NCIS Jurisdiction & Investigative Priorities

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is charged with protecting one of the most important components of the nation’s defense—the Navy. In order to fulfill this responsibility, the NCIS has three strategic priorities:

  1. Investigate and prevent crime
  2. Safeguard information
  3. Detect and prevent terrorism

In order to protect the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and related assets, the NCIS fulfills a number of vital responsibilities. NCIS personnel does not investigate criminal activity of a purely military nature that violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) which governs the actions of Naval personnel, but it does investigate felony UCMJ crimes which also violate criminal law like arson, rape, and homicide. NCIS investigators may also become involved in investigations related to U.S. criminal laws if Navy personnel, assets or information are involved.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service serves as a front line intelligence gathering and counter-espionage organization. This agency is responsible detecting and disrupting foreign intelligence operations that may involve Navy or Marine Corps members, or materials and information pertinent to those organizations. In order to maintain peak operational effectiveness, the NCIS has jurisdiction in cases involving actual or suspected sabotage, assassination, espionage or defection.

Due to the broad presence of naval vessels and personnel across the globe, these assets often become targets of violence. The NCIS is tasked with maintaining the safety of these forces both at home and abroad. Field agents will act preemptively to disrupt terrorist operations which may jeopardize the safety of U.S. soldiers and military assets, as well as investigate any violent acts against them. NCIS agents may also be deployed to areas where a naval operation is imminent, in order to gather intelligence and ensure optimal mission parameters.

In addition to serving in more than 140 operational zones in the U.S. and foreign territories, the NCIS also serves aboard naval vessels as Special Agents Afloat. These officers function as criminal investigators, counterintelligence officers and force protection agents for Naval and Marine commanders. NCIS special agents may offer advice about security issues which threaten the operational effectiveness of the vessel.

Investigative Priorities

Despite the many functions the agency fulfills both here and abroad, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is primarily a criminal investigations organization. The NCIS is responsible for investigating any crimes or suspected crimes that are punishable by a year or more of prison. While the NCIS is not responsible for investigating violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice which pertain to military conduct, e.g. consensual sexual relation, it does investigate crimes which violate the U.S. legal code as well as the USMJ.

  • Rape—This offense involves non-consensual sexual contact and may involve military or civilian parties.
  • Child Sexual Abuse—Any sexual contact between an adult and a minor warrants an investigation.
  • Robbery—The theft of property from a naval installation, a theft which victimizes naval personnel or robbery suspects serving in the Navy fall under the jurisdiction of the NCIS.
  • Homicide—The murder or manslaughter of a military officer or civilian in the United States is a very serious matter that requires an intensive investigation.
  • Death by Unknown Cause—Any death in the military which cannot be attributed to natural or recognizable causes is investigated by the NCIS, to ensure that it was not caused by criminal or terrorist offenders.

Although these are the primary investigative responsibilities of the NCIS, this agency performs many related and independent functions for its counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism missions.


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