The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Efforts to Combat Crimes Against Children

Audit Report 09-08
January 2009
Office of the Inspector General

Chapter 3: Child Abductions

According to a 2002 federal study on missing children, 99.8 percent of children reported missing were located or returned home alive.80 The remaining 0.2 percent either did not return home or were not found. The study estimated that most of missing children cases involved runaways from juvenile facilities and that only an estimated 0.0068 percent were true kidnappings by a stranger. The primary conclusion of the study was that child abductions perpetrated by strangers rarely occur. However, when they do occur, the results can be tragic.

The Washington State Attorney General’s Office also conducted research on child abduction murders and made the following observations based on its review of over 775 cases between 1968 and 2002:

These findings demonstrate that despite the low rate of child abduction murders, law enforcement needs to act quickly in investigating reports of missing children. Specifically, law enforcement agencies must have a notification system in place to receive and share reports of missing children, and law enforcement agencies must sufficiently coordinate to ensure adequate resources are available and effectively utilized in the search for missing children.

FBI Authority and Policy

The FBI has responsibility for investigating child abductions through the U.S. Code provisions on kidnapping.82 Additionally, the FBI has internal policies that promote assisting local law enforcement agencies in instances of child abductions.

At the outset of our audit, the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division told us that the FBI considers the victim of child abduction to be in “imminent danger,” and as a result, cases of child abduction are automatically elevated to the FBI’s highest priority. The Chief of the CACU informed us that local law enforcement in smaller departments or rural areas generally do not have the necessary personnel or resources to address child abductions. Further, the infrequent occurrence of child abductions makes the FBI an asset to these investigations. Therefore, the FBI makes it a priority to lend its expertise to local law enforcement during these investigations.

The FBI’s Manual of Investigative Operations and Guidelines (MIOG) contains policies relating to the proper investigative response to child abductions. The MIOG states the following with regard to child abductions:

Officials at FBI headquarters reiterated these policies and highlighted areas for improvement through the issuance of two internal memoranda to field offices in 2005. One memorandum issued in January 2005 noted that field offices were inconsistent in how quickly they were responding to reports of missing children. The second memorandum, issued in September 2005, urged field offices to establish effective liaison with state and local law enforcement agencies for child abduction investigations. To highlight the importance of an immediate response and to maximize the possibility of a successful recovery, the memoranda referred to findings from the child abduction murder study referenced earlier in this report.

Based on our review of the MIOG and internal memoranda, we believe the FBI has adequate policies to guide personnel in responding to and investigating cases of child abduction.

Timeliness of Child Abduction Investigations

The FBI separates its investigation of child abductions into three classifications: child abduction without ransom (non-parental kidnapping), international parental kidnapping, and domestic parental kidnapping.85 Since FY 2000, the FBI has opened over 2,000 child abduction investigations. Specifically, in FY 2007 the FBI opened a total of 77 child abduction cases, 48 domestic parental kidnapping cases, and 58 international parental kidnapping cases.86 The following table shows the number of cases opened for these three types of investigations from FYs 2000 through 2007.


Investigative Type FY 2000 FY 2001 FY 2002 FY 2003 FY 2004 FY 2005 FY 2006 FY 2007 Total
Child Abduction - no ransom 106 94 102 90 79 87 87 77 722
Domestic Parental Kidnapping 139 118 100 81 66 57 44 48 653
International Parental Kidnapping 126 84 73 83 87 65 72 58 648
Total 371 296 275 254 232 209 203 183 2,023
Source: FBI

As a part of our fieldwork, we selected a sample of five investigations classified as child abduction without ransom – one case at each of the five FBI field offices visited – that were closed between FY 2006 and the dates of our fieldwork at each location in Spring and Summer of 2007.87 Of these five cases, three were true abductions of children without ransom and the remaining two were found to be runaway instances. Our review of these case files and subsequent interviews with FBI personnel involved in these investigations determined the following:

Based on details that we noted in these case files, the FBI personnel appeared to have responded in a timely manner and contributed to the investigations. However, we could not determine how long it took for the FBI, on average, to respond to reports of missing children on a nationwide basis because the FBI does not maintain such data.88 The Unit Chief of the CACU stated that the importance of timely response has been emphasized in recent training sessions with CAC Coordinators. Additionally, this Unit Chief said he did not know of any recent instances of untimely response provided by the FBI to missing children reports.

However, the FBI has not established response requirements or a formal mechanism for tracking or assessing the timeliness of its investigative responses to child abduction cases. Responsiveness to child abductions is critical to the well‑being of the victimized children and a primary measure for determining the FBI’s performance in responding to child abductions. The analysis of response data would enable the FBI to identify any weaknesses in response times and take action for improvements. We recommend that the FBI develop response timeframe requirements and a mechanism for tracking and analyzing FBI responsiveness to reports of child abductions. The data gathered should include the date and time the FBI was notified, when the FBI responded, and when other important steps in the investigation occurred.

Timeliness of Response of FBI’s Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Teams

While the FBI does not currently have a formal tracking mechanism on the timeliness of its response to missing children’s reports, it became aware of inconsistencies in field office responses to instances of child abduction. As a result, in 2005 the FBI created Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) teams to help address delays in responding to the disappearance of minors. These CARD teams have become integral to the FBI’s response to child abductions.

