Is NCIS a Real Thing, or Is the Unit Made Up?

Since the original NCIS’s premiere in 2003, the show has become a fan favorite, inspiring several spinoffs and iterations of the original. The show follows a team of agents as they investigate wild crimes. Though everything on the show seems plausible enough, its existence has fans wondering if there is a legitimate Naval Criminal Investigative Service or if the whole unit was made for tv.

Mark Harmon with Cote de Pablo and Wilmer Valderrama
Mark Harmon with Cote de Pablo and Wilmer Valderrama | Bill Inoshita/CBS via Getty Images

Is NCIS a real thing?

On the show, the NCIS acronym stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Fans of the show may be surprised to know that the investigative service is actually real. According to its website, the squad works within the Department of the Navy. The civilian federal law enforcement agency is responsible for investigating “felony crime, preventing terrorism and protecting secrets for the Navy and Marine Corps.”

“NCIS will defeat threats from across the foreign intelligence, terrorist and criminal spectrum by conducting operations and investigations ashore, afloat, and in cyberspace, in order to protect and preserve the superiority of the Navy and Marine Corps warfighters,” the site reads.

Currently, the real Naval Criminal Investigative Service has bout 2,000 people working within the force, including over 1,000 federal special agents. The real NCIS is unique in that it is civilian-run. It is even led by a civilian member of law enforcement, who then reports to the Secretary of the Navy.

“We’re usually not the guys that arrive first on the scene,” MaryAnn Cummings, the NCIS communications director, told USO. “That would be either your local police department, or if it’s on post … the Navy police.”

 The real Naval Criminal Investigative Service currently has 191 locations and is in more than 41 countries.

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Before NCIS, very few people knew what the real NCIS was. The show has changed that.

“If you look at the first actual episode, it shows Gibbs at the airport trying to get on a plane and he’s carrying a weapon,” Cummings said. “He’s trying to explain who NCIS is and they’re like ‘Who are you guys?’”

That situation actually happened to a former NCIS director, she revealed.

The real NCIS advises on the show

Though the show covers a lot of situations that would not normally happen, the real Naval Criminal Investigative Service does advise on the show from time to time.

“When we come into a situation and we say we’re NCIS, they’re immediately going to think of the television shows, so we have a vested interest in making sure the television shows maintains a certain credibility and a certain accuracy when we can,” she said.

In the past, Cummings has requested changes be made to the show.

“The TV show … doesn’t have to listen to me when I call up and say, ‘That’s not helpful in terms of getting a message out about what we do,’” she said. “I think they choose to because they find the partnership beneficial and they … are committed to doing the right thing.”

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How many ‘NCIS’ shows are there?

The original NCIS currently has 18 seasons and has been renewed for season 19. NCIS: Los Angeles has 12 seasons, and NCIS: New Orleans was canceled after seven seasons. A new spinoff, NCIS: Hawaii, is currently in the works.

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