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Federal Bureau of Investigation Legal Attaché Program*

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


Chapter 6: FBI Oversight of the Legal Attaché Program Appears Adequate

Based on our discussions with FBI headquarters personnel and our limited review of office justifications and reporting processes, the FBI’s overall oversight of the Legal Attaché program appears to be adequate.  The FBI periodically reassesses the need for offices abroad and justifies the need for new Legal Attaché offices or changes in the staffing or territories of existing offices.  Once a Legal Attaché office is opened, the FBI monitors the activities of the office through periodic inspections, site visits, and various reports.

FBI Justification for Establishing and Maintaining Offices

According to OIO officials, determining whether new Legal Attaché offices should be opened or existing offices should be expanded, realigned, or closed is an ongoing and normal part of headquarters oversight.  Among the factors considered in making location and staffing decisions are:

  • threat assessments of specific terrorist or criminal activity in a country or region that threatens the United States;
  • the strategic location of the host country from a geographic,  political, and economic perspective and the country’s respect for the rule of law;
  • the commitment of the host country to cooperate with the FBI to advance investigations of unilateral and bilateral interest;
  • analysis of workloads in existing offices and the ability of staff in these offices to cover areas beyond the specific country in which they are located;
  • difficulty and cost of travel within a given territory;
  • U.S. Ambassador or congressional interest in having a Legal Attaché office in a particular region; and
  • the funding and resources available to the FBI to fulfill its mission.

Based on this ongoing review process, the FBI has opened new offices or sub-offices or added staff to existing offices to address the workload.  For example, the FBI opened a Legat in Seoul, South Korea, in 2000 because distance made it difficult for Legat Tokyo to maintain the frequent face-to-face contact with Korean law enforcement authorities that was necessary because of investigative caseloads.  In addition, in FY 2002 an ALAT position was reallocated from the Mexico City Legat to the Ottawa Legat to help Ottawa manage its backlog of pending leads (previously discussed in    Chapter 3).  The same review process has been used to consolidate offices when workload no longer justified keeping an office open.  For example, the FBI closed the Legal Attaché office in Montevideo in 1999 because the workload in that office was not sufficient to maintain a presence in Uruguay.  The positions in that office were reallocated to the Legat office in Brasilia, which opened that same year and had a greater amount of criminal activity affecting the United States.

Once the FBI determines a need for a new Legal Attaché office or a change needs to be made to the staffing level in an existing office, it must seek approval from the appropriate U.S. Ambassador, the Departments of Justice and State, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Congress.  The process begins with informal discussions with the Ambassador to determine if the Ambassador will support the FBI’s proposal.  If the Ambassador is supportive, the FBI prepares a National Security Determination Directive 38 (NSDD 38) proposal and submits it to the Department of State.

Under NSDD 38, agencies must seek approval from the Ambassador for any changes in size, composition, or mandate of personnel operating under their authority at each diplomatic post.  Staffing changes include permanently increasing or decreasing the staffing size at a given location, as well as establishing new offices or shutting down existing operations.  The NSDD 38 proposal specifies the location of the proposed staffing change, titles and grades of the positions, justification statements, and any support and cost implications for the post.  The FBI’s NSDD 38 proposals are reviewed by the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, the Department of State, and the respective U.S. Ambassador.  The FBI initiates staffing of the Legat office once the NSDD-38 process has been completed, providing that congressional approval and funding are forthcoming.  If funding is not approved, the FBI may reallocate the needed positions from another Legat office.  Subsequently, a Memorandum of Understanding is entered into between the respective U.S. Embassy and the FBI.

In 1999, in response to a congressional request, the FBI submitted assessments for existing and planned Legal Attaché offices.  The assessments identified specific criminal activities in the Legats’ territory that affected the United States, analyzed the impact of criminal activity on U.S. interests and persons, and justified the presence and/or need for enhancement of FBI resources.  In our opinion, these assessments were comprehensive and, along with other information, identified the crime problems in the foreign countries that had a connection to the United States.

Later, the House Conference report 107-593, which accompanied the “2002 Supplemental Appropriations Act For Further Recovery from and Response to Terrorist Attacks on the United States” directed the FBI to submit a report to the Congress on proposed new Legal Attaché offices and existing offices to ensure that resources were being deployed to the highest priority locations.  The FBI’s report provided a synopsis for each Legal Attaché office and included the FBI’s conclusions about the staffing level at each location.  While we did not assess the conclusions for each office, based on our review of the Legats in Berlin, Ottawa, Pretoria, and Tokyo, we agreed with the reports conclusions for those four offices. According to the report, the staffing levels in Legats Pretoria and Tokyo were adequate for the workload.  In contrast, the heavy use of temporary duty personnel in Legats Berlin and Ottawa was expensive and did not provide needed continuity in more complex investigations—which was consistent with what we found when we reviewed these two offices.  Thus, the report proposed increasing the permanent staff at both locations to better address the workload.

