Her badge of intelligence

Head of Police's Special Crimes Division, Irit Bouton, has her work cut out for her - here and abroad.

bouton irit 88 (photo credit: )
bouton irit 88
(photo credit: )
On the bottom floor of the National Police Headquarters in Jerusalem sit the offices of the police's Intelligence Department. They are tucked away behind two secured doors - in place to protect the evidence and material collected in the framework of some of the most sensitive investigations. Past the doors and down the hall, in a spacious office decorated with plaques, photos and flags from various countries, Asst.-Cmdr. Irit Bouton, 48, directs and supervises all overseas investigations conducted by the Israel Police - from the judicial inquiry in Austria into Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's alleged bribe-taking, to the recent arrest of underworld kingpin Ze'ev Rosenstein. As head of the intelligence department's Special Assignments Division, Bouton and her interactions with foreign police forces across the globe play a fundamental role in the way the Israel Police is perceived abroad. While the commissioner spends most of his time in the media spotlight and the spokesperson crafts the police's image, it is Bouton's job to ensure that the police's professional reputation retains its prestige by expediting judicial inquiry requests from abroad and by developing relations for future international cooperation. Rosenstein's case is an apt illustration. For years, the Israeli "mafia boss" evaded the clutches of the Tel Aviv District Police. He was finally caught following a rigorous joint investigation involving Bouton's office and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which had been pursuing him for allegedly running an international drug-smuggling ring. He is currently awaiting extradition to the US, where he is to stand trial. Another involves Interpol. In September, Bouton accompanied Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi to the Interpol's 74th General Assembly in Berlin. There she spearheaded talks to have the Israel Police become part of Interpol's European Division, rather than in the African Division, which includes the Middle East. In a move Bouton believes will improve bilateral relations with western countries, the Interpol General Assembly agreed to grant the Israel Police temporary observer status at European Division gatherings for the next year. By becoming a European Interpol member, Israel would gain access to European police databases, as well as benefit from better cooperation with other western and European countries. "This is a big accomplishment for Israel," Bouton says. "It will help us fight crime more effectively and gain respect among other police forces around the world." With this success under her belt, Bouton - who has a BA in Middle Eastern Studies - is now trying to obtain membership for the Israel Police in Europol, the European law enforcement organization that handles criminal intelligence and facilitates contacts between member countries. At present, she is waiting for Europol to conclude its inspections of the Israel Police's capabilities. Regarding Interpol, Bouton hopes that by next year, the General Assembly will be politically ripe enough to vote on adding Israel to the European Division. But there is another reason why Bouton is fighting for more recognition. "We want to be involved in everything going on in the world," she explains. "Crime today is global and Israel is getting a very bad name around the world, due to the involvement of Israelis in the international crime industry." As an example, Bouton refers to the Ecstasy market in New York which she says is entirely controlled by Israelis. "We want to break the [negative] image and tell the world that we are willing to work together with them to fight crime," she says. As a goodwill gesture, Bouton says, the Israel Police passes names of suspects and criminal organizations on its own initiative to other police forces. "Even if what the suspected criminals are doing in that specific country is legal, we still provide warnings," she says. Bouton, who has spent the past four years in her current position, was recently named as a possible candidate to serve as the Israel Police's spokesperson, following the surprise resignation several months ago of Asst.-Cmdr. Ofer Sivan after less than a year in the post. Preferring not to discuss internal police politics, Bouton would only say that she had heard her name was mentioned, but had yet to receive an official offer from Karadi. BOUTON'S DEPARTMENT is split into three primary subdivisions: one that deals with Interpol arrest requests; one that follows money laundering; and a third that manages Israel Police representatives in the US, South America, Europe, Turkey and the Far East. Israeli criminals, Bouton says, have focused most of their offshore operations in the US - dealing in drugs - while in Europe the focus is on money laundering. Bouton says her work outside of the country is particularly challenging, due to the thin line she must walk between safeguarding Israel's interests and gaining the trust of foreign authorities, whose assistance she desperately needs. "We do things at a different pace here in Israel," she says. "The police forces abroad are not always interested in what we are interested in. That is where the representatives come in. They need to know how to maintain the proper balance with the local authorities, while at the same time pushing our goals forward." One example she gives of this balance is when her office knows of an Israeli drug courier scheduled to arrive in a certain country. "We do not have jurisdiction to arrest anyone abroad, and when the local authorities do not want to cooperate with us, sometimes things just fall between the cracks," she says. "We need to coordinate with the other countries, as well as have confidence in their capabilities." According to Bouton, Israel is currently waiting for the results of some 350 requests it has made abroad for assistance in ongoing investigations. "The number grows every year," she says. "This has to do with the relatively recent criminalization of money laundering in Israel and the increase in human trafficking." Just recently, the Israel Police Interpol Division played a key role in the capture of runaway Croatian tycoon Hrvoje Petrac, who Croatian authorities believe could lead them to wanted war criminal General Ante Gotovina. Israel Police's representative in Turkey, Ch.-Supt. Yomtov Suriano, led Croatian police to Petrac, who had been hiding in Israel but skipped the country on an Israeli boat and fled to Greece, where he was caught. Following Petrac's arrest, Suriano received an award from the Croatian police. Despite the successes, Bouton says the Israel Police still has a lot to learn from its foreign counterparts. In the case of Rosenstein, Bouton worked very closely with the head of the DEA, Karen Tandy - herself a Jew and married to Steve Pomeranz, a former deputy director of the FBI. "There is a lot to learn from the way the Americans operate," she says. "They work slowly and thoroughly and have the ability to take all pieces of information - no matter how small - and connect them to create a larger picture."