International Operations – I

October 30, 2009

The FBI provides an overview of the role and responsibilities fulfilled by the International Operations Division and how the program has grown over recent years.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello I’m Neal Schiff and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. In case you didn’t know it, the FBI has offices around the world, not just in the United States. They are called legal attaché offices, and the FBI’s International Operations Division oversees them and the program’s growth.

Mr. Joyce: “Since the attacks on 9/11, it has increased substantially to the 61 offices that exist today.”

Mr. Schiff: That’s the Assistant Director of the FBI’s International Operations Division, IOD, Sean Joyce.

Mr. Joyce: “Our role is really to pursue the FBI’s mission overseas. Specifically, to confront and defeat threats to our national security, threats to our, really the criminal organizations that exist abroad that affect the United States and the United States’ interests, by really building these trusted relationships with our foreign law enforcement and intelligence partners.”

Mr. Schiff: How do we build trust with our foreign partners?

Mr. Joyce: “Again what we have is what’s called ‘the FBI representative overseas.’ It’s called the legal attaché (legat). They are stationed abroad and live there, sometimes with families, sometimes not, and really build these relationships with our foreign counterparts. So, for instance, if you pick any country throughout the world or in 61 countries where we have legat offices; we have 14 sub-offices, and we cover over 200 countries. In those areas, the legal attaché or the assistant legal attaché (ALAT) will actually meet with our foreign counterparts and discuss things that we have in common, whether that’s part of the counterterrorism mission, the counterintelligence mission, or the criminal mission.”

Mr. Schiff: Why was the legal attaché program created, and when did that happen?

Mr. Joyce: “The legal attaché program was created in 1940, and initially it was to thwart the counterespionage threat that was developing prior to World War II. And since that time it has continued to develop, and since the attacks on 9/11 it has increased substantially into the 61 offices that exist today.”

Mr. Schiff: How has the FBI increased the presence from way back until now with over 60 legats, and I think I’ve seen the quote, “The FBI’s global footprint?”

Mr. Joyce: “What’s the FBI’s global footprint is really referring to is the legal attaché offices. But not only that, it’s referring to all the FBI special agents that actually travel from our domestic field offices and the Headquarter divisions to various countries overseas where we have a joint investigative interest. As you know, everything, I would say, in the 21st century, and even in the latter part of the 20th century, has really been transnational in nature. Many of you folks out there have read Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat—not only does that pertain to the economic aspects of the world but also, unfortunately, the criminal and national security issues that we are faced with today.”

Mr. Schiff: How many legat offices are there presently?

Mr. Joyce: “There are currently 61 legat offices and 14 sub-offices.”

Mr. Schiff: For the FBI to have a legal attaché office, is it the FBI that goes to a country and says, “We’d like to open and office,” or is a country that approaches the U.S. government and says, “We’d like to have an FBI legal attaché office here?”

Mr. Joyce: “Historically it’s been that the host government has approached the FBI, either through the ambassador at the embassy or some other individual that represents the U.S. government. However, we are now, really, as the FBI has refocused its efforts and become a threat-based and focused organization, we are also looking, in a pro-active manner, to some of the areas where we should have a presence due to some, I think, joint equities that we have with those countries and talking to the folks with the ambassador and other individuals there representing the government to determine if that’s the right place to station some of these individuals.”

Mr. Schiff: What are some of the reasons that you would want to move into a country and open an office?

Mr. Joyce: “Again, currently it’s going to be, first and foremost, issues facing our national security and our mission, our foremost mission, protecting the security of the United States. Secondly, we’re also looking at other areas where threats face the United States. And that’s not just limited to national security matters. That includes organized crime, that includes cyber, that includes many other areas. So we’re looking at many of these countries in regions of the world where we will have joint equities with the host country and determine whether, again, placing someone there would benefit both the host nation and the United States.”

Mr. Schiff: FBI Special Agent Kathy Stearman is a legal attaché. She has served in two countries.

Ms. Stearman: “The legat program is excellent, and being a legat overseas is—I describe to people as being the hardest job I’ve ever had in the FBI and also the most rewarding. I was in New Delhi, India from 2006 to 2008, and I’m currently in Beijing, China. When I first got to New Delhi, I made a point to go around to the embassy, particularly the heads of other law enforcement agencies and State Department sections—particularly the DCM, the Deputy Chief of Mission. And I asked them, ‘How can the FBI move forward our mission here in India.’ And the DCM at the time, he smiled at me and he said, ‘Kathy, one thing that you really need to keep in mind is that the FBI has this huge mysterious reputation, and that can hurt you and it can also help you. So when you go out there and you deal with your counterparts, whoever it is that you are dealing with in your area of responsibility, just keep in mind that you will be watched very closely, only because people are very, very curious about the FBI, and you may be the first person from the FBI that they meet.’

So I really kept that in mind when I went out and about in India and the other five countries that I cover. And I made sure that I didn’t go in with a heavy hand. I always went in and indicated to them, ‘Look, the FBI has a certain expertise and you have a certain expertise.’ And instead of the FBI coming in and saying ‘well, this is how we do it and this is how it should be done,’ I always made a point to say, ‘how can we exchange best practices; how can we exchange our good ideas so that we can move our mutual missions forward?’

I do that in China as well. Both India and China are arguably the world’s two largest emerging economies. So there’s a lot of national pride. So I make sure that, like I said, I don’t go in there as the ‘FBI, we’re here to take over,’ as is often portrayed, but I go in there as a partner—‘how can we work together to move the missions forward?’”

Mr. Schiff: On our next Inside the FBI podcast we’ll hear from Assistant Director Joyce about how legats and other countries interact and work together on terrorism, criminal, and cyber matters. We’ll also hear from Legat Stearman about how very different it is being a legal attaché from being a special agent on the streets of the U.S. gathering intelligence, chasing the bad guys, and solving crimes. More next week. That’s our show for this week. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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