The FBI conceived of CARD teams as a cadre of Special Agents with experience in conducting investigations of child abductions in multi‑jurisdictional settings. The CARD initiative originally consisted of eight teams divided among four geographic regions. In 2007, the FBI expanded the CARD initiative to 10 teams divided among 5 geographic regions.89 As of November 2007, there were a total of 64 Supervisory Special Agents and Special Agents nationwide serving as members on 10 CARD teams.90

From its first deployment in March 2006 through 2007, the FBI deployed CARD teams on 26 occasions. Eleven deployments resulted in the recovery of the children alive; 13 deployments resulted in the recovery of the children deceased; and 2 deployments did not result in the location of the missing child.91
The CACU at FBI headquarters manages CARD team activity and is responsible for reviewing all incoming reports of missing children. After the CACU determines that a child abduction report warrants an immediate investigative response, the CACU contacts the corresponding field office to offer assistance from a CARD team.92 If the field office’s management accepts CARD team assistance, the CACU deploys the regional CARD team members. BAU-3 Supervisory Special Agents deploy as an integral part of the FBI’s CARD team to provide specialized assistance to child abduction investigations.93 Once deployed, CARD team members travel to the crime scene and serve as technical consultants to local law enforcement leading the search for the missing children. The CACU stated that the goal of the CARD deployment is never to take over the investigation but to provide assistance to local law enforcement.

To assess whether the CARD concept has enhanced the FBI’s capabilities for providing a timely response to missing children investigations, we reviewed internal controls developed by the FBI to account for program operations. We found that the FBI documents CARD deployments by providing a narrative summary detailing the facts of the case and recounting the efforts expended in investigating the case. Although this documentation provides the date on which the children were reported missing and the date of the CARD team deployments, it does not capture critical data such as the time that the FBI was notified and the time that the FBI acted upon the notification.94 Without the ability to establish a precise chronology detailing the sequence of events in the search for the missing child, the FBI does not have necessary data to evaluate whether the FBI and its CARD teams took timely action during the first crucial hours of the missing child investigation that would maximize the chance of recovering the child alive.

Consequently, we recommend that the FBI evaluate its CARD Teams according to established response timeframe requirements and use its tracking mechanism for all child abduction cases to track and analyze CARD team deployments. Again, data collected should include the precise date and time of critical investigative actions, such as when and how the FBI was notified of the missing child, when the FBI began its involvement in the investigation, and when important steps in the investigation occurred.

FBI CARD Team Post-deployment Review

One of the CACU’s FY 2007 strategic goals included developing a post‑CARD team deployment survey of FBI field offices that received aid from CARD teams. The purpose of this survey was to assist the CACU in developing policies and procedures that would enhance customer satisfaction from CARD deployments. However, as of June 2008 the CACU had not completed its development of this survey. We believe that the FBI should complete and issue such post-deployment surveys as part of the CARD program. Information obtained from such a survey may also provide the FBI with opportunities to improve the CARD program, enhance its investigative response to these time-sensitive crimes, and improve the chance of recovering missing children.

We surveyed the external customers of the CARD teams to assess their experience of working with the FBI. We selected nine deployments for review and obtained the opinions of the local law enforcement agencies regarding CARD deployments. We selected three deployments from each of the following three categories: (1) deployments that resulted in the recovery of the children alive, (2) deployments that resulted in the recovery of the children deceased, and (3) deployments where the children remained missing.95 Altogether we interviewed eight local law enforcement agencies that received assistance from FBI CARD teams, one of which received assistance from CARD teams on two occasions.96 We inquired with these local law enforcement agencies as to whether the FBI provided a timely and adequate response to their investigations of missing children.

All eight local law enforcement agencies that we contacted were satisfied with the assistance received from the CARD teams and stated that they would not hesitate to contact the FBI in future cases of missing children. In addition, all eight agencies informed us that they were satisfied with the timeliness of the FBI’s response. The following is a sample of the agencies’ descriptions of the FBI’s response:

In addition to satisfaction with the timeliness of the response of the FBI CARD teams, all eight local law enforcement agencies expressed satisfaction with the FBI CARD teams in terms of coordination. Positive statements about the FBI’s coordination included: efforts to share information through daily briefings; cooperative attitude; the absence of secret meetings; ability to access information; and an absence of overbearing attitudes.

Coordination of Child Abduction Investigations

A full investigation of a missing child typically consists of a wide array of investigative tools, including establishing a command center, conducting a neighborhood canvass, interviewing individuals, managing law enforcement officers and volunteers, fielding telephone calls on potential leads, producing and distributing flyers, responding to media inquiries, and maintaining contact with the victim’s family. However, without adequate coordination between agencies and across all levels of law enforcement involved in the investigation, these and other important tasks may become chaotic and counter‑productive.

In addition to coordination during an actual investigation of missing children, law enforcement in the same jurisdiction must also establish an on‑going working relationship and become aware of each other’s resources as preparation for any possible future missing children investigations. The FBI regards this coordination as an indispensable aspect of missing children investigations and thus requires each field office to establish liaison with the local law enforcement agencies to ensure that they are made aware of the FBI’s resources, legal jurisdiction, and investigative policy.

