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ON THE GROUND OVERSEAS
Our “Legal Attaché” in Yemen

05/10/06

Map of Yemen

Situated on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen is one of the world’s oldest centers of civilization. Today, it is home to one of our newest international offices—which are officially called Legal Attachés or Legats.

Why the name? An “attaché” is a diplomat who works for an ambassador; “legal” refers to our law enforcement role. Our agents in these offices function as diplomats by sharing information and focusing on building mutually beneficial relationships with their international colleagues. They don’t investigate cases; only when we have the permission of the host country do we send in investigators to assist in a case.

Today, our Legats are located in more than 50 capitals worldwide, ranging from Abu Dhabi to Warsaw. That’s triple our number of overseas offices in 1991.

In the case of Yemen, our law enforcement relationships go back years, but they took a step forward in October 2000, when we began working together closely to investigate the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole in Aden Harbor off the coast of Yemen. With Yemen’s permission, we deployed more than 200 agents, forensic experts, and other professionals to the scene of the attack, which killed 17 U.S. sailors. Our careful analysis of explosives evidence and other work, in close coordination with Yemen authorities, led to arrests and convictions.

The partnerships we built along the way also led to an agreement with Yemeni leaders to open an office in the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a. The Legat was opened in March 2004 and became fully operational in October 2005.

The Legat’s work so far has primarily focused on terrorism. “Yemen is one of our nation’s partners in the fight against terrorism…and we appreciate the help they’ve given us in tracking terrorists,” says Legal Attaché Special Agent Jennifer Hale Keenan. For her part, Jennifer spent time recently assisting an investigation with Yemeni police on the 23 al Qaeda associates who escaped from prison in February. Two of the escapees—one serving time for his role in the Cole bombing and another linked to a terrorism investigation in Lackawanna, New York—are on the Most Wanted Terrorist list.

Jennifer has also coordinated professional training opportunities for Yemeni law enforcement—everything from advanced fingerprint technology to crime scene evidence collection. She and her staff are also responsible for building relationships in Djibouti, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, all close by in Africa.

“It’s not easy immersing yourself in another culture, learning how a different system of government works, and starting a whole new rolodex,” Jennifer said. “But there’s no substitute for being here, meeting people face-to-face, finding common ground, sharing some laughs, and building the kind of relationships you could never build on the telephone a couple thousand miles away. That’s the real beauty of being a Legat.”

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