FBI Hostage Rescue Team
The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has designated the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as the lead agency for crisis management of domestic terrorist incidents in the US. The Bureau has a variety of operational response capabilities, maintaining a number of specialized units at various locations though out the US.
When a threat or incident exceeds the capabilities of a local FBI field office, the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) deploys the necessary resources to assist that office, and facilitates the FBI's rapid response to, and management of the crisis incident. The CIRG is home to several of the FBI's specialist units. It contains crisis managers, hostage negotiators, behaviorists, surveillance assets, agents and the Bureau's elite Hostage Rescue Team, or HRT.
The CIRG was established in 1994 as a separate field entity to integrate the tactical and investigative expertise needed for terrorist, and other critical incidents, that require an immediate law enforcement response. Some of these incidents may include terrorist activities, hostage takings, child abductions and other high-risk repetitive violent crimes. Other major incidents that may require their assistance include prison riots, bombings, air and train crashes, and natural disasters. Its personnel are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to respond to crisis incidents.
The CIRG has three branches including: The Operations Support Branch, the Tactical Support Branch, and the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. Each branch furnishes distinctive operational assistance and training to FBI field offices as well as state, local and international law enforcement agencies.
The Operations Support Branch contains the Crisis Negotiations Unit, Crisis Management Unit and Rapid Deployment Logistics Unit which support HRT in critical incidents where HRT is deployed. The Tactical Support Branch is the branch the HRT falls under. The other units under the TSB are the Operations Training Unit and the Special Detail Unit. The OTU manages HRT core training programs, provides operations management, and provides planning and oversight during HRT deployments. The OTU is also responsible for managing and integrating the nine enhanced FBI SWAT teams into HRT training exercises. The SDU is responsible for protecting the US Attorney General.
Based at the FBI Academy, on Quantico, Virginia, the HRT is the nation's primer law enforcement tactical unit. It is the primary unit responsible for conducting counterterrorist operations within the US and its territories. It is a full time tactical force of ninety-one agents that trains to remain in a constant state of operational readiness. Its operators train for a wide variety of missions, in all climates found within the US and its territories. This training consists of highly specialized, tactical law enforcement operations.
Among HRT skills are: hostage rescue tactics, precision shooting, advanced medical support, and tactical site surveys. The team is also capable of operating in a chemical environment. The team receives intensive and frequent specialized training to maintain high levels of expertise in these skills.
When notified by the Director of the FBI, or his designated representative, the team is expected to "deploy within four hours, with part or all of its personnel and resources, to any location within the United States or its territories, to rescue individuals who are held illegally by a hostile force or to engage in other law enforcement activities as directed." The HRT operationally deploys in support of FBI field divisions and performs a number of law enforcement tactical functions in all environments and under a variety of conditions. The HRT may also deploy teams and individual operators to act as snipers or to provide protective service details to certain high profile federal witnesses or dignitaries.
HRT operations are directed out of the Strategic Information Operations Center (SOIC), located on the fifth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, in Washington DC. In times of crisis, the SIOC operates 24-hours a day and serves an effective intelligence collection and dissemination site as well as a centralized, albeit distant, command post.
Since its inception, the HRT, or components of the team, has been involved in many of the FBI's most high profile cases, executing numerous operations involving domestic militant groups, terrorists, and violent criminals. Unfortunately some of these cases have drawn the team a lot of unwanted, and in many cases unwarranted attention. The HRT came under increased public and Congressional scrutiny, along with federal law enforcement in general, due to what some saw as heavy-handed tactics used during the incidents at Ruby Ridge and Waco.
On the other hand, the HRT has been involved in over 200 successful missions, both in the US and abroad. Many of these low-key operations have received little to no attention form the world press. Operations have included the team performing traditional law enforcement missions during hurricane relief operations; dignitary protection missions; tactical surveys; pre-positions in support of special events such as the Olympic Games, presidential inaugurations, and political conventions; and the capture of the suspected master minds of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Africa.
The concept for the HRT was originally conceived during the late 1970's as a sort of "super SWAT team" that would be capable of handling extra-ordinary hostage situations, large scale counter-terrorist operations, situations involving nuclear or biological agents, or operations where local law enforcement or the regional FBI field office was not trained or equipped to handle. Final approval for the HRT was given in early 1982, and formal planning began in March, 1982. The initial HRT selection course was held in June, 1982 and consisted of three groups of thirty candidates each (including one female). Of this group fifty candidates were selected to continue on to more advanced training. The one female agent who tried out for the team voluntarily dropped herself from the course after becoming injured (she stayed on with the team, accepting a position with the HRT's support unit and eventually married one of HRT operators).
*Note* To this date no female agent has successfully completed the HRT selection and training course.
Upon completing its initial selection, the team began acquiring the equipment it believed it would need and upgrading training facilities at Quantico. One of its very first projects was the construction of a "shoot house". The building, which was built out of old tires, would allow the team to conduct live-fire training exercises, and enhance their shooting skills. The final touches were added to their facilities just before Thanksgiving 1982, and after a short holiday break, the team began its initial training program.
After spending roughly the entire month of January, 1983 honing its shooting and tactical skills at Quantico, the team traveled to Fort Bragg, North Carolina in February, for a month of training with the US Army's "Delta Force" counter terror unit. Delta provided the team with a wide ranging block of instruction that covered a number of topics that would be useful during their future operations. The team returned to Quantico to further enhance their new abilities and maintain the skills they acquired on Fort Bragg, and became fully operational in August.