Oversight of Offices

With Legat offices located all over the world, headquarters oversight can be a challenge.  Time zone differences can make it more difficult to communicate and making site visits can be expensive and time consuming.  Nevertheless, it is critical that FBI headquarters monitor the overall program.  Legats are required to provide periodic reports on their activities and respond to inquiries.  In addition, both OIO and Inspection Division staff periodically make on-site reviews of Legat operations.

FBI Headquarters requires each Legal Attaché office to prepare and submit a Legal Attaché Annual Accomplishment Report (LAR).  The LAR reports provide detailed information about the office’s operations and accomplishments for the past year.  For example, the reports include information on the law enforcement structure of the host country; the Legats’ liaison contacts; detailed threat assessments; major case information; FBI personnel temporarily assigned to the office; and travel, personnel, and other matters handled throughout the year.  In addition, the LAR identifies the offices’ goals and objectives for the upcoming year.  OIO officials use these reports to monitor offices’ accomplishments and told us they were currently examining ways to make these reports more consistent and useful.  For example, OIO officials said that some of the information in the LAR could not be easily summarized in order to respond to congressional requests for information on the Legat program.

To better keep abreast of Legats’ workload, OIO, starting in   May 2003, began analyzing each Legat office’s pending leads on a quarterly basis.  The results of the analysis are provided to the applicable Legat office and problems identified must be explained or resolved.  For example, the Legats are required to provide explanations of their efforts to resolve leads pending for more than 360 days.

OIO officials told us they maintain regular telephone and e-mail contact with Legat offices.  Every Monday morning, OIO managers meet to discuss significant issues or problems that have arisen in Legat offices over the weekend that need their attention.  OIO officials also told us they obtain feedback on Legat offices from the [CLASSIFIED INFORMATION REDACTED], Ambassadors, Regional Security Officers, and foreign law enforcement officials visiting FBI headquarters.

Annually, OIO hosts a conference in Washington, D.C. attended by all the Legal Attachés.  We attended the conference held in November 2002.  A variety of topics were covered including recent changes in the FBI and the impact of these changes on the Legat program, counterterrorism, criminal, and security issues relevant to operations abroad, and Legat performance expectations and career development.

The FBI’s Inspection Division conducts in-depth reviews of the activities of individual Legal Attaché offices, normally on a 3-year cycle.  We noted that this cycle was adhered to for three of the four offices we reviewed—Berlin, Ottawa, and Tokyo.  Pretoria, the fourth office was opened in 1997 and was inspected in 1999.  A subsequent inspection was scheduled for 2003, but was postponed due to other Bureau commitments and a pending assessment of the inspection process for Legat offices.

The inspections include a review of management issues, staffing, administration, liaisons, workload, and training matters.  The reports comment on the effectiveness and efficiency of the Legal Attaché.  When an inspection is completed, a report is issued with recommendations that must be addressed in writing by either the Legal Attaché or, in some instances, FBI headquarters.

OIO managers told us that in the past, Inspection Division reviews of Legat offices were conducted using the same guide used for reviewing domestic offices.  Consequently, some of the areas covered during these inspections were not relevant to Legat operations.  Recognizing this problem, OIO met with staff from the FBI’s Inspection Division in order to revise the guide used for foreign operations.  As of November 2003, OIO officials told us that the Inspection Division had recently tested the revised guide at two Legat offices.

We followed up on 26 of the 31 findings from the latest Inspection Division reviews of Legats Berlin, Ottawa, Pretoria, and Tokyo.  These findings involved noncompliance with FBI requirements in areas such as security, financial management, property management, personnel, and administration.  We concluded that the FBI had taken appropriate corrective action for most of the findings, with the exception of a finding related to the staffing problems in Ottawa, which we previously discussed in Chapter 3.  However, we found no evidence to confirm that corrective action had been fully implemented related to changing safe combinations in Ottawa and conducting unannounced cash counts of the imprest fund in Tokyo.

Apart from the more formal inspection process, OIO managers told us that they made site visits to the Legal Attaché offices where they reviewed such matters as staffing levels and management and administrative issues.  They also spoke with U.S. embassy and foreign law enforcement personnel about the Legal Attaché’s liaison efforts.  However, these reviews were not conducted on a regular basis.  We found documentation supporting OIO site visits for only two of the four offices we reviewed.  OIO officials acknowledged in November 2003 that their managers needed to make more systematic site visits.  They said they were in the process of developing a schedule of OIO site reviews so that either the Inspection Division or OIO would review each office every 18 months.


The assessment of the number, location, and staffing of Legat offices is an ongoing process that takes into account multiple factors.  Based on these assessments, the FBI has expanded, realigned, and even closed Legat offices.  Any such changes cannot be made without approval from the Departments of Justice and State, the Office of Management and Budget, and Congress.  Once a Legal Attaché office is opened, the FBI provides oversight and monitors the activities of the office through periodic inspections, site visits, and various reports.  In addition, FBI management officials said that they were taking additional steps to improve oversight of the program.  Based on our limited review, we believe that the FBI justifications substantiated their location decisions for Legat offices and their oversight of these offices seemed adequate.