Slate's Explainer: The FBI Goes to Aruba

The disappearance of an Alabama teenager on a high school graduation trip to Aruba has drawn the FBI to the Caribbean island to aid in the investigation. Slate senior editor Andy Bowers explains how an American law enforcement agency gets to participate in such a search in another sovereign country.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

On the Caribbean island of Aruba, police are still searching for an American teen-ager who disappeared last week during a senior class trip. Two former security guards are being held in the disappearance of the girl, Natalee Holloway. FBI divers and forensic specialists are helping the local police. And after news about that got out, several readers of our online partner magazine Slate wrote in wondering the same thing: What's the FBI doing in Aruba? That's an Explainer question, and here with the answer is Slate's Andy Bowers.

ANDY BOWERS reporting:

The FBI is just helping out. The bureau has agents stationed all over the world working at legal attache offices or Legats. These offices associated with US embassies step in when a foreign government requests assistance in a local police investigation. Cooperation between the FBI and a foreign police force is fairly common. The agents in the Legat pass the case to an FBI field office in the United States which provides the actual help. When Natalee Holloway went missing in Aruba, a Legat in neighboring Barbados coordinated assistance from the FBI office in Birmingham, Alabama, Holloway's hometown.

FBI involvement in foreign countries dates back to the bureau's early days when agents dealt with a number of border issues related to the Mexican Revolution. The number of legal attache offices increased during World War II, a time of dramatic growth for the FBI. In the mid-1980s, Congress passed legislation giving the FBI jurisdiction over acts of terrorism committed against American citizens overseas. Starting in the 1990s, the bureau opened a large number of new Legats to help combat terrorism and other transnational crimes. There are now about 50 offices spread all over the world. By the end of this year, new Legats will open in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Legal attaches from the FBI sometimes invite foreign police officers to train at the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia. These officers often rise to positions of authority in their home countries, which further facilitates cooperation with US law enforcement. Among the members of the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police, for example, one-quarter are Academy alumni.

CHADWICK: That Explainer from Andy Bowers. Andy is an editor at our partner magazine Slate, and the article was researched by Daniel Engber.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.