The team's final certification exercise, codenamed Operation Equus Red, was held in October, 1983 at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico. During the exercise the HRT, a local SWAT team, and a Department of Energy (DOE) Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST) were tasked with assaulting a terrorist stronghold. The "terrorist" group was also believed to be in possession of a simulated nuclear device, which was located at a separate location, which had to be recovered or neutralized. After NEST aircraft confirmed the location of the device, HRT operators assaulted the terrorist safe-house, secured the device and managed to "kill" the terrorist involved in approximately 30 seconds. The FBI's senior leadership viewed the exercise as a complete success and granted final approval for the team to become fully operational.
Upon completing its certification exercise, the team began to expand it's capabilities by sending small teams of operators out for more specialized training courses. Approximately a dozen operators visited the Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado to receive combat diver and maritime operations training from the US Navy SEALs, Other team members conducted helicopter operations and aerial insertion training with the US Army's Task Force 160 (forerunner of the 160th SOAR). The Marine Corps provided the team with training in small unit tactics and night operations. The team also began to expand its links with similar units from around the world, by conducting exchange programs or joint training with the 22nd SAS, the French GIGN, Germany's GSG-9, and the US Navy's SEAL Team Six.
The first test of the team's capabilities came in the summer of 1984, when the team deployed to Los Angeles as part of the security buildup prior to the 1984 Summer Olympic Games. The games were being held in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. Prior to the onset of the games, the HRT conducted a series of joint training exercises with the Los Angeles Police Department's SWAT platoon. Despite the political infighting over Olympic security arrangements, the games went off without any serious incident occurring.
HRT's first large scale deployment occurred in March of 1985, when a white supremacist group known as Covenant, the Sword & the Arm of Lord (CSA) fortified themselves inside their 224 acre compound. The compound, known as the Zarepath-Horeb, was located near Bull Shoals Lake, in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. The group had been conducting paramilitary training, manufacturing explosives, and had modified several of its weapons to make them capable of firing fully automatic.
During a routine traffic check, two state troopers stopped a man, a Neo-Nazi wanted on a firearms offense, as he was heading to the CSA compound. The man killed one trooper and injured another with a submachine gun. He was arrested shortly after. The government suspected that several more fugitives had taken refuge inside the CSA compound, and deployed the HRT along with several FBI SWAT teams to the area surrounding the compound. The force eventually grew to 200 law enforcement agents. HRT operators conducted several clandestine nighttime searches of the compound to gather information on its occupants.
Eventually the HRT, along with several FBI SWAT teams, stormed the compound capturing the outer buildings, and then settled in for a long siege. Through the successful use of negotiations, the FBI persuaded the remainder of the CSA members to surrender two days later. Inside the main CSA compound agents found barrels of cyanide poison that the CSA were planning to dump into a major city's water supply, homemade antipersonnel mines, a large supply of antitank rockets, and even a scratch built armored car with a .30 caliber machine-gun mounted in a turret.
Then in August 1985, a team of HRT operators flew to Puerto Rico to apprehend suspects who had fled to the island after robbing West Hartford Wells Fargo of $7 million dollars in 1983. The suspects were believed to be members of "Los Macheteros" (Spanish for "The Cane Cutters"), a Puerto Rican terrorist group. Eleven suspects were arrested in that operation. One suspect, Victor Manuel Gerena, is still on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" list. Also in 1985, the FBI received permission from the DOJ to begin conducting international counter-terrorist operations, in support of US national interests and as a result the HRT began to conduct operations overseas.
In April of 1986 the team's only casualty occurred. Special Agent James A. Mcallister, an original member of the team, was killed during a helicopter rappelling exercise at the team's Quantico headquarters. That same year the team deployed to New York City as part of the security force arrayed around Liberty Island for the Statue of Liberty's centennial birthday celebration. US security agencies believed that the event might provide terrorist with a perfect target. Luckily the event was incident free.
In January of 1987 a team of HRT operators traveled to Frankfurt, Germany to retrieve Mohammed Hamadei for his part in the hijacking of TWA flight 847, and brutal murder of a US Navy enlisted diver. The attempted extradition was foiled when two West German citizens were kidnapped in Beirut, Lebanon and German authorities decided to retain Hamadei for use as a possible bargaining chip, and the FBI was unable to take custody of the terrorist. However he was later convicted and sentenced to prison in Germany.
In September of 1987 the HRT was able to put its new international arrest powers into action. The FBI received information that suspected Lebanese terrorist Fawaz Younis was hiding in Lebanon. Younis was wanted for the 1985 hijacking of a Royal Jordanian Airlines flight, on which three Americans were passengers. As part of an elaborate plan to capture him, the HRT leased a yacht and coaxed Younis into a supposed drug deal taking place on the boat. Once Younis was successfully aboard the yacht and in international waters, he was arrested by a team of HRT operators and returned to the US for trial.
In November of 1987 Cuban inmates at several federal prisons simultaneously rioted. The entire episode began on November 21 when inmates at the Federal Correctional Facility Oakdale, Louisiana (OCF) stormed the prison gates taking employees, and fellow inmates, hostage. In response the HRT deployed OCF to regain control of the facility. Two days later Cuban inmates at the US Penitentiary, Atlanta (USPA) rioted taking large numbers of the prison staff hostage.
