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, manages the Bureau’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) program, 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 supports the HRT in critical incidents where the 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 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.
Among HRT skills are: hostage rescue tactics, precision shooting, advanced medical support, tactical site surveys, parachute operations, maritime operations, underwater operations, explosive breaching, helicopter operations, and man tracking. The team is also capable of operating in a chemical environment, as well as rendering safe nuclear devices. 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 850 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.
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