LONDON — Interpol's chief sounded an alarm Thursday that countries are still failing to check identity documents against its database — a warning that comes just months before the 2012 Olympics.
Ron Noble, secretary-general of the international police agency based in France, said out of the 1.1 billion travelers last year, ID documents of about 500 million people were not checked against Interpol's database, which is one of the world's most detailed.
"It will take a tragedy — a specific kind of tragedy — for behavior to change," Noble told The Associated Press after speaking to foreign correspondents in London.
Noble has said Britain is the only EU country to systematically check passports against those registered with Interpol as missing worldwide. Britain carried out 140 million checks last year against the database — more than the rest of Europe combined.
Last year, he said more than 11,000 people were caught trying to enter the U.K. using lost or stolen passports.
France carried out the second-highest number of checks at 10 million.
A special Interpol team will be sent specifically for the Olympics, helping British authorities determine whether anyone trying to enter the U.K. is wanted, whether their documents have been listed as lost or stolen and whether they are considered a threat.
He said the team will be smaller than the one Interpol sent to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup — an event where teams were at border crossings and airports.
"We know terrorists use fraudulent ID documents," Noble said.
The U.K. Border Agency faced intense criticism last year after passport checks were relaxed during the height of the summer tourist season to lessen lines at London's Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest. A government report on Thursday blamed poor communications, a lack of supervision and other shortcomings for the problems.
Olympics security has been a primary concern since 1972, when 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were killed at the Munich Games.
Noble said while there was no specific intelligence that the games would be targeted, such events provide an array of opportunities for criminals, including pickpocketing, forced prostitution, illegal Internet betting rings and hoaxes.
And then there is still the threat of terrorism. Noble said while al-Qaida's ranks had been depleted, affiliates were actively recruiting in places like Somalia.
Another fear that Noble said "keeps him up at night" is the threat of a nuclear or biological attack. Interpol has been alerted to some 2,715 instances where there were questions of whether there had been illicit trafficking of nuclear material.
Noble stressed, however, that didn't mean there were more 2,000 cases of trafficked nuclear material.
While most of the cases involved non-nuclear radioactive material cases — 2,535 — there were 200 cases involving nuclear material. Only four cases involved the attempted sale of highly enriched uranium, Noble said.
The U.S., he said, had the most cases in the database — mostly because of its reporting through the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Council. After that, Eastern Europe has had the most and some of the most significant cases of concern in terms of criminality, Noble said.
As for whether terror groups were becoming more capable of unleashing biological attacks, Noble pointed to advances in both technology and biotechnology. He said the risk was increasing — partially because technology can be misused — but that did not mean there was an increased likelihood of a bio-terrorist attack.
"It's so easy to think about how an attack can be carried out because the screening of passengers doesn't focus on that at all," Noble said. "That's why it's important to identify people who are engaged in conduct that is suspicious or illegal."
Noble is American and a former head of the U.S. Secret Service. Interpol is based in Lyon, France.