To review the adequacy of coordination for instances of child abduction, we evaluated the efforts made by the FBI field office CAC Coordinators to work with their local counterparts from other agencies. We also assessed the degree of coordination evidenced in recently closed investigations and CARD deployments. We reviewed FBI’s coordination with two nationwide tactical programs on child abduction: OJP’s Child Abduction Response Teams (CART) and NCMEC’s Team Adam consultants. Our audit generally found good coordination but identified areas where tracking mechanisms and formal protocols for cooperation between the agencies would further enhance interagency coordination.

FBI Crimes Against Children Coordinators

Since May 1997, each FBI field office is required to designate at least two Special Agent as a Crimes Against Children (CAC) Coordinator.97 The CAC Coordinator serves as the FBI’s primary link with local law enforcement agencies for missing children investigations and is responsible for advising FBI field office management on available resources for investigating crimes against children. Given the importance of coordination in child abduction investigations, the establishment of the CAC Coordinator by the FBI is an affirmative measure to ensure that each field office maintains liaison with local agencies.

The FBI CACU has issued internal memoranda stressing the importance of building effective liaison with local law enforcement agencies. Specifically, a September 2005 memorandum to the field stated that historically “many FBI field offices [had] not received timely, if any, notification from local and state law enforcement agencies on matters involving child abductions.” The memorandum urged the field offices to ensure other agencies understood the FBI’s responsibilities in instances of child abductions. The Chief of the FBI Violent Crimes Section stated that the ability to establish effective liaison with local law enforcement agencies is a critical factor of the CAC Coordinators’ performance evaluations.

We interviewed the nine CAC Coordinators at the five field offices we visited on their liaison efforts with local agencies as well as their methods of receiving missing children reports in their jurisdiction.98 All nine CAC Coordinators stated that they maintained contact with local law enforcement agencies on crimes against children issues. To verify their opinions, we interviewed representatives from local law enforcement agencies at the five locations we selected for field work. Altogether we interviewed six local law enforcement agencies at these five locations.99 Officials from these six agencies informed us that there had been no major child abduction cases at the time of our interviews; consequently, they had no specific comments on the effectiveness of investigative response from the local FBI field office. Nonetheless, these officials expressed generally positive working relationship with the FBI in crimes against children cases.

Our field work further suggested that the CAC Coordinators we interviewed had various methods of receiving information on missing children, as detailed in the following table. One CAC Coordinator stated that it is possible for him to receive the same missing children’s report from multiple sources. In our opinion, the CAC Coordinators we interviewed appeared to have adequate means of becoming informed of missing children’s reports occurring in their jurisdiction.


Field Offices Coordinator No. FBI Internal
E-mail System100
NCMEC Local AMBER Program101 Wireless AMBER Alert102 Local Law Enforcement Agencies News Reports from Media
Boston 1 Y Y Y Y Y Y
2 Y Y Y N Y Y
Los Angeles 1 Y Y Y Y Y Y
2 Y Y Y Y Y Y
Miami103 1 Y Y N N Y N
San Francisco 1 Y Y N N Y Y
2 Y Y Y Y Y Y
St. Louis 1 Y Y Y Y Y Y
2 Y N/A Y N/A Y Y
Source: OIG tabulation from responses of FBI personnel

While FBI headquarters has issued reminders and evaluated the liaison efforts of the CAC Coordinators as a part of their performance ratings, we found that the CACU did not have a means to measure the sufficiency of these liaison efforts, such as the name and number of agencies contacted by the CAC Coordinators on child abduction investigations. By not tracking liaison activities of CAC Coordinators, the CACU at the FBI headquarters does not know which CAC Coordinators have not performed liaison activities or which jurisdictions have local law enforcement agencies that are resistant to FBI’s investigative assistance. Consequently, we believe that the CACU should develop a mechanism to track the liaison efforts of its CAC Coordinators.

FBI Investigative Coordination

To verify that the FBI field offices coordinated its child abduction investigations with local law enforcement agencies, we reviewed a limited sample of recently completed child abduction investigations conducted at the five FBI field offices that we visited. Our sample consisted of one child abduction investigation at each of the five FBI field offices visited that was closed from FY 2006 to the time of our fieldwork in Spring and Summer 2007. In reviewing these five case files, we looked for evidence that the FBI field offices coordinated their investigative efforts with local law enforcement agencies in attempting to recover the missing child. Our review of these cases found:

FBI Coordination with National Child Abduction Programs

In addition to the FBI’s CARD teams, two other non-FBI national programs assist in investigations of child abductions: the OJP Child Abduction Response Team (CART) and NCMEC’s Team Adam consultants. These programs – supported in part by DOJ funding – exist to enhance the effectiveness of child abduction investigations. Because of the potential that individuals from these programs and the FBI CARD teams could participate in the same investigation, it is important for the FBI to coordinate with these programs to ensure the effective use of resources.

The following map illustrates the number and the distribution of OJP CART teams and NCMEC Team Adam consultants among the five regions of FBI CARD teams.


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Source: OIG compilation of data from the FBI, OJP and NCMEC

OJP Child Abduction Response Team (CART)

The OJP CART is modeled after an initiative of the same name created by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).105 The premise of the FDLE CART is that because child abductions without ransom rarely occur, most local police departments lack investigative experience in this crime and could benefit from training. OJP adopted the same philosophy when it created its CART program in early 2005 to provide training to local law enforcement agencies on conducting such investigations. Central to the OJP CART training is the development of a Memorandum of Understanding that encourages participating agencies to identify and commit resources for deployments in the search for missing children. As of November 2007, OJP CART had trained 101 child abduction response teams composed of 974 team members (see map above).

