Fans of 'FBI: International' Are Curious About Just How International the Real FBI Can Get

In 'FBI: International,' elite operatives work out of headquarters in Budapest, but does the FBI really operate internationally? Here's what we know.

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Oct. 13 2021, Published 8:54 a.m. ET

Source: Getty Images

CBS series FBI: International is the newest addition to the Dick Wolf Television Universe. It centers around a group of elite operatives on the FBI's International Fly Team. They are headquartered in Budapest and spend their time tackling all threats against American interests.

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But does the real Federal Bureau of Investigation have any jurisdiction outside of the United States? Does the FBI really operate internationally? Here's what we know.

The cast of 'FBI: International'
Source: CBS
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Does the FBI really operate internationally?

Believe it or not, the FBI has offices all over the world. According to the FBI's website, they "have 63 legal attaché offices — commonly known as legats — and more than two dozen smaller sub-offices in key cities around the globe, providing coverage for more than 180 countries."

Of course, the FBI can't just set up shop all willy nilly wherever they want. Before establishing an office, the FBI comes up with a mutual agreement with the host country. The office is usually in a U.S. embassy or consulate of that nation.

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This program has been in place since 1940. Right before the attack on Pearl Harbor forced the United States to enter World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided America needed better intelligence in order to understand exactly what the Axis powers were up to.

Quick history lesson: The Axis powers were Italy, Japan, and Germany. At the time, the CIA wasn't a thing, and we had absolutely no footprint outside of the United States.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt 1940
Source: Getty Images

The FBI quickly realized that in order to further the exchange of information between countries, America had to put officials in the countries with which it was working. As luck would have it, in Aug. 1941, the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia "requested the assignment of a special agent to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota. This proved to be the forerunner of the FBI’s legal attaché, or legat, program."

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What do the FBI legal attachés do?

The legal attachés' primary duty is working with local law enforcement and other security agencies within their host country. They are not there to spy, therefore they never gather foreign intelligence information. The specific rules are usually established in formal agreements between the United States and the host nation. The FBI personnel who work abroad are all the "Director’s personal representative in the foreign country."

The ultimate purpose of the program is to foster a constant exchange of information between the United States and foreign governments. This can only be achieved via help from local law enforcement in the host countries. Beyond this, the legal attachés are also responsible for international training.

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Source: Getty Images

"Through international training, the FBI provides foreign law enforcement officers with skills in both basic and advanced investigative techniques and principles that promote cooperation and aid in the collection of evidence," explains the FBI's website. Training involves recreating major crime scenes, teaching host countries about counterterrorism, and introducing them to new investigative techniques.

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If someone is interested in becoming a legal attaché, they probably have to join the FBI first. To do that, you must be a U.S. citizen, be able to obtain a Top Secret Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) Clearance, and of course, remain in compliance with the FBI's drug policy.

Plus you have to be between the ages of 23 and 26, have a Bachelor's Degree or higher, have at least two years of full-time work experience, have a valid driver's license, and be able to pass a physical test.

If all of that sounds like it's a bit much, you can just keep watching FBI: International to get your fix.

FBI: International airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST on CBS.

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