Elaine K. Dezenski, the managing director of the new Global Security Initiative for INTERPOL, the International Criminal Police Organization, is currently president of the Women’s Transportation Seminar. Her career path has been an unusual journey from transportation to global security. She worked for the rail giant Siemens in marketing and business development, then joined the Federal Transit Administration in 1999. She was working as a Brookings Institution fellow when the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred and that helped spur her return her to public service. She joined the Transportation Security Administration and became director of cargo and supply chain security. Dezenski has also held senior posts at the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security and Cross Match Technologies.
How did you go from transportation work to prominent post at INTERPOL?
It really goes back to 2005 when I was working at the Department of Homeland Security. I was acting assistant secretary for policy development. I was working on an initiative involving INTERPOL. We wanted INTERPOL’s database on stolen travel documents—it contains 15 million records. When people enter the U.S., they often do so often with false passports or visas. The only way to check that against a broad scope is through INTERPOL. We were doing it in the U.S. using CD-ROM— not continually updated—and at a secondary point of inspection [if you get pulled aside after screening].
I left government in 2006, and worked in the private sector for biometrics company. Ron Noble, the first American Secretary General for INTERPOL, asked me to join. I moved to France.
What are you working on there?
We’ve developed a new initiative called the Global Security Initiative. First, it acts as an incubator for new ideas. If we decide we want to be a leader in fighting cybercrime—and we do—what does that mean? What partners and resources? The second is fundraising. It’s a flagship effort. We have six people. INTERPOL headquarters is a 500-person outfit. But we have 187 countries as members. Each has a local office.
That’s not a lot of core staff.
I kind of like the lean budget and staff — normally you think of big bureaucratic organizations, slow to get things done. Here — we have the flexibility and space to move things along more quickly.
Are you taking Women’s Transportation Seminar recruitment efforts with you to Europe?
We have members who are very interested in helping us expand. Having me here in Europe helps represent WTS. We have members wanting to start chapters in India, Dubai, Australia. That’s critical—it’s more important than having the WTS board saying, “we want a chapter in...”
I’m happy that we’ve been successful with chapters in London, Vancouver — and there is another expression of interest for Toronto. The interest will continue. People are moving all over the world to work on transportation. It’s only natural that the need for WTS will grow.
When did you join WTS?
I’ve been a member since 1993 — back to my very first days in transportation out of school. I joined WTS as an intern at a transportation company, got involved and never let it go. I’ve moved around quite a bit but there was always some transportation thread. WTS is the tie that binds these pieces of my career together.
Now that you are working internationally, any lessons learned for the U.S.?
One of the challenges at the Department of Homeland Security was the lack of focus on multilateral engagement — international security standards, etc. Now that I’m at INTERPOL, I see even more value in multilaterals.
How’s the issue of diversity?
One thing I’ve learned here, particularly in law enforcement, is that it’s still heavily a male-dominated world, more so even than transportation. Seeing the international front, I think in many instances we’re ahead of the game in the U.S. in diversity of workforce. There’s good examples throughout the world but for the most part there’s still a long way to go. We can’t undervalue the role of organizations like WTS. I don’t think it’s a level playing field yet. We’ll get there some day but we must continue to focus on supporting students anad women in transportation careers. Ultimately that will make a difference in the world.