During the initial phase of our fieldwork in Spring 2007, we found that the FBI had an informal method of coordinating with OJP CART. Specifically, FBI headquarters advised CARD team members to reach out to OJP CART team members when CART training sessions were held in their area. According to the CACU, as of September 2007 14 FBI Special Agents had attended OJP CART training as a part of their outreach activities.

In visiting five FBI field offices during our audit, we identified one Special Agent who was a formal member of a local CART team. This Special Agent, located at the FBI’s Resident Agency in Santa Ana, California, served as the coordinator of kidnapping investigations for her office and was invited to become a team member when a local county sheriff (Orange County) decided to form an OJP CART team. The Special Agent stated that becoming a member of the CART has been a positive step in establishing a strong liaison with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in missing children investigations. She was also complimentary of the training provided by OJP but felt that the resources of the FBI were not adequately represented in the training materials.

In June 2008, the CACU Chief informed us that the FBI would adopt a formal approach to its liaison efforts with the OJP CART teams. Specifically, the FBI stated that it began drafting a written protocol that would include guidance for Special Agents on how to interact with OJP CART teams.

Based on the fact that the FBI CARD teams have become central to the agency’s response to missing children and that the OJP CART has expanded to 101 teams nationwide, the potential exists for the two programs to respond to the same child abduction investigations. We believe that the FBI has taken positive steps in beginning to draft a formal document regarding the interaction between the two programs. We recommend that the FBI complete this protocol with the OJP CART program so that an official policy exists for CARD team members to resolve any problems that may arise while working with OJP CART members in missing children investigations.

NCMEC Team Adam

NCMEC created its “Team Adam” program in January 2003 with a volunteer corps of retired law enforcement officers, referred to as “consultants,” who were experienced in child abduction investigations.106 The goal of the Team Adam program is to provide technical expertise to law enforcement agencies as well as to families affected by child abductions. Its consultants do not participate in the actual investigation of a missing child and instead provide technical advice or monetary assistance when necessary. As of November 2007, there were 61 Team Adam consultants in 33 states (see previous map).107

We found that the FBI has made progress in coordinating with NCMEC’s Team Adam program, particularly in the area of training assistance. The FBI liaison at NCMEC and representatives from the FBI’s BAU-3 have made presentations at training sessions of Team Adam consultants on the FBI’s resources for investigating child abductions. NCMEC reciprocated when the FBI staged its initial week-long training for new CARD teams in February 2006 by providing a 1-hour presentation on the Team Adam program. In a September 2007 training conference for all CAC Coordinators, the FBI again invited a representative from NCMEC to discuss the Team Adam program and other NCMEC resources.

In our interviews with FBI Supervisory Special Agents and Special Agents, however, we noted two instances where Special Agents reported concerns in working with Team Adam consultants. In both instances, the FBI employees stated that they had worked on CARD team deployments where the Team Adam consultants extended beyond their status as retired law enforcement officials and became involved in investigative matters. We believe that a formal protocol for coordinating FBI and Team Adam resources would address concerns of Special Agents and enable FBI and Team Adam personnel to operate with greater coordination.

The CACU Chief stated in June 2008 it was completing a written protocol on FBI and Team Adam coordination. We recommend that the FBI complete and implement the written protocol to ensure that the FBI and Team Adam members can have a clear delineation of their respective roles on investigations of missing children.

International Parental Child Abduction

International parental child abduction refers to situations in which a parent “removes a child from the United States, or attempts to do so, or retains a child (who has [previously] been in the United States) outside the United States with intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights.”108 The applicable federal law, enacted through the 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA), defines a child as “a person who has not attained the age of 16 years” and defines parental rights as including physical custody, whether joint or sole (including visitation), and “arising by operation of law, court order, or legally binding agreement of the parties.”109

The parent that is left behind in an international parental abduction case can seek help from the federal government through a civil process to secure the return of or gain access to the abducted child, and through a criminal process to prosecute the abducting parent. For civil procedures, the United States is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Convention), a multi-lateral treaty created by the Hague Conference on Private International Law.110 The Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues assists the left-behind parent with the international diplomatic aspects of the civil process, such as locating the abducted children, reporting on their general welfare, providing information on the status of judicial and administrative proceedings in other countries, and making contacts on behalf of the left-behind parent with local officials in foreign countries.111 Similarly, NCMEC, under separate federal authorities, provides services to families whose child or children have been abducted abroad by a parent.112

Role of the FBI in Investigations of International Parental Kidnapping

The Department of Justice is responsible for pursuing federal criminal charges against the abducting parents in accordance with the IPKCA, and the FBI has sole jurisdiction for investigating these cases and must coordinate its response with foreign governments and law enforcement agencies through its Legal Attaché (Legat) Offices with foreign governments and law enforcement agencies. According to the FBI, two conditions must be met prior to initiating an international parental kidnapping warrant: the FBI must file a request for a federal felony warrant with a United States Attorney, and law enforcement must believe that the abductor has fled the United States.

As part of our review, we performed testing of international parental kidnapping cases at the five FBI field offices visited. We reviewed eight cases of international kidnapping that were closed between October 1, 2005, and June 30, 2007. These eight cases include 13 children abducted to the Bahamas, Canada, China, Dubai, Ethiopia, India, Latvia, and New Zealand. The following table briefly describes these cases.


