International FBI Offices – Because Transnational Organized Crime Has A Global Reach. And So Does The FBI
For more than eight decades, the FBI has stationed special agents and other personnel overseas. We help protect Americans back home by building relationships with principal law enforcement, intelligence, and security services around the globe. Now, at a time when virtually all major FBI investigations have a significant international nexus, these partnerships have never been more crucial.
FBI International Operations History
The FBI’s international operations began in 1940 when the Bureau established its first legal attaché office in Mexico City to counter the NAZI threat.
The legal attaché program is a network of FBI offices located in U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. Legal attachés are special agents who work with foreign law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crimes that have an international nexus.
In the early years, the FBI’s international operations focused on investigating espionage and sabotage during World War II. After the war, the Bureau’s focus shifted to combating organized crime and drug trafficking. In the 1990s, the FBI’s international operations expanded to address new threats, such as terrorism and cybercrime.
Today, the FBI has legal attaché offices in more than 180 countries. The Bureau’s international operations are a vital part of its mission to protect the United States from crime and terrorism.
Here are some of the key milestones in the history of the FBI’s international operations:
- 1940: The FBI establishes its first legal attaché office in Mexico City.
- 1942: Special agents are assigned to U.S. embassies in London, Ottawa, and Mexico City.
- 1947: The FBI establishes a Liaison Section in the Security Division at FBI Headquarters.
- 1993: FBI Director Louis Freeh makes it a priority to open a series of new legal attaché offices.
- 2001: The FBI’s international operations play a key role in the investigation of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
- 2015: The FBI establishes a new legal attaché office in Beijing, China.
The FBI’s international operations are constantly evolving to meet the changing threats facing the United States. The Bureau is committed to working with its international partners to keep Americans safe from crime and terrorism.
FBI Around The Globe
Our legal attaché offices—commonly known as legats—and sub-offices are located in key cities around the globe and provide coverage for more than 180 countries, territories, and islands. About 250 special agents and support personnel are stationed in FBI legats worldwide.
Our legal attaché program is managed by the International Operations Division at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Through the legal attaché program and other efforts, the International Operations Division serves as a bridge to our overseas partners and a conduit for strengthening the global rule of law. It regularly works through elements of the international law enforcement community such as Interpol and Europol and numerous working groups, task forces, and training initiatives.
The office coordinates meetings with international leaders and keeps in close contact with other federal agencies, foreign police, and security officers in Washington, D.C., and national and international law enforcement associations.
Authorities and Jurisdiction
A number of U.S. federal laws give the FBI authority to investigate extraterritorial criminal and terrorist activity. The FBI, however, conducts investigations abroad only when invited by the host country. In most cases, our international partners gather evidence and make arrests on behalf of, or in close cooperation with, the Bureau.
Each legat is established through mutual agreement with the host country and is located in that nation’s U.S. embassy or consulate. FBI personnel abroad serve under the authority of the Department of State, chief of mission at U.S. embassies, at the pleasure of ambassadors and host country governments.
International liaison and information sharing are conducted in accordance with executive orders, laws, treaties, attorney general guidelines, FBI policies, and interagency agreements.
The Role of the Legal Attaché Agent
The FBI agent who heads an international office is also called a legal attaché or legat. They serve as the FBI Director’s personal representative in the country where they have regional responsibilities.
Legal attachés are experienced, highly trained investigators who work directly and openly with their international colleagues. They do not conduct foreign intelligence gathering or counterintelligence investigations. Most legal attachés are supported by a deputy or assistant legal attaché and other staff.
Typical duties of a legal attaché include:
- coordinating requests for FBI or host country assistance overseas
- conducting investigations in coordination with the host government
- sharing investigative leads and information
- coordinating FBI training classes for police in their geographic areas
- briefing embassy counterparts from other agencies, including law enforcement agencies and ambassadors
- managing country clearances
- providing situation reports concerning cultural protocol
- assessing political and security climates
- coordinating victim and humanitarian assistance
How Legal Attaché Offices Help Protect The U.S.
Relationship Building: Since FBI agents do not have traditional law enforcement powers overseas, they must rely on strong, mutually beneficial relationships with their foreign counterparts. Legal attachés maintain regular, often face-to-face contact with foreign officials and security agencies that enables the prompt and continuous exchange of information and reciprocal assistance in investigations. Legal attachés also provide critical and timely support in the defense of our homeland through direct coordination with the Department of Justice, the Department of State, Interpol, and other law enforcement and security entities.
Physical Proximity: Legal attachés are positioned to enable agents to reach virtually anywhere in the world in a few hours, allowing the FBI to respond more quickly and effectively to terrorist attacks, cyber crime, fugitive sightings, crisis situations, natural disasters, and other global security matters.
Training/Rule of Law: Through international training facilitated by legal attachés, the FBI provides foreign law enforcement officers with skills in both basic and advanced investigative techniques and principles that promote cooperation and aid in the collection of evidence. These efforts help create more capable and democratic police institutions around the world, strengthening the global rule of law. Funded by the Department of State or Department of Defense, significant training programs include the International Law Enforcement Academies in Budapest, Hungary; Bangkok, Thailand; Gaborone, Botswana; and San Salvador, El Salvador, as well as bilateral training programs targeting anti-terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and terrorist financing.
Detection and Prevention: By keeping their fingers on the pulse of criminal activity, national security threats, and emerging trends in the nations and regions they serve, legal attachés function as an early warning system to help keep crime and terrorism from reaching our shores.
What Does This Mean For Scam Victims?
If you want to get the help of the FBI internationally, first – make sure that you have reported the crime to your local police and the FBI – see reporting.AgainstScams.org for how to report.
Scam and fraud victims can leverage the FBI legats in the U.S. missions around the world to ask for help by following these steps:
- Find the FBI legat office in the country where the scam or fraud occurred. You can find a list of FBI legats on the FBI website.
- Contact the FBI legat office and explain the scam or fraud that you have been victim of.
- Provide the FBI legat office with as much information as possible about the scam or fraud, including the date and time of the scam, the amount of money lost, and any contact information you have for the scammer.
- The FBI legat office will work with you to investigate the scam or fraud and to gather evidence.
- If the FBI legat office is able to identify the scammer, they will work with local law enforcement to prosecute the scammer.
In some cases, the FBI legat office may be able to transfer information from the victim to local law enforcement directly. However, this is not always possible, and the victim may need to provide the information to local law enforcement themselves.
Here are some additional tips for scam and fraud victims who are seeking help from the FBI:
- Be patient. The FBI may take some time to investigate the scam or fraud.
- Be persistent. Do not give up if you do not hear back from the FBI right away.
- Be cooperative. Provide the FBI with as much information as possible about the scam or fraud.
- Be aware of your rights. The FBI is not allowed to share your information with anyone without your consent.
If you have been a victim of a scam or fraud, it is important to report it to the authorities. By working together, we can help to protect others from becoming victims of these crimes.