After several days of tense negotiations the situation at OCF was resolved peacefully and the HRT was redeployed to USPA to assist in any possible rescue attempt. Luckily a full scale assault on the prison was not necessary, and the hostages were released after a series of negotiations with the inmates.
In January 1988 the HRT, and several FBI SWAT teams, were deployed to Marion, Utah. Adam Swapp, and several of his followers, had barricaded themselves in Swapp's home. Swapp had allegedly detonated bomb as retaliation for the killing of his father-in-law, John Singer, nine years earlier by law enforcement officials.
Following John Singer's death in 1979, Addam Swapp of Fairview, Utah, had moved in with the Singer family and had taken two of Singer's daughters as wives. During the following years he fathered six children with Heidi and Charlotte. Swapp developed a deep hatred for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormon Church), several residents of Summit County, and the state of Utah.
Vickie Singer continued to harbor bitter feelings toward the Mormon Church, Summit County officials, and the state of Utah. This hatred was shared by Vickie's oldest son, Timothy Singer, and Addam's younger brother, Jonathan Swapp.
On May 25, 1987, Addam wrote a letter naming 13 men "and all those involved in Marion Water works" as responsible for the death of John Singer and demanded atonement. The letter also accused the LDS Church of being an "evil church" involved in a conspiracy to drive the Singers from their 2 ½ acre farm. That same year, Vickie refused to pay property taxes on her farm.
On January 16, 1988, two days before the ninth anniversary of the death of John Singer, Addam Swapp broke into the Kamas LDS Stake Center. He filled the cultural hall with 50 pounds of dynamite with a "booster" of ammonium nitrate, which doubled the explosive force. This bomb was detonated at 3 a.m., causing $1.5 million in damage. This act of terrorism was Addam's way of notifying the LDS Church and Utah that he had begun the "atonement" with a vengeance.
Upon leaving the church, Addam stuck a spear in the ground in the northeast corner of the church property. Nine feathers were attached to the handle, next to the engraved date - January 18, 1979. The nine feathers signified the nine years since John's death. Tracks in the snow led from the spear directly to the Singer farm. When police contacted Addam Swapp and Vickie Singer and ordered them to surrender, they refused, and promised a battle if lawmen stepped onto their property.
The Summit County Sheriff's office immediately requested assistance from the Utah Department of Public Safety. Due to the use of explosives and the involvement of the LDS Church which is located worldwide, DPS summoned experts with the ATF and the FBI. Within 24 hours, approximately 100 law enforcement officers had responded to the scene. The Singers/Swapps refused to communicate with police. Fifteen people were inside the home, including Addam Swapp's six children, all under the age of six.
During the ensuing 13 day standoff, authorities used a variety of tactics in an attempt to move the siege to a peaceful conclusion. Low flying aircraft buzzed the house and circled the farm. Spotlights were extinguished and aerial flares were fired over the compound. Emergency vehicles activated lights and sirens. Later, a public address system was installed which directed high-pitched electronic static at the Singer compound. The main water line into the compound was severed. During this period of time, law enforcement officers were often fired upon. As ordered, officers refrained from responding with deadly force.
On the final day of the siege a Utah Department of Corrections K-9 officer, Fred House, was hit and killed by a gunshot fired by one of the children inside the Swapp household. The authorities had developed plan they believed would successfully end the standoff without bloodshed. Police attached a "flash bang" to a speaker. When activated, this device produces a loud noise and a bright flash. The device is used to temporarily distract and disorient a suspect. The plan was to subdue Addam with the aid of a police dog during this brief period of time. Officer House, a member of the Utah DOC's SWAT team, was summoned to the scene because of his specialized skill with dogs. The dog would be used to apprehend Swapp during the operation.
At 6 a.m. the plan was placed in motion. As expected, Addam emerged from his home and approached the load speaker, firing several rounds, and shouting obscenities at the police. As Addam began to remove the speaker, the flash bang was activated and Officer House released his dog. The dog was startled by the flash bang and ran from the scene, failing to engage the suspect. Addam fired at the dog as it ran for cover. Addam then hastily retreated to the safety of the house.
Although this plan had failed, authorities were convinced that the plan had merit. A backup plan was set in motion. Another daily routine observed by police was the morning milking of several goats by Addam and Jonathan Swapp. At 8:30 a.m., Addam and Jonathan left their home to milk the goats. As in the past, each was armed with a rifle. As they approached the goat pen, Officer Fred House appeared in a nearby doorway and ordered his dog to attack. Watching from the Singer home was Timothy Singer, armed with a .30 caliber carbine.
Upon seeing Officer House, Timothy opened fire. Officer House was shot and fell in the doorway. An FBI Agent tried to pull Officer House to safety. Officers attempting to recover the body of the fallen officer came under intense gunfire from the house. During this barrage of gunfire, the FBI Agent fired two rounds at Addam Swapp. One 9mm round struck Addam in the right wrist. The bullet passed through his arm and lodged in his chest. Addam fell to the ground, then stood up, and ran to the house.
