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Federal Bureau of Investigation Legal Attaché Program*

Report No. 04-18
March 2004
Office of the Inspector General


Chapter 5: Legal Attaché Offices Coordinate Activities with Other U.S. Law Enforcement Agencies Overseas

Besides the FBI, many other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies station personnel overseas and, as part of their official duties, FBI Legal Attaché often interact with these individuals.  Overlapping interests and jurisdictions among these agencies could be harmful to U.S. interests and run the risk of antagonizing the host government.  Moreover, a lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies abroad could be detrimental to the ability of the United States to effectively combat international crime and terrorism.  To avoid such problems, statutes as well as agreements between agencies typically delineate their responsibilities overseas.  In addition, U.S. Ambassadors are responsible for ensuring that overall law enforcement activities are coordinated.  In addition, the FBI’s Legal Attaché Manual emphasizes the importance of maintaining effective liaisons with other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies abroad.

To determine if FBI Legal Attaché were appropriately coordinating their activities, we interviewed the Ambassadors, their staff, and representatives from selected U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies in Canada, Germany, Japan, and South Africa.  These officials uniformly described their interactions with the Legal Attaché offices as positive and they mentioned that the Legat personnel readily collaborated, shared information, and coordinated their activities with them to avoid duplication of effort.

U.S. Law Enforcement Presence in American Embassies

The U.S. law enforcement presence in an embassy abroad is often significant.  Embassies have special agents from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security within the State Department assigned to embassies and consulates as Regional Security Officers (RSOs).  They advise the Ambassador on all security-related matters and manage programs for dealing with threats to the embassy from criminals, terrorists, and hostile intelligence agencies.  They also serve as a liaison with the host country’s law enforcement agencies and conduct law enforcement investigations on behalf of other U.S. law enforcement agencies—typically agencies that do not have their own agents posted to the host country.

The number of other law enforcement agencies assigned to a diplomatic mission varies, depending on the law enforcement issues in that country or region.  In addition to an FBI Legal Attaché, an embassy may have law enforcement representatives from agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) within DOJ and  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Secret Service, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from the Department of Homeland Security.  In addition, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) collects intelligence information and carries out counterintelligence activities in foreign countries [CLASSIFIED INFORMATION REDACTED].  Finally, the U.S. military often has investigative and counterintelligence agents in countries, such as Germany and Japan, where it maintains military installations.

Overlapping Jurisdictions Create a Potential for Conflict

Many law enforcement agency functions and activities are authorized by Executive Order or Congressional mandate and this authority sometimes results in more than one law enforcement agency having jurisdiction for the same crime.  Overseas, these overlapping interests create a potential for separate, uncoordinated contacts with the same host country law enforcement and intelligence authorities that could adversely affect U.S. foreign relations and could harm overall U.S. efforts to fight crime and terrorism.  Thus, the responsibilities of Legal Attaché and other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies overseas must be clearly defined and their activities need to be coordinated.

Various statutory mandates and agency agreements delineate law enforcement and intelligence responsibilities abroad.  For example, by Executive Order 12333, dated December 4, 1981, the CIA is responsible for the conduct of counterintelligence activities outside the United States and the coordination of counterintelligence activities by other agencies abroad, including the FBI.  Thus, Legal Attaché are required by the Order to conduct their counterintelligence activities in coordination with the CIA.  Similarly, while both the FBI and the DEA have authority under Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations to investigate violations of the drug laws, the DEA is responsible for conducting drug investigations in foreign countries.  Consequently, requests for foreign assistance on FBI drug investigations must be coordinated with the DEA.

The Role of the U.S. Ambassador

By statute and Presidential Directive, the U.S. Ambassador has complete responsibility for the actions of all U.S. Executive Branch officials and organizations, including law enforcement agencies such as the FBI Legal Attaché office, in the country to which he or she has been accredited.30  All law enforcement personnel are considered part of the U.S. Embassy staff, and the senior representative from each law enforcement agency that has personnel assigned to an embassy reports to the Ambassador.