FBI Field Office Country Outcome
Boston China The mother voluntarily returned to the United States with the child.
Boston Canada The mother remained in Canada with the children. Federal and local prosecutors declined prosecution because the mother may have had a basis for fearing domestic violence if she returned the children.
Los Angeles Ethiopia The father permitted the mother to take custody of three children in Ethiopia and return them to the United States.
Miami Bahamas The mother voluntarily returned the children to the United States and was subsequently convicted in state court.
Miami India The mother voluntarily returned to the United States with the child.
San Francisco Dubai One of two abducted children voluntarily returned to the United States after reaching the age of majority.
St. Louis Latvia The mother remained in Latvia with the child. A federal warrant for international parental kidnapping was obtained. The father has initiated civil proceedings in Latvia.
St. Louis New Zealand The father was arrested in New Zealand, deported to the United States, and convicted of international parental kidnapping. The child was recovered alive.
Source: OIG review of selected FBI case files

Our review of these eight cases found that FBI Legat Offices facilitated the investigation by coordinating with both U.S. and foreign agencies. At the same time, details from these cases also suggest a wide range of issues that can hinder the FBI’s ability to secure the return of children that are abducted by a parent. For instance, in the case where the child was abducted by the mother to Latvia, the FBI’s involvement was limited because the United States does not have provisional arrest authority with Latvia. Consequently, the father had to pursue civil procedures to obtain assistance. In another case initiated by the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office, documentation in the case file demonstrated continual efforts by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to return the child to the United States. The case was resolved after 10 years, but not because of any criminal or civil procedures. Instead, the resolution came about simply because the abducted child had reached the age of majority and wanted to reunite with the left-behind parent.

FBI Legal Attaché Offices

To obtain insight on the role of the FBI Legat Offices in responding to cases of international parental kidnapping, we surveyed FBI Legat personnel stationed in eight countries.113 Four of these countries (Israel, Mexico, Poland, and the United Kingdom) have ratified the Hague Convention, and the other four (Barbados, Ethiopia, Japan, and Saudi Arabia) have not. Of the eight locations surveyed, 6 of the Legat Offices had 13 active cases of international parental kidnapping of children.

In general, most respondents (five of the eight Legat personnel) described their role as more of a facilitator than an investigator. Some of the typical duties mentioned by Legats in relation to international parental kidnapping included liaison between the United States embassy and foreign law enforcement, coordination in obtaining a provisional arrest warrant, and liaison between the State Department and FBI Special Agents at field offices in the United States. Some Legat respondents also noted that parental kidnapping of children may not be a crime in other countries. For instance, the FBI employee in the Tokyo Legat Office stated that parental kidnapping of children is not a crime in Japan unless the abductor uses force, intimidation, deception, or enticement to carry out the kidnapping.

Of the eight respondents, six suggested the need for more in-depth training on IPKCA issues, including the Hague Convention, the role of the State Department, case studies, and other more specialized issues unique to a particular country. Currently, the FBI Office of International Operations, which oversees the FBI Legat program, provides a 3-week training course before Legat employees report to their foreign posts. This course includes a segment on IPKCA. The primary focus of this training is to equip employees with general knowledge that is necessary for working in a foreign country as an overseas FBI representative. This includes preparing Legats to be able to handle all types of crimes. Therefore, the coverage of IPKCA issues at the pre-deployment training is general in nature and not as specialized as Legats believe is necessary to effectively assist in the investigation of international parental kidnappings.

In February and April 2008, the CACU presented training at regional conferences in the Middle East and in Asia, respectively. These 1-week training courses included more in-depth coverage of IPKCA issues and country-specific matters. We believe the CACU should build on this effort and provide Legats with more specialized training opportunities. As one survey respondent suggested, training could be conducted through a web-based module, which may facilitate the process by making training opportunities available anytime and at all locations.

The complexities of working with foreign governments, honoring the sovereignty of foreign countries and their laws, and adhering to international agreements require FBI Legat personnel to have significant knowledge of the investigative and diplomatic tools available for addressing international parental kidnapping, which are different for each country. Our survey of FBI Legat Office representatives indicated that FBI foreign personnel believed they needed more training on international parental kidnapping. We recommend that the FBI develop training for FBI Legat personnel on international parental kidnapping, whether during Legat pre-deployment training, through web-based tutorials, or by other means.

Coordinated Database on International Kidnapping

In March 2000, the GAO reported that one weakness in the federal government’s response to the international parental abduction of children was the lack of a coordinated database for sharing information among the State Department, DOJ, and NCMEC.114 The report noted that each of these components had separate databases for information on international parental abduction cases, which were not integrated and used different criteria to categorize case information. The GAO cited an instance where the State Department contacted a foreign government about an abducted child not knowing that the FBI had investigated the incident and recovered the child a month earlier. The GAO report stated that an integrated, comprehensive database would have prevented such redundancy. The report also stated that both the State Department and DOJ recognized the need for an integrated tracking system to help improve coordination on international parental kidnapping, and the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) took the lead to develop this system.