Two armored personnel carriers (APCs) had been standing by in case of emergency, and Officers immediately summoned them to evacuate Officer House. As the two APCs moved forward, they came under extremely heavy gunfire. More than 100 rounds ricocheted off the front of the vehicles. Operators were fearful that a bullet would pass through the narrow slits utilized for vision. As officers were attempting to move Officer House to safety, Swapp emerged from the house, waiving a white towel stained with blood. He surrendered without further incident. His injuries were not life threatening. With Swapp now in custody, the rest of the group surrendered to authorities soon afterward.
Not long after that the team was involved in a kidnap case in northern Virginia. The Richmond field office SWAT team had tracked a man, accused of kidnapping his former girlfriend and her four year old son, to a small farm near Sperryville, Virginia. The man demanded that authorities provide him and his hostage's safe passage out of the area. He also demanded that they also him the use of a nearby FBI helicopter in which to make his get-a-way. After several hours of negotiation, FBI negotiators came to the conclusion that no matter what t they did, the gunman intended to kill both his hostages. The decision was made to take him out at the first opportunity.
The FBI allowed the man to see them loading the helicopter with supplies, and then allowed the suspect to begin his approach. The kidnapper exited the farm house using his former girlfriend as a human shield. He was holding a knife to her throat and a gun to her temple, and had tied her terrified son to his shoulders with a bath robe. As the man approached the waiting helicopter, he realized that he was trapped, dropped to his knees, jammed the gun to the woman's head, and said, "Goodbye, kitten." A HRT sniper, positioned in the tall grass approximately seventy yards away, fired one shot at the kidnapper. The shot severed his brain stem instantly killing him. Both hostages were freed unharmed.
In 1989 HRT was deployed the Caribbean island of St. Croix in the wake of Hurricane Hugo. Hugo had caused wide spread devastation though out the Caribbean, and along the east coast of the US. The islands local jails had released inmates in an effort keep them from drowning in the rising waters or dying when the buildings they were housed in began to crumble around them. HRT operators were sent in, along with other federal law enforcement agencies, to restore order and capture the criminals who were now running wild in the streets looting and destroying anything they could get a hold of.
In August 1991, 121 Cuban inmates, awaiting deportation back to Cuba, overrun the Alpha Unit of the Federal Correctional Facility Talladega, Alabama. The inmates, who were armed with homemade weapons, were able to take 10 hostages. The HRT, several FBI SWAT teams and Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Special Operations Response Teams (SORTs) arrived on scene. After conducting several days of failed negotiations the HRT was given permission to retake the facility.
In the early morning hours of August 30, the HRT launched its assault. Using several explosive charges, the HRT was able to successfully breach the unit's steel doors and outer walls. HRT then stormed the Alpha Unit and liberated the hostages within 30 seconds. The Bureau of Prisons SORTs then moved in and placed the prisoners back in their cells.
In April of 1992 the HRT, along with several other federal tactical units, including the USMS SOG, BOP SORTs, several FBI SWAT teams, and the Border Patrol deployed to the city of Los Angeles. The units deployed in response to riots that had broken out in the wake of the Rodney King beating trail verdict. HRT operators spent 10-days conducting vehicle mounted patrols of the city.
On May 12, 1992, Daniel Ray Horning, a convicted murder serving multiple life sentences, escaped from the Arizona State Prison and disappeared. On June 25, Horning suddenly reappeared near Flagstaff, Arizona kidnapping a couple and forcing them to drive him to the Grand Canyon. Horning also stole a shotgun he found in the trunk of the couple's car.
Horning was eventually spotted by Park Rangers, who gave chase. Horning managed to escape into Grand Canyon national park, where the Rangers lost track of him. In June he reappeared, and stole a car, but this time he was stopped at a roadblock and once again he managed to escape into the desert.
The HRT, and several dog teams, joined the pursuit. Helicopters equipped with night vision devices proved ineffective in locating Horning because the desert floor radiates so much heat it was impossible to tell a rock from a human. On the 4th of July, a resident called the police, claiming that a man was drinking water from the hose in his backyard. The HRT moved in, and with the assistance of tracker dogs found Horning hiding under the deck of a house. Horning was arrested and returned to prison to complete his sentence. In 1992 the HRT was also deployed to San Juan, Puerto Rico to conduct several high-risk drug raids as part of the Safe Streets Task Force. The raids were successfully executed without incident, and the HRT returned to the US.
In August of 1992 the HRT was deployed to Ruby Ridge, Idaho to in response to a call for help form the local US Marshal's office. During the course of a surveillance operation being conducted by the Marshals, a gunfight erupted. The Marshals had been conducting the operations as part of their attempt to serve an arrest warrant on former Special Forces operator, and avowed white separatist, Randal "Randy" Weaver. During the firefight Weaver's son, Sammy, was killed along with Deputy US Marshal, William F. Degan, and the Weaver family dog, "'Striker"'. The Marshals, ATF, FBI and the Idaho State Police immediately secured the area surrounding area deploying snipers and tactical personnel. After Weaver refused to surrender the HRT was called in.
