NCIS agents on taking down terrorists, hackers and spies

The real-life agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service on investigating the most important threats of our time

"48 Hours: NCIS" sneak peek

Agents open up about their emotions, fears, frustrations and successes in solving investigations that have national and international impact in the next "48 Hours: NCIS," airing Tuesday, May 23 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. 

NCIS came face-to-face with the impact of terrorism with the bombing of the USS Cole. The incident forever changed the way the agency approached terrorist attacks.

On Oct. 12, 2000, al Qaeda suicide bombers working for Osama bin Laden rammed the Cole with a boat full of explosives, as the guided-missile destroyer refueled in Yemen. The attack killed 17 sailors and wounded 42 others. It was the first successful attack on a U.S. Navy vessel in modern history and it launched a new world of terrorism.

"The attack on the Cole was…a watershed moment for both NCIS and the U.S. Navy," says retired NCIS Special Agent Michael Marks.

In fact, it was the largest crime scene they'd ever faced and one that was at risk of sinking very quickly. The investigation went from a local event to a global one and the agency began to understand the power of Osama bin Laden, explains NCIS Special Agent Cathy Clements.

The USS Cole investigation opened the agency up to dealing with terrorism cases and has continued to expand from there, dealing with today's technological attacks and spies.

"48 Hours: NCIS" examines cyber crime threats

NCIS agents take a closer look into the hacking of the Navy's Smart Web Move database, containing the records of 220,000 servicemen and women. A group called "Team Digi7al" taunted the Navy by posting 30 records online. The NCIS investigation would lead to a shocking discovery.

Also, agents open up about the hunt for a spy who had downloaded the schematics for a new Navy nuclear aircraft carrier with the intention of turning them over to Egypt so the spy could sink the vessel when it sailed into the Suez Canal. To catch the spy, agents set up a sting worthy of a crime novel.