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Is NCIS A Real Thing Outside Of The Show?

Before CBS started the "JAG" spinoff "NCIS," it's safe to say that very few people had ever heard of a naval investigative organization. In the television series, the NCIS acronym stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the story focuses on a team of NCIS agents working together to solve various felony crimes across the U.S. and overseas. "NCIS" began airing in 2003 and quickly became very successful. Since then, "NCIS" has had 18 seasons, with more to come. 

The crime drama series continues to grow in popularity even now, as viewers follow Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly), Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) and many more characters through their day to day efforts. The group clearly takes their job very seriously, and over the seasons they have dealt with terrorism, kidnapping, and many, many murder cases.

With more than 400 episodes, the series has presented a lot of information about this fictional investigative team, but they never seem to run out of ideas. While there are plenty of plotlines fans are eagerly waiting for answers on, there's one basic question that every "NCIS" fan asks at some point — does a real NCIS exist? You might be surprised at the answer.

There is a real NCIS organization in the United States

Yes, the NCIS does really exist, and it's actually quite an influential presence in the world of crime investigation and government organizations, despite the fact that not many people in the general public know about it. As part of the Department of the Navy, the organization's official website describes its job as " investigating felony crime, preventing terrorism and protecting secrets for the Navy and Marine Corps." The group is a civilian-run service that tackles issues "ashore, afloat, and in cyberspace." There are around 2,000 people in the agency total, with over 50% being federal special agents like Gibbs and his team on the CBS series.

Although the NCIS has the right to work on their own and not interact with other agencies, the organization makes an effort to establish lasting connections with other important government groups. With around 190 stations in more than 40 countries, the NCIS has worked hard to share important information with other national agencies through its own Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX) program, as well as with international counterpart agencies. Along with that, NCIS officers "provide law enforcement and security force training, share 'lessons learned' in behavioral assessment, host seminars on Cold Case resolution, and more."

How accurate is the show's depiction of the NCIS?

Based on the real NCIS's duties and influence, the series's fictional depiction of the agency seems relatively accurate. It might help that the real organization sometimes consults on storylines and is in consistent conversation with the team behind "NCIS."

In an interview with the USO, NCIS communications director MaryAnn Cummings spoke about the show's portrayal of the organization she works for and helps run. She stated that the people behind the real NCIS "have a vested interest in making sure the television show maintains a certain credibility and a certain accuracy when [they] can." As the public's increasing awareness of the real agency is largely due to the show's popularity, Cummings only contacts the CBS "NCIS" team when something needs to be changed because it's "not helpful in terms of getting a message out about what we do."

Cummings stated that a real NCIS agent's job is "far broader than the TV show suggests," and that they must be ready to help out on any cases involving the Navy or the Marine Corps at a moment's notice. There are also certain moments in the show directly influenced by real events, such as a scene in the "NCIS" pilot during which Gibbs tries to explain what the agency is and why he's allowed to carry a weapon on a plane. With very few people aware of NCIS's existence, Gibbs finds the airport officials very confused and disbelieving. According to Cummings, "that scenario actually happened to a former director."

Of course, "NCIS" is a television series, so many aspects of real NCIS agents' lives are amped up to add drama and comedy. That's to be expected with any fictional show or movie, no matter the subject. But overall, the CBS crime procedural does a good job of portraying the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in a realistic way.