FBI SWAT teams were deployed around the command post to help control access along the road leading to the Weaver cabin, and HRT sniper/observer teams took up positions around Weaver's cabin. Later that evening the teams wear withdrawn due to extremely cold weather. After hearing his sniper teams initial reports, and assessing the situation, the HRT commander, Richard "Dick" Rodgers, issued Special Rules Of Engagement to the HRT stating that "they'd have the 'green light' to fire on any adult carrying a weapon in the vicinity of the Weaver home." The order was direct violation of standard FBI rules of engagement, that normally only allow agents to use deadly force when someone's life is directly threatened. Most of the HRT operators choose to ignore their commander's new order; however one sniper, Lon T. Horiuchi, choose to follow the order. On the evening of August 22, Horiuchi, seeing what appeared to be an adult male aiming a weapon at a helicopter over flying the property, fired at the male, and missed. His bullet instead struck Randy Weaver's wife Vickie, killing her.
After Vickie Weaver's death, the FBI, with assistance from for Special Forces Col. James "Bo" Gritz, was finally able to convince Weaver to surrender. The ensuing scandal created a lot of bad feelings among the general public and within the Justice Department and the FBI as to the proper role of the team.
During February, 1993 the HRT was once aging called on. This time they deployed to the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas. The entire incident began on February 28, when the ATF attempted to serve a search warrant on a breakaway religious group known as the Branch Davidians. According to the ATF they had received reports that the Davidians, who were led by the charismatic Vernon Howell, who was known to his follows as David Koresh, had been stockpiling ammunition, explosives, and illegally modified weapons. ATF also reported that the group was possibly manufacturing narcotics, and that Koresh was abusing children living on the compound.
Prior to the raid, ATF assembled five of its regional Special Reaction Teams (SRTs), who received specialized training form a US Army Special Forces A-Team for a daylight assault on the compound. As the raid force entered the compound they were immediately taken under fire by Davidians inside the main building. The Davidians had inadvertently been tipped off about the impending raid by a TV reporter and were waiting for the raid force. In the ensuing 45-minute gunfight, four ATF agents were killed and sixteen were wounded. On March 1st, the FBI assumed control of the situation. The FBI immediately deployed several FBI SWAT teams and the HRT around the compound.
Over the course of the next few weeks the situation escalated with the HRT using their own version of psychological warfare in an effort to drive the Davidians out of their stronghold. Some of the tactics employed by the HRT included: low flying helicopters buzzing the compound at all hours of the night, shinning bright lights into the windows to prevent them from sleeping, and blaring load rock-and-roll music all night. On March 27 the HRT used two borrowed Texas Army National Guard Combat Engineering Vehicles (CEVs) to knock down trees and clear abandoned vehicles from the area surrounding the compound. Members of the HRT were assigned to be tank drivers, tank commanders, Bradley vehicle crew, snipers, and snipers' support. Fifteen snipers were deployed.
As the siege dragged on, the HRT's commander, Dick Rodgers, began planning for a possible assault on the main compound itself. As part of this planning process Rodgers sought advice from both the US Army's "Delta Force" counter terror unit and the British 22 SAS Regiment, both of whom had sent observers to monitor the situation. Eventually, the Delta contingent departed due to some problems between them and the FBI, but left behind a few operators to act as observers.
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On the 51st day of the standoff, with fatigue and stress beginning to take its toll on the team, the HRT used two modified National Guard Combat Engineering Vehicles (CEVs) to begin smashing down the compound's front walls in order to force it's occupants to surrender. The CEVs were immediately met with heavy gunfire, and the HRT responded by inserting tear gas into the building. This tactic failed to achieve the desired result, and Rodgers ordered the team to begin firing pyrotechnic CS gas canisters into the building.
Sometime after this a fire began inside the compound. How the fire actually started is still a point of conjecture. The only thing that is known for certain is that a fire started, the entire complex burned to the ground, and most of compound's occupants, both children and adults, died in the inferno.
As a result of Waco, the HRT came under intense pressure from both the government and the media to justify their methods of operation. As a result the team was restructured, and refocused. Congress granted permission for the team to double in size, and closer coordination with the Bureaus hostage negotiators, and crisis management personnel was mandated. All of this eventually led to the formation of the CIRG.
In March of 1994 the HRT was again deployed to San Juan Puerto Rico, to assist the local field office in executing several high-risk warrants. The San Juan field office had been dealing with a crime wave unlike anything they had seen before. After conducting an extensive investigation the field office, and local authorities, determined that several violent drug gangs were responsible for most of the mayhem. Due to the difficulty in gathering any usable evidence against the perpetrators, both the FBI and local law enforcement had been unable to act against the gangs.
To remedy the intelligence situation an elaborate plan was developed using informants, electronic surveillance, undercover agents, and the covert video taping of the suspects from a hidden location. Beginning in January of 1994 the FBI began around the clock surveillance of one of the main drug gangs operating on the island. After finally catching a break, the local Special Agent in Charge (SAC) decided it was finally time to take action, and the HRT was brought in.
Approximately 80 members of the HRT and their support staff flew into the island over the course of several days, and set up an operations base on the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. After coordinating with the field office the HRT operators deployed several sniper teams around their potential target. Over the next four days the HRT snipers were able to move within less than 50 yards of their suspects. They positively identified all of the main suspects, their primary drug houses, weapon storage areas, sentries and several other items that would be of critical use to the operations planners.
After receiving the snipers reports, plans were finalized, arrangements were made with the local authorities and on March 11, the operation was launched. During the execution phase, ten separate targets spread over several square blocks were simultaneously struck. HRT snipers provided cover for the assault teams, with one additional sniper placed on each of the raid teams. The raid was executed flawlessly, 28 suspects, several weapons and a small quantity of narcotics were seized. Most importantly, no law enforcement personnel, suspects, or local residents were injured, and the HRT never had to fire a single round.