However, contrary to the State Department’s stated intention to implement the system by August 2000, our audit found that as of June 2008 a coordinated database had still not been established. At the outset of our fieldwork in March 2007, officials at the OCI were unfamiliar with the tracking database suggested by the 2000 GAO report. Instead, the OCI officials informed us that they were in the process of providing read-only access to its database of cases of international parental kidnapping of children for the FBI and NCMEC. By September 2007, when we interviewed officials at the OCI for follow-up information, we learned that the project of providing read-only access to the OCI’s database had been abandoned, although we were not provided the reasons why. Additionally, we learned in September 2007 that as a renewed effort to enhance coordination in case management among the three agencies, NCMEC would grant dial-up access to its database on international abduction of children for the FBI and State Department. Subsequent interviews with officials at the FBI and Statement Department confirmed all of these developments.

During our fieldwork, CACU representatives informed us that no recent duplicative efforts on international parental kidnapping of children have come to their attention involving the State Department and NCMEC. At the same time, CACU representatives further informed us that the likelihood of duplication is much higher for the State Department and NCMEC when both agencies file applications for civil resolution through the Hague Conference on Private International Law, the organization that had created the Hague Convention.115

Given the complexities and the global nature of recovering missing children abducted abroad, agencies involved in such recoveries must coordinate well to maximize the chance of locating the children. We recommend that the FBI continue to work closely with the State Department and NCMEC on the development of a central, integrated database of information on international parental abductions.

Research and Outreach Activities on Child Abductions

According to the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit-3 (BAU-3) is responsible for providing investigative support, research findings, violent crime analysis, and, if requested, on-site consultation and advice in child abduction, mysterious disappearances of children, child homicide, and serial murder investigations.116 For child abduction matters the BAU-3 has published a law enforcement investigative guide, conducted research projects, and provided consulting services to law enforcement agencies.

The BAU-3 published the original Child Abduction Response Plan (CARP)in 1997 and a second edition in 2008. The CARP is intended to serve as an investigative guide to law enforcement in the search for missing children. As of Spring 2007 approximately 200,000 copies of the CARP were distributed free of charge to law enforcement officials in the 10 years after its publication. In addition, the BAU-3 has made the CARP available in both English and Spanish and has developed and distributed a small, abbreviated guidebook so that criminal investigators may easily carry it while searching for a missing child.

Additionally, the BAU‑3 conducts research projects on child abductions, with the goal to share results with operational personnel conducting investigations on crimes against children. For example, investigative procedures for infant abductions have been formalized in the FBI MIOG based on the results of research conducted by the BAU‑3. During our review, BAU-3 was conducting four research projects on child abductions: (1) child abduction homicide; (2) child abduction criminal history study; (3) epidemiology of infant abduction; and (4) false allegation of child abductions, where the victim’s parent or caregiver claims the child was abducted or went missing in an effort to cover up a homicide or an attempted homicide.

Our audit also found examples where staff members of the FBI’s BAU‑3 have offered assistance on cases of crimes against children and provided training to FBI field personnel and to other law enforcement agencies.


Between FYs 2000 and 2007, the FBI opened over 2,000 child abduction investigations. The FBI considers child abductions a high priority and has developed internal policies that Special Agents should respond immediately to instances of child abductions. In addition, the FBI requires its field offices to establish effective liaison with local agencies as a means of being prepared to coordinate its response when a child is abducted. These liaison requirements constitute a rating element for the FBI’s CAC Coordinators’ performance evaluations. In addition, the FBI’s BAU-3 has conducted research projects, lent support, and published an investigative guide on child abduction investigations. Moreover, the FBI has developed its CARD team initiative to provide technical consultation in investigating mysterious disappearances of minors, which has become an important facet of the FBI’s response to missing children investigations.

However, the FBI has not implemented a mechanism to evaluate whether it was responding to incidents of child abduction in a timely and coordinated fashion or whether its CAC Coordinators are performing liaison responsibilities with local law enforcement agencies on a routine basis. We recommend that the FBI develop such a mechanism to better account for the date and time when the FBI receives and responds to notifications of potential abductions. We also recommend that the FBI implement procedures for evaluating, at least annually, the CAC Coordinator’s liaison efforts with law enforcement agencies and non-profit organizations involved in combating crimes against children.

The FBI’s CARD program is integral to its child abduction operations in assisting state and local law enforcement in the search for missing children. However, the FBI has not yet employed a post-deployment survey of the recipients of a CARD team’s assistance, which was a CACU strategic objective. We believe that such a survey can provide important feedback for identifying best practices and areas for improving CARD team coordination.

We identified two national programs with similar goals as the FBI CARD program: the OJP CART and NCMEC Team Adam programs. We found that FBI did not have an adequate mechanism to coordinate with these programs, which could inadvertently hamper the search for missing children. We recommend that the FBI complete the written protocols with these agencies for operating in a complementary fashion.

Finally, addressing incidents of international parental kidnapping is difficult because of the differing laws of foreign countries and the complexities of international investigations. FBI Legat personnel said they did not receive sufficient training on international kidnapping, including tutorials on international and foreign country laws regarding parental kidnapping. We also found that the FBI, State Department, and NCMEC had not implemented a 2000 GAO recommendation to develop a shared database on international parental kidnapping.


We recommend the FBI:

  1. Develop a mechanism to track investigative events for child abduction cases, especially the date and time when the FBI received notification of a potential abduction and when and how the FBI responded to the incident.

