Navigating Investigations Overseas

"When I was stationed as a law enforcement attaché in Chile, we learned there were possible IEDs in a certain area," said Liseli Pennings, Special Agent of the U.S. Department of Treasury. "We immediately let the U.S. Consulate know to set a travel alert for U.S. citizens traveling to the area — and just the public in general — that it wasn't safe to travel to the affected area." 

This is just one piece of advice Pennings gave attendees in her session, "Navigating Investigations Overseas." With approximately 300 missions and 240 embassies overseas, diplomatic relations and proper procedural protocol can be tricky to navigate. Understanding how an embassy or consulate works and gaining insight to their missions can help illuminate where to begin your investigation.

Pennings began the session with a breakdown of the many departments overseas. At the very top, the U.S. Ambassador is the highest-ranking recognized diplomat. "If you are a U.S. law enforcement officer traveling overseas in an official capacity, you must have approval from the U.S. Ambassador in that country," said Pennings. She also explained that an ambassador's main focus is to engage with the high-level host country personnel, such as the Head of State or Minister. The ambassador is the voice of the diplomatic mission. 

One of the most interesting positions Pennings discussed is the Regional Security Officer (RSO), the role that she maintained for many years. According to Pennings, the RSO is the advisor on all security matters to the U.S. Ambassador and the liaison between the U.S. and host country police on all law enforcement matters. The RSO office is also tasked with the physical security of the compound, protecting U.S. interests in the host nation, investigations, providing and or exchanging training with the host nation, and promoting the strategies of the U.S. overseas.

As an example of the work she did while in Chile as an RSO, Pennings referenced a time when U.S. President Barack Obama visited. She coordinated his motorcade and worked with officers in other divisions to ensure that each car included U.S. personnel. 

Working overseas doesn't come without its challenges. A few challenges she highlighted included understanding local customs, languages and protocols, how the host country handles media, and privacy laws.

Conducting an investigation in a foreign environment can be a daunting task for both government and private entities. However, investigators simply need to enter into an engagement with the right information and a clear understanding of the resources available.