Later that month the HRT began making the final preparations for the 1994 World Cup Soccer games as part of the security buildup, prior to the games. HRT operators scouted out game sites across the US including locations in Chicago, Giants Stadium in New York City, and California. During one such mission, in East Rutheford, New Jersey, HRT operators put on a graphic display of their capabilities for the world media. During the show HRT operators conducted simulated assaults on the stadium, displayed their rappelling and shooting skills, and allowed members of the media to photograph some of their weapons and equipment. This was all part of a carefully orchestrated plan to deter any possible terrorist action during the games.
In early 1995 the team was again deployed to San Juan, Puerto Rico to assist in the local field office's investigation of a kidnapping. That spring the HRT was once again deployed to Puerto Rico, this time to conduct a number of high-risk drug raids. At roughly the same time, they also began to conduct a series of high-risk dignitary protection details.
In 1996 the HRT was back in Puerto Rico to once again execute a high-risk arrest warrant. Upon successful completion of the arrest the team stood down and began to pack for the journey back to Quantico, but several hours later, they were ordered to immediately re-deploy to upstate Michigan to handle a new situation that had developed. In less than twelve hours the team had gone from the tropical heat of Puerto Rico to -35 degree temps and near Arctic conditions.
In March, 1996 the Freemen of Montana, a militant anti-tax, anti government group, began an 81 day standoff, with authorities at their 960-acre ranch in Garfaield County, Montana. The group refused to pay taxes or be evicted from the property, which was foreclosed on 18 months earlier. They even went so far as posting bounties for the capture of police and judges, and threatened to shoot their neighbors' sheep and cattle.
The incident began after 57 year old LeRoy Schweitzer (the group's leader) and member Daniel Petersen were arrested by the FBI on March 25th, 1996. Even though both men were carrying loaded weapons, they were taken into custody without incident. Both men had been indicted the previous year on federal charges for writing bad checks and threatening a judge's life.
Several FBI SWAT teams secured the area by surrounding the Freemen compound, until the HRT arrived on scene. FBI negotiators managed to coax several of the Freeman's 26 members into surrendering to authorities, while the few remaining holdouts were arrested in small groups during the course of the siege.
Then in July of that same year, the HRT, along with dozens of US military special operations and law enforcement tactical units, deployed to Atlanta, Georgia as part of "Operation Olympic Charlie" the security build up for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Prior to the games taking place, HRT operators visited all training sites and game venues. The team planned for dozens of possible scenarios and developed contingency plans to deal with them. They conducted numerous training exercises designed to familiarize themselves with the area and develop working relationships with the other security teams. The games were uneventful until a terrorist pipe bomb exploded, killing one woman and wounding several other bystanders.
In March of 1997 a team of HRT operators deployed to Israel and the West Bank to act as bodyguards for FBI director Louie Freeh, while he conducted a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian security agencies. Not long after that, another team group of operators deployed to Pakistan to retrieve Mir Amal Kansi, and return him to the US for trial. Kansi was on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List for being the suspected gunman in the January 25, 1993 attack outside of the CIA headquarters that killed two and wounded three others.
Then in August of 1998 a small team of HRT operators were involved in the capture of suspected terrorist mastermind, Mohamed Rashed Al-'Owhali. Al-'Owahli was wanted in connection to the 1998 terrorist bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya that killed or wounded several hundred people and completely destroyed the US Embassy Compound located there.
In early 1999 a small team of operators deployed to war ravaged nation of Kosovo, as part of an FBI team investigating alleged war crimes in the former republic of Yugoslavia. The FBI team was part of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The HRT provided security for a group of FBI forensic specialists looking for evidence of mass grave sites in the countryside and investigating other crimes such as mass rapes, forced deportation, and genocide.
In the fall of 1999 the HRT once was again deployed to Puerto Rico, this time to Vieques Island, a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico. Vieques Island is home to one of the US Navy's primary live fire training areas, but the locals had been pressuring the Navy to shut down the range for years, saying they feared for their safety. Events finally came to a head after a security guard employed at the range, was killed by a stray bomb.
The Navy immediately suspended all training at the site pending the outcome of their investigation. After reviewing its options the Navy recommended that it continue us of the range with certain restrictions and new safety procedures in place. This infuriated local activists who threatened to stage mass protests on and around the range facilities, including penetrating the range's security perimeter. As a precaution a small group of HRT operators quietly visited the island to begin preparations in case the President decided to accept the Navy's recommendation, and begin immediate live-fire exercises on the island. After a larger number of protesters penetrated the outer safety and security barriers, and took up positions on the range itself the Department of Justice was ordered to remove the protesters.
So in 2000 the a small team of HRT advisors, along with a joint force several hundred federal law enforcement officers and military personnel, all operating under the command of the CIRG, landed on Vieques, and executed Operation Eastern Access. Eastern Access was designed to remove the protesters, by force if necessary, from the range facility and ensure the safety of personnel operating there. The protesters, were removed, but not before the entire incident was turned into a media circus, with scenes of protesters being dragged away by heavily armed federal agents under the guns of US Navy ships. Not exactly the image the government hoped to portray.