  2. Develop and implement procedures for evaluating, at least annually, the CAC Coordinators’ liaison efforts with law enforcement agencies and non-profit organizations involved in combating crimes against children.

  3. Implement a post-deployment survey of CARD team customers.

  4. Complete a written protocol on coordination between the FBI CARD teams and the OJP CART.

  5. Complete a written protocol on coordination between the CARD teams and the NCMEC Team Adam consultants.

  6. Provide specialized training to Legat personnel on international parental kidnapping.

  7. Coordinate with the State Department and NCMEC to promote the development of a database of information regarding instances of international parental kidnappings.


  1. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (October 2002), (accessed October 22, 2008). The Missing Children’s Assistance Act of 1984 requires the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to conduct periodic studies to determine the number of children reported missing and the number recovered in a given year. OJJDP has sponsored two National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART). NISMART-1 was issued in 1990 based on data from 1988; NISMART-2 was issued in 2002 based on data from 1999. NISMART-2 is a comprehensive study that captured various scenarios where the caretakers did not know the whereabouts of the children: non-family abduction, stereotypical kidnapping, family abduction, runaway children, thrownaway children, involuntary missing-lost-injured, and missing with a benign explanation.

  2. Attorney General of Washington and OJJDP, Investigative Case Management for Missing Children Homicides: Report II (May 2006). The Criminal Division of the Washington State Attorney General’s office began this study in late 1993 with a sample of more than 600 child abduction murder cases and issued the results in 1997. A new edition of the study was released in 2006 by incorporating the results of an additional 175 solved cases of child abduction murders. OJJDP provided partial funding for this study.

  3. See 18 U.S.C. § 1201 for the federal kidnapping statutes; 18 U.S.C. § 1073, commonly referred to as Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP), and amended in December 1980 to include parental kidnapping; and 18 U.S.C. § 1204, codification of the 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act.

  4. In addition, the FBI has developed a term, “a minor of tender years,” to designate those under the age of 12. The FBI considers minors of tender years particularly vulnerable because of underdeveloped survival and social skills when compared to older children. FBI’s MIOG also states that “minors of tender years” may include anyone under 18 “based on several variables such as life experience, intellectual capability, physical and emotional maturity, and other factors.” Consequently, the MIOG urges all field offices to react quickly to the disappearance of minors, especially those of tender years.

  5. Elements of the federal statutes on kidnapping, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 1201, include: presence or absence of ransom or reward; transport of the victim in interstate or foreign commerce; special maritime, territorial or aircraft jurisdiction; victim’s status as an internationally protected person or a foreign official; the refutable presumption that a person has been transported to interstate or foreign commerce if not released in 24 hours; and the authorization for a federal investigation to commence within that 24-hour period.

  6. The MIOG explains that kidnappings may be “committed for reasons other than just ransom or reward,” including “sexual assault, abuse, or exploitation; child stealing; romance; and custodial or domestic disputes.” Also, the FBI tracks abduction cases with ransom requests under a separate classification code that is not unique to children but also includes adult cases. Child abduction cases with ransom requests are not handled by the CACU, but rather the National Violent Crimes Unit, which is also organizationally located within the Violent Crimes Section. Because the FBI does not separate out cases involving child abductions with ransom requests from adult kidnapping cases with ransom requests, we did not include these crimes in our audit.

  7. The FBI MIOG instructs Special Agents to initiate domestic parental kidnapping investigations under the federal UFAP statutes when: (1) a state or local felony warrant has been issued, (2) local authorities have requested assistance from the FBI, or (3) probable cause is shown that the fugitive parent has fled the state to avoid prosecution. During our fieldwork, we reviewed a total of five cases of domestic parental kidnapping and saw evidence in these files that the FBI assisted local authorities in cases of custody interferences. In all five cases, the missing children were recovered alive; three of the five cases became international in scope after the abducting parents took the children outside the United States.

  8. We conducted fieldwork at these five FBI field offices: San Francisco and Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Boston, Massachusetts; and St. Louis, Missouri.

  9. While these details for the five case files reflect the timeliness of the FBI’s efforts to respond to each investigation, it was necessary for us to supplement case file information with interviews of FBI personnel related to each case. The case files alone did not allow us to identify and track the time when each critical investigative step occurred.

  10. The five regions of the FBI CARD teams are: (1) Northeast, (2) Southeast, (3) Central, (4) South Central, and (5) West. The map in the “FBI Coordination with National Child Abduction Programs” section later in this chapter shows the five regions of the FBI CARD teams.

  11. The CACU specified the following nine criteria in recruiting CARD team members in August 2005: (1) 5 years broad-based investigative experience with an emphasis on crimes against children, (2) experience in handling multi-jurisdictional cases and crisis management, (3) knowledge of available resources in searches, multi-jurisdictional and international lead coverage and management, (4) knowledge of FBI policies regarding non-family abductions, (5) demonstrated liaison and interpersonal skills, (6) demonstrated organizational and analytical skills, (7) demonstrated operational leadership, (8) demonstrated oral and written communication skills, and (9) approval of the field office’s Special Agent in Charge.

  12. See Appendix VIII for our analysis of FBI’s first 26 CARD deployments based on the narrative summaries provided by the CACU.

  13. In evaluating incoming reports of missing children, the FBI uses criteria specified in the MIOG, such as the concept of a child of tender years mentioned earlier in this chapter, and whether the missing child is a routine runaway.