Ambassadors play a key role in helping to ensure that the sometimes overlapping interests of law enforcement and intelligence agencies are appropriately coordinated.  Law enforcement agencies having employees in a country are required by Section 207(b) of Public Law 96-465 to keep the Ambassador to that country fully and currently informed of all activities and operations of its employees and to comply fully with all applicable directives of the Ambassador.  To coordinate law enforcement activities, Ambassadors have a team, consisting of the senior representatives of the federal law enforcement agencies assigned to the embassy and usually chaired by the Deputy Chief of Mission, to provide a forum in which to share law enforcement information and coordinate efforts to combat terrorism.  Members of the team participate in duties including emergency action committees to organize embassy response to terrorist threats and incidents, and formulation of the components of the embassy’s mission performance plan that coordinate embassy activities related to law enforcement and terrorism issues.

Legal Attaché Coordinate and Collaborate With Other U.S. Law Enforcement Representatives

In the four Legat territories we reviewed, we interviewed the Ambassadors, other embassy officials, selected representatives from law enforcement agencies stationed in the embassies, [CLASSIFIED INFORMATION REDACTED], and in Germany and Japan, officials from U.S. Military investigative agencies.31  The consensus among these officials was that the Legats and their staff in these countries readily collaborated and shared information on law enforcement matters.  Law enforcement representatives told us that especially since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, they were working closer with their counterparts in the embassies than ever before.  Some pointed out that even before September 11, the rivalries that based on their experiences seemed common among law enforcement agencies in the United States appeared much less prevalent in an Embassy setting.  None of the officials we spoke with expressed concerns about duplication of effort between Legat activities and their agencies’ activities.

We also attended two law enforcement team meetings, one in Ottawa, Canada, and the other in Tokyo, Japan, to observe the process; no meetings were scheduled at the other two embassies while we were there.  The Deputy Chief of Mission, the FBI Legal Attaché, and representatives from other law enforcement agencies and the [CLASSIFIED INFORMATION REDACTED]attended.  We observed that participants briefed the group on significant events, activities, or investigative and intelligence issues within their jurisdiction.

The following are examples of the comments made by U.S. officials we interviewed in Canada, Germany, Japan, and South Africa regarding the nature and frequency of their working relationships with the FBI Legal Attaché and their opinions on how well the Legats coordinated activities and shared information with them.

U.S. Ambassadors – The U.S. Ambassadors to Canada, Germany, Japan, and South Africa had uniformly positive views of the Legal Attaché offices operating out of their respective embassies.  The Ambassador to Canada, for example, described the working relationship and cooperation between the Legal Attaché, other U.S. law enforcement agencies in Canada, and their Canadian counterparts as seamless.  Such cooperation was absolutely essential, he said, given the lengthy border between the two countries and the extensive amount of trans-border crime.  The Ambassador added that the Legat kept him apprised of the status of major FBI investigations affecting Canada.

In Germany, the U.S. Ambassador told us that the Legat kept him informed on important law enforcement issues, such as the activities of the numerous FBI agents sent to Germany in the aftermath of September 11.  The Ambassador to Japan was especially complimentary of the Legat’s knowledge of law enforcement structure and crime problems in Japan.  During a meeting with several Japanese businessmen, the Ambassador was told about certain underworld figures involved in the Japanese banking industry.  Needing more information he consulted with the Legat, who promptly delivered a detailed paper on the issue.

The U.S. Ambassador to South Africa told us that the Legat readily shared information with the other law enforcement agencies represented in the Embassy.  The Legat, the Ambassador said, was an active participant on the Law Enforcement Team, often had the most information to share, and typically went out of his way to offer assistance to other members of the group.