Not long after that the HRT, along with other elements of the CIRG, and several FBI SWAT teams, deployed to St. Martin Parish Louisiana. The local jail, located in St. Martinville, was under contract to house Cuban detainees for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In December of 1999 approximately one dozen Cubans inmates rioted and took control of the facility taking the sheriff, several correctional officers, and other inmates, hostage. The Cubans had completed their US sentences, and were being held indefinitely in a state of legal limbo. The INS wouldn't release the Cubans because it considered them subject to deportation, but there is no agreement between the United States and Cuba to have them sent back.
The rioting inmates demanded that they be released, and stated that if their demands were not met, they would begin killing their hostages. Louisiana's Governor, asked for additional assistance from the local FBI field office. The local field office in turn requested assistance from the CIRG, and the HRT was wheels up within hours.
Within a few hours of their arrival the HRT, local and FBI SWAT teams had secured all but a small section of the jail, and evacuated the remaining jail inmates. The HRT secured blueprints of the facility, and immediately to construct a mockup of it. They also planned and rehearsed several possibly rescue scenarios in case the Cubans began killing their hostages. Luckily FBI negotiators from the Crisis Negotiations Unit were able to convince the Cubans to surrender, without a full scale assault being necessary.
In February, 2002 with the events of September 11th, 2001 still freshly burned into the memories of everyone, the HRT took part in the largest peacetime security deployment in US history. Approximately 16, 000 security personnel were deployed to Utah to defend against any possible terrorist attack at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. This time the games went off without a hitch.
During the fall of 2002 the HRT became involved in the hunt for the "D.C. Sniper" suspects. HRT operators conducted a series of joint security patrols with local, state and federal tactical units, around the DC metro area, and along Interstate 95. Six HRT operators were part of the nineteen-man joint tactical team that was responsible for capturing the two suspects, John Lee Malvo and John Muhammad, at a Maryland rest stop. During the actual takedown two HRT operators, two Maryland State Troopers from the Maryland State Police STATE (Special Tactical Assault Team Element) tactical unit, and two Montgomery County Police Emergency Response Team operators stormed the suspect's vehicle and captured both suspects. The entire operation took thirty seconds to complete.
In the summer of 2003, HRT operators were deployed to Baghdad, Iraq. The team worked with a number of still classified operations, but it is known that they conducted several joint operations with the military's Special Operations Counter Ambush Advisory Team.
In January 2004, the HRT deployed to Arizona after inmates took two corrections officers hostage, at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis. Negotiators were able to gain the surrender of the inmates and safe release of the hostages, with the use of force.
Prior to the start of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, a group of HRT operators deployed to Greece. The team was part of the international security build-up taking place as one of the precautions implemented to prevent a possible terrorist attack.
Assignment to the HRT is voluntary, and is open to all FBI Special Agents. Agents wishing to join the HRT must have at least 3 years field experience and superior performance evaluations. Operators normally serve from three to five years on the team before moving on to another assignment. Many former operators take up leadership positions with one of the many field office SWAT teams or a position a position within the CIRG.
Prospective HRT operators are selected based upon their background and experience, as well as their demonstrated performance during the HRT selection course, which is held once a year. The rigorous two week selection process includes long distance runs, forced marches, obstacle courses, and other tests of their physical and mental stamina. Throughout the entire selection process candidates are evaluated on their ability to think under pressure, and to perform while physically exhausted. Evan successfully completing the selection course does not guarantee a spot on the team. Just over half a dozen of the survivors are actually selected for a spot on the team, and then they must attend, and successfully complete the five month long New Operators Training School (NOTS) conducted at the Academy and the grounds of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. NOTS culminates in a full scale hostage rescue exercise in which the candidates must call on all of their newly acquired skills. Then and only then, are they considered full fledged HRT operators.
Operators fall into one of two groups, either assaulters or sniper/observers. Operators selected for Sniper/Observer positions on the team receive additional training from both FBI and US Marine Corps instructors. Future HRT snipers first attend training at the USMC's Scout/Sniper School also located on the grounds of Quantico. The eight week course provides fledgling operators with the skills necessary to execute their duel mission of providing precision firepower and acting as the HRT's intelligence gathering force. The program of instruction covers a variety of topics including concealment/camouflage; covert movement; field-craft; stalking, land navigation, sniper-hide construction, target reconnaissance, and urban sniping. Unlike the military students attending the course, HRT snipers only attend two phases, the weapon qualification and stalking phases. They attend the stalking phase strictly for instructional purposes and only need to pass the qualification phase to graduate.
When not operationally deployed, the HRT conducts full-time training for its members at various sites across the US. Two hours a day are set side for physical training and a defense tactics session. One day a week devoted to maintaining perishable skills such as fast roping; explosive breaching; photography, or specialized skills such as mobile assaults; manhunt and rural operations; maritime operations; helicopter operations; weapons of mass destruction (WMD) training (provided by the US Department of Energy); and cold weather operations. Three days are spent honing sniping or CQB skills on the various training ranges available to the team.