  14. In June 2008, the BAU-3 Chief informed us that he has made it a mandatory requirement for BAU-3 personnel to participate in all CARD team deployments to assist in the efforts of recovering missing children.

  15. The only exception among the 26 deployments of the CARD teams was the first deployment, where the CACU noted in the narrative summary both the date and time the police agency notified the FBI field office of the missing children.

  16. Since our initial selections of CARD deployments for further review in Spring 2007, one missing child was recovered deceased among the three deployments where the children had remained missing.

  17. The eight local law enforcement agencies we contacted were: (1) Franklin County Sheriff’s Department in Union, Missouri (recipient of two CARD team deployments); (2) Salinas Police Department in Salinas, California; (3) Salt Lake City Police Department in Salt Lake City, Utah; (4) DeSha County Sheriff’s Office in Arkansas City, Arkansas; (5) Allegheny County Police Department in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; (6) Smyrna Police Department in Smyrna, Tennessee; (7) Leesburg Police Department in Leesburg, Florida; and (8) Buxton Police Department in Buxton, Maine.

  18. The number of the required CAC Coordinators was reduced from two to one at each FBI field office in February 2004, following the transfer of the IINI from the Criminal Investigative Division to the Cyber Division and the resulting shift of resources.

  19. The five field offices we visited in this audit had two CAC Coordinators. However, the second CAC Coordinator at the Miami Field Office focused on cyber crimes against children and did not typically evaluate incoming reports of missing children. Therefore, we did not include this CAC Coordinator in this aspect of our review.

  20. We interviewed representatives from these local law enforcement agencies during our field work at the five selected FBI field offices: (1) San Francisco Police Department, (2) San Jose Police Department, (3) Los Angeles Police Department, (4) City of Miami Police Department, (5) Boston Police Department, and (6) St. Louis Metro Police Department.

  21. The category of missing children reports from the FBI’s internal e-mail system includes reports sent to the CAC Coordinators from: the local FBI field offices; the CACU, and the Critical Incident Response Group; and the FBI’s liaison at NCMEC, who reviews missing children’s reports received by NCMEC and then forwards such reports to the appropriate FBI field offices for further response. One significant category of missing children reports comes from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which distributes the reports to NCMEC for further dissemination. The National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990 requires federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to enter information about missing children into NCIC without the observance of any waiting periods.

  22. The America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert began in 1997 in Texas as a local program to inform the public about missing children. As of December 2007, AMBER Alert had expanded to 119 statewide, regional, and local AMBER plans and resulted in 365 successful recoveries. Nevertheless, one FBI official stated that the FBI has investigated child abductions that were not broadcast through the AMBER plans because not all criteria of the plans were met.

  23. Anyone may sign up to receive wireless AMBER Alerts by designating up to five zip codes. These notifications on missing children are sent to a subscriber’s wireless devices.

  24. Although the Miami Field Office has two CAC Coordinators, the second coordinator is assigned to crimes against children facilitated through high technology and did not typically evaluate incoming reports of missing children. Therefore, we do not include this CAC Coordinator in this table.

  25. This map was prepared based on information obtained in November 2007 from OJP and NCMEC.

  26. The FDLE conceived of the CART after the abduction and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia in February 2004.

  27. NCMEC named its Team Adam program after the son of the organization’s co-founders, John and Revé Walsh. Adam Walsh was abducted and murdered in 1981.

  28. As of December 2007, Team Adam deployed to 44 states on 305 cases involving a total of 353 children. The investigations led to the recovery of 329 children, 89 of whom were found deceased. Twenty-four children remained missing.

  29. See 18 U.S.C. § 1204(a) (2005), codification of the 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act.

  30. See 18 U.S.C. § 1204(b) (1) and (2) (2005). The definition of a “child” in international parental kidnapping is someone under the age of 16 instead of 18 because of the multi-lateral treaty from the Hague Conference on Private International Law, the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Convention), Article 4. The U.S. ratified the Hague Convention through the International Child Abduction Remedies Act of 1988.

  31. See Appendix IX for a list of countries and effective dates under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

  32. Executive Order 12648 of August 1988 appointed the Department of State as the Central Authority for administering terms of the Hague Convention. Article 6 of the Hague Convention requires the designation of a “Central Authority” for the discharge of “duties which are imposed by the Convention upon such authorities.”

  33. See 42 U.S.C. § 5771 and 42 U.S.C. § 5773 (b) (1) (G) for NCMEC’s role in international kidnapping of children.

  34. We made our judgmental selection of eight countries based on statistics from the Department of State. We learned from the FBI that the agency’s current information system, the Automated Case Support (ACS) system, is not able to produce an accounting of international parental kidnapping of children by the country to which the children were abducted. Presently, the FBI is replacing the ACS with a new system under the Sentinel project. The third of the four phases of the Sentinel project is intended to provide a “Universal Index” that would enhance the research capabilities of case-related information residing in ACS.

  35. GAO, Foreign Affairs: Specific Action Plan Needed to Improve Response to Parental Child Abductions, GAO/NSIAD-00-10, (March 2000), 3, 6, and 7.

  36. The Hague Convention seeks to bring about the voluntary return of the abducted child, including the use of judicial or administrative procedures that would result in the resolution of such cases of international parental abductions.

  37. 28 U.S.C. § 531 (1998).


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