Regional Security Officers (RSO) – The RSOs we interviewed advised that they had regular, often frequent contact with the Legal Attaché, sometimes provided assistance on leads and cases, and said that they readily exchanged information with each other.  Some RSOs mentioned, for example, that visitors to the Embassy sometimes provided information on terrorism or criminal matters and such information was promptly forwarded to the Legat.  The RSO at the American Consulate in Cape Town, South Africa, stated he sometimes assisted staff from the Pretoria Legat by putting them in contact with appropriate officials in Cape Town or by following up on leads in the Cape Town area on their behalf.  The Deputy RSO in Tokyo indicated that while both he and the Legat in Tokyo maintained liaisons with the Tokyo Police, the contacts and issues were different.  Because the RSO office was primarily concerned with the protection of the Ambassador and the Embassy, its contacts were mostly with Tokyo police in the precinct where the Embassy was located, while the Legat typically maintained liaisons with higher-level officials in the police department involving broader criminal matters.



DEA – The DEA’s mission overseas is to conduct drug investigations that impact the United States.  To do this, DEA Country Attaché conduct liaison with the organized crime and narcotic units of foreign law enforcement agencies.  By agreement between the FBI and the DEA, the DEA is the first point of contact for drug investigations in foreign countries and the DEA officials we interviewed in Canada, Germany, and Japan all agreed that the FBI Legal Attaché offices were appropriately coordinating with their offices on drug-related matters or investigations.32  However, they also indicated that such referrals were relatively infrequent because since the events of September 11, 2001, the FBI had been focused on counterterrorism and had little time to pursue drug crimes.

Other Law Enforcement Agencies – An ICE agent from the former U.S. Customs Service in Germany stated that the FBI and ICE meet with different law enforcement entities in Germany, so the two agencies have little overlap.  The ATF Country Attaché in Canada stated that the ATF worked well together with the FBI in the Ressam case.  ATF was one of the first agencies to respond in this case and afterwards they met daily with the FBI and U.S. Customs officials to share information on this investigation.  ATF also worked together with the FBI on a case involving a person who wanted to blow up the Alaskan pipeline.  An ICE agent from the former INS in Canada stated that his office had an outstanding working relationship with the Legat staff, and communicated almost daily with them.  He added that they work closely together, and share information on a “need to know” basis.  The TSA Civil Aviation Security Liaison Officer in Japan, stated that he contacts the Legat office about three or four times a week with questions or to provide information.  The two agencies would work together in hijacking cases and in cases where DOJ evidence was being transported through Japanese airspace.  They would also conduct a joint interview initially if a “person of interest” who was on a “no fly” list arrived in Japan.  A Secret Service agent assigned to the Embassy in Berlin commented that he relays threat information to the Legat office, and coordinates with the Legat office about the arrival of visiting dignitaries.

U.S. Military Agencies - A special agent with the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) in Germany stated his office was working three counter-intelligence cases with the FBI, and the FBI Legat office had always been very responsive to their requests for assistance.  Also, the military commanders in the area liked having “instant” access to the FBI.  In Japan, an Air Force OSI official stated that his office had worked well together with the Legat office on a code breaker case.  He said that the Legat dropped everything to get the information that OSI needed quickly.  Officials from the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigation Service in Japan indicated they did not have a lot of interaction with the Legat office because the investigations of the two agencies tended to be mutually exclusive.  Nevertheless, they had collaborated on several espionage cases and had worked cooperatively with FBI agents from other Legat offices in Australia and the Philippines.


Many U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies maintain a presence abroad and FBI Legat staff often need to interact with representatives from these agencies.  Because law enforcement and intelligence agencies often have overlapping interests and jurisdictions, it is critical that they coordinate their activities.  A lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies abroad could be detrimental to the ability of the United States to effectively combat international crime and terrorism.  In addition, the FBI’s Legal Attaché Manual emphasizes the importance of maintaining effective liaisons with other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies abroad.

Based on our discussions and observations in the embassies we visited, it appears that the FBI Legat staff worked cooperatively and appropriately coordinated their activities with other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.  Based on our review at these four sites, it also appeared that there was little or no duplication of effort between the Legats’ activities and the other law enforcement agencies in these embassies.

  1. Ambassadors do not have authority over those personnel who are under the command of a U.S. area military commander.
  2. See Appendix III for a listing of our contacts at each location.
  3. The DEA Country Attaché we met with in South Africa had recently arrived in the country and, consequently, had had little interaction with FBI Legat staff.