During a routine week of training it is not unusual for HRT operators to fire 1000 rounds of ammunition to keep their shooting skills honed. In an effort to boost its already formidable array of skills, the HRT has recently opened a state of the art tactical firearms training center, known as the "shoot house". The facility, which opened in April of 2000, is an $11 million structure enclosed in a specially built warehouse type building. The new facility replaces the old "tire house" that was previously used by the team, along with various military and civilian training sites. Inside, the facility's walls are on specially designed tracks allowing it to be configured to reconstruct virtually any building layout. This allows the HRT to conduct dry runs prior to actually running an operation. The facility's most unique feature is the life-size mockup of a Boeing 767 fuselage that has recently been added. It allows for hostage rescue training in an aircraft environment. The aircraft mockup, which is equipped with a sound system, can simulate a number of conditions including a simulated aircraft fire, gunfire and the sounds of screaming panicked hostages.
One day is set aside for team members to develop individual skills (such as mountaineering and urban climbing) or to work on special projects. Additionally the team has also made extensive use of the mothballed aircraft stored in the Airplane Graveyard located at Davis Monthan Air Force Base; they have rehearsed maritime operations by boarding ships of the James River Reserve Fleet; and practiced their mountaineering and climbing skills on exercises in the Rockies.
In addition to its own extensive training regimen, the HRT routinely conducts joint training exercises, and exchange programs with similar US law enforcement and military units including the US Capitol Police CERT, the US Border Patrol's BORTAC tactical team, the US Army's 1st SFOD-D, US Navy's DEVGRU (formerly SEAL Team Six), and foreign units such as the British 22 SAS Regiment, and France's GIGN.
When the team was first formed, it was broken down into two separate sections designated "Blue" and "Gold". Each section consisted of two assault teams and a six-man sniper team. The assault teams were sub-divided into four-man assault elements, with each element specializing in a particular type of operation (aircraft takedowns; mobile assaults; maritime operations; and strongholds/sieges).
At some point the sections were re-organized, with each section having two (2) seven man assault teams and an eight man sniper team. In 1995 the team underwent another re-structuring. This time two additional sniper teams were added and the teams were organized so that each would have two (2) seven man assault teams and two (2) seven man sniper teams. After conducting an extensive review of the team's performance at both Ruby Ridge and Waco, it was determined that the size of the team was inadequate to handle the number and duration of operations it was being expected to conduct. The DOJ and FBI authorized the team to double its size to approximately 100 operators.
The FBI has equipped the HRT with the best equipment and weapons money can by. When the team was founded, HRT operators used the 9mm FN-Browning HP Mk 2 pistol, which was later supplemented by the 9mm SIG-Sauer P226 pistol. In 1995, 250 - .45 ACP Les Baer SRP Bureau pistols, built on a high-capacity Para-Ordnance frame, were acquired for use.
HRT armories are also stocked with specially modified H&K MP-5 series submachine guns (primarily the MP-5/10A3 10 mm, and 9mm MP-5 SD6 models) that have been outfitted with Laser Products Sure-fire tactical lights, and forward pistol grips. Several models have either an Aimpoint red dot scope or a Holographic red dot scope attached. Rifles in use by the team consist of Colt M-16A2, Colt CAR-15A2 Model 777, and M-4/M-4A1 5.56mm carbines, M-14 7.62mm, and H&K HK-33E 5.56mm assault rifles. The team also uses modified Remington-870 12-gauge shotguns. Sniper rifles consist of the Remington M-40A1 .308 sniper rifles outfitted with Unetrl scopes, and they also have access to Barrett M-86A1 "light fifty" .50 caliber anti-material sniper rifles, 7.62×51mm H&K PSG-1 sniper rifles, single and multi-shot 37 mm gas launchers, M-79 40mm grenade launchers, "flashbang" diversionary/distraction devices, and a variety of other less than lethal munitions. In situations where heavy fire support is needed the team has several M-249 SAW 5.56mm and M-60 7.62mm machine-guns at it disposal.
The HRT's operators typically wear either black or "woodland" camouflage military BDUs, black, or OD Green Nomex assault suits, IIIA Kevlar body armor worn under custom assault vests, complete with radios, Nomex- flame resistant gloves and balaclavas, and some type of ballistic eye protection. Helmets consist of both Kevlar "Fritz" style RBR Combat Helmets and plastic Pro-Tec types. In addition to their standard ghillie suits, HRT snipers wear uniforms that are appropriate for the terrain on which they are operating. All team members are also issued a set of military issue Gortex rain gear and cold weather clothing.
For transportation the HRT has access to a small fleet of vehicles including modified Chevy Suburban 4X4 SUVs, Chenowith "dune buggies", modified Chevy dual-axle pickup trucks that have had specially constructed "assault ladders" attached to them, HMMWVs, and modified DDGMC LAV-APC Bison 8×8 light armored vehicles. The LAVs are capable of withstanding 7.62 mm rifle fire and would be deployed in situations where HRT operators have little cover available to them. Also at their disposal are the three Bell-412 "Twin Huey's" and three Hughes MD-530 "Little Bird" helicopters of the Tactical Helicopter Unit. They also make use of other aircraft belonging to the CIRG's Aviation Special Operations Unit (ASOU).
The MD-530s are similar in configuration to the MH-6 "Little Birds" used by the US Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (at one time the HRT "little birds" were also painted back, but FBI HQ ordered them repainted to a new color after all of the media hoopla about government commandos zooming around the night skies in black helicopters). The HRT also maintains agreements that allow it access to military transport aircraft for rapid deployment of its personnel and equipment.