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The truth about the 'most wanted' wall on NCIS

On a show as long running as CBS' beloved crime drama NCIS, it's rare for something introduced in the first season to still be featured in season 17. However, Special Agent Gibbs isn't the only part of the show that has been around since the beginning. In the show's earliest episodes as a spin-off from the legal drama JAG, it introduced the concept of the most wanted wall, which has been a constant background feature in the NCIS offices ever since.

Although the wall changed location since it was introduced in the JAG episode which served as a backdoor pilot, the its purpose remains the same. Photographs of the most wanted fugitives currently being hunted down by the NCIS team are displayed prominently at the head of the squad room. When a fugitive is captured or killed, their photograph is crossed out with a piece of red tape. The wall has tracked some of the team's most notorious adversaries throughout the series' run, and has also been the location of a few fascinating Easter eggs that only astute viewers will have noticed.

Notorious NCIS fugitives that were crossed off the most wanted wall

The first name was crossed off the most wanted wall in the NCIS backdoor pilot during the eighth season of JAG. Terrorist Hussan Mohammed, wanted for a deadly attack on the USS Cole, was tracked down through a joint effort of the NCIS team and the CIA. After a tense gunfight he was eventually killed by Gibbs, making him the first fugitive we see the team eliminate from the most wanted wall.

The criminal which the NCIS team had the most personal interest in, though, was Ari Haswari. The former Mossad agent turned terrorist crossed paths with the NCIS team after murdering two US Navy Lieutenants. In their pursuit, the team found themselves targeted by Haswari, who attacked the NCIS offices and succeeded in killing agent Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander) before he was eventually killed by his own half-sister, Ziva David (Cote de Pablo).

Another NCIS agent-murdering fugitive successfully removed from the wall was Jonas Cobb. A Navy Lieutenant turned serial killer, Cobb managed to assassinate multiple armed forces personnel, including two NCIS special agents, before his reign of terror was brought to an end in a hail of gunfire from Special Agents Gibbs and Vance.

However, the most wanted wall isn't exclusive to fictional criminals. At least one real life terrorist was featured on the wall, and even had their face red taped out during the run of the show.

The real life fugitive crossed off the most wanted wall

One constant fixture of the most wanted wall since the show's premiere in 2003: former head of al-Qaeda and mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks Osama bin Laden. His photo could be seen on the upper left hand side of the wall, one of the show's ways of trying to subtly ground itself in the real world.

On May 2nd, 2011 bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEALS in a raid on the compound he had been hiding out in in Pakistan. At the time, NCIS was airing the final stretch of episodes for its eighth season; however, instead of waiting until the next year to acknowledge the terrorists' death, it was reported by Vulture that producers planned to digitally insert the classic red tape over bin Laden's picture on the most wanted wall in one of the yet-to-be-aired episodes.

Sure enough, when the episode "Baltimore" aired on May 3, there was red tape over bin Laden's face, making NCIS one of the first fictional TV programs to acknowledge his death. Bin Laden was removed from the wall altogether in the season 9 episode "Playing With Fire," when his picture was replaced with that of fictional CEO-turned-terrorist Harper Dearing.

The most wanted wall gag

Osama bin Laden's removal from the most wanted wall is a pretty intense Easter egg, but thankfully, that's balanced out by a sillier one. The faces on the wall change over time, and for awhile, one of those faces was none other than series creator Donald Bellisario. Given Bellisario's penchant of slipping himself into the show in a variety of subtle ways, we're assuming this was a gag and not a disgruntled crew member trying to send a message.

The most wanted wall isn't the only place you can spot a Bellasario in the show. The series creator's daughter, Troian Bellisario, guest starred in two episodes as the eccentric younger sister of series mainstay Timmy McGee — and the family connection doesn't stop there. Bellisario's son, Michael Bellisario, had a four-episode arc as Charles "Chip" Sterling, who is hired to assist a reluctant Abby in the crime lab, but who turns out to have malevolent ulterior motives. Considering his father's cameo as one of the most wanted fugitives in America, the younger Bellisario's guest spot was a bit of an ironic twist.