores without due process or any subpoena?? Could this be true?" FactCheck.org stated: "In a word, no." FactCheck.org added: "President Obama's Executive Order of Dec. 16 does nothing except grant to Interpol -- the International Criminal Police Organization -- certain privileges and immunities that the U.S. gives to dozens of other international groups under the International Organizations Immunities Act of 1945." FactCheck also stated: "Obama's action also doesn't 'alter our legal protections,' as another message queried. And it doesn't bring the U.S. any closer to 'allow[ing] foreign countries to try Americans, at the Hague, for any 'crimes' not recognized as such by the U.S. that were "committed" without the person having left the U.S.,' as another e-mail we received said."

PolitiFact: Gingrich's "pants on fire." Responding to Gingrich's claim that the executive order could "lead to a number of investigations by Interpol in the United States, potentially aimed at American officials," the website PolitiFact.com stated, "The key problem with this notion is that Interpol couldn't investigate CIA or American officials, because Interpol doesn't do investigations." PolitiFact.com concluded: "That's exactly what Gingrich's claims are: conspiracy theories, based on wild conjecture, not reality. For fanning the flames of paranoia, Gringrich's claims earn a Pants on Fire." [1/12/10]

Isikoff debunks "wacky" claims by Norris, others. In a January 9 blog post, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff also debunked the conspiracy theories, quoting Noble saying that Gingrich's claim "is not within the realm of reality." Isikoff also wrote: "To some extent, the Interpol discussion is just the latest chapter in the wacky conspiracy wars that Obama's presidency has spawned." Three days later, in response to Norris, Isikoff wrote:

Now for a little reality check: The Interpol office in New York does indeed get an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act under Obama's order. But as Ron Noble, Interpol's secretary-general, told us last week, there is nothing especially sinister about that: the office has files on suspected terrorists provided by the law-enforcement agencies of its member countries -- and those agencies would be loath to share them if they thought their internal reports (including the names of informants, the transcripts of wiretaps, and other confidential evidence) might be made public. (If you think that's unusual, try filing a FOIA request for FBI or DEA files on their current criminal suspects.)

What's more important, says Noble, is what Interpol's office in New York actually does. It was set up in 2004 for the express purpose of maintaining and updating a U.N. Security Council watch list of designated Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects. Interpol officers translate the names on the lists into wanted posters that are distributed to airports and border-control authorities -- all for the purpose of catching terrorists when they cross international borders.

As an example of how Interpol's work can make a difference, Noble pointed to the case of Wayne Corliss, a notorious child pornographer who was arrested in New Jersey in May 2008 days after Interpol posted notices seeking to identify a man who engaged in sex with young boys in Thailand. The irrational attacks on Interpol, Noble fears, will make U.S. citizens more reluctant to share information with Interpol or to respond to such requests for help.

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Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich, Chuck Norris
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