The FBI Hostage Rescue Team is America's elite non-military counter-terrorism force
(Photo by FBI)

The world watched once again as an elite team of federal agents were called upon in Colleyville, Texas. Their mission: conduct one of the most sensitive and technical tactical operations – a hostage rescue.  Of all the of law enforcement incidents, hostage situations tend to be the most challenging and complex.  As the situation and time dragged on, the hostage takers actions became threatening. A decision to protect the hostages came down. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), was on scene at the request of local law enforcement. These elite operators moved in to save the hostages.

Origins of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team

No one is sure what a hostage taker will ultimately do. Information is often inconsistent or incomplete and the fate of the hostages adds pressure. A decision to move in to rescue hostages is not a light decision. Since inception, the FBI HRT has been called upon to respond to nearly 850 high risk incidents.  But the team’s roots started in a tragedy.

At the 1972 Munich Olympics, terrorists took eleven Israeli athletes’ hostage.  They wanted some of their terrorist friends set free.  At the time the host nation, Germany, did not have a law enforcement anti-terror of hostage rescue team. Furthermore a post-WWII agreement prohibited the German military from deployment in domestic incidents.  Instead, they mobilized regular German police. Regular police lacked the training to handle hostage situations. The end result: all the Israeli athletes died at the hands of the terrorists. The incident is known as the Munich Massacre.

Preparing for the 1984 Olympics

The United States, sensitive to a growing terrorism threat, was preparing to host the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984.  An incident similar to Munich couldn’t happen on American soil. The FBI created a counterterrorism tactical team in 1983 whose specialty was hostage rescue.  This Hostage Rescue Team’s mission of preparing and responding to high-risk missions involving terrorists, hostage-takers, and violent criminals would become an integral piece in the fight against terror.

Retired FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard Frankel said, “the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team is federal law enforcement’s last line of defense and routinely called upon by state and local agencies, as well of others around the world, to use their very specialized skill set – to save lives in dynamic situations.

The Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) is based out of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.  On campus, HRT has a full training facility of their own. They use it to prepare for and simulate every type of high-risk tactical law enforcement situation.  

“In 2013, a suspect had taken a young child into a homemade bunker in Alabama,” said Frankel.  “The FBI and HRT were called in by local law enforcement, as is often the case, due to the very unique and dangerous situation they were facing.”  

Frankel continued, “Once there, while the hostage negotiator was talking with the hostage taker, HRT had a simulated bunker constructed that they could train in, very close to the incident site.  That is the level of training and preparation these operators go to, to save lives.”’

HRT’s Training is Top Notch

HRT can respond to and is capable of handling any number of high-threat situations. These include natural disasters and terror incidents.  As a non-Department of Defense counterterrorist unit, they’re often referred to as a Tier 1 law enforcement tactical unit. Their training is on the same levels as military special mission units.  In fact, many HRT Operators are former members of US military special operations units.  This enables HRT to perform some of the most dangerous and demanding operations in law enforcement. Frankel said, “U.S. law enforcement relies on a tiered response to critical incidents such as a terrorist attack, criminal or hostage situation. First responders usually come from the local and state level and might include SWAT teams and crisis negotiators.  If a situation cannot be resolved at that level, federal assets such as the HRT could be called in and in situations like Colleyville, often are.”

To join the FBI Hostage Rescue Team you must first be an active Special Agent.  After that and two to three years in the field, an FBI Agent can apply to HRT for a position.  If selected, the applicant must successfully complete a rigorous two-week selection process. During that process, they will undergo multiple fitness, shooting and endurance tests.  The candidate who passes the selection process, then has to complete six months of training that will include marksmanship, hostage negotiation and multiple forms of combat.

Much of HRT’s training is provided by other Tier 1 teams.  This capability gives HRT the full range of certifications and capabilities to perform in almost any environment.  Because of that, HRT operators serve full-time, train daily and are able to “deploy within four hours, with part or all of its personnel and resources, to any location within the United States or its territories.”

FBI Hostage Rescue Team Gear and Weapons

To perform their mission set, HRT utilizes a full range of gear and weapons.  HRT is the only unit in the FBI to have dedicated armors. Currently, the FBI team uses the HK 416 as a base rifle. The HRT primary sidearm though, remains the FBI standard GLOCK 17 MOS in 9mm which is great for reliability and accuracy.  Sub-machine guns have fallen out of vogue for CQB use. However, the FBI maintains a stock of MP5 variants.

Shotguns include the semi-automatic Benelli M4 in 12-gauge or the standard police Remington Model 870 in 12-gauge.  Due to their advanced training and OCONUS work, HRT also has in their armory the M240 machine gun in 7.62×51mm NATO and M249 light machine gun 7.56×45mm NATO.  Of course, no hostage rescue team is complete without their choice of sniper rifles to include the Heckler & Koch MSG90 in 7.62×51mm NATO, Custom Remington Model 700  in 7.62×51mm NATO and the Barrett M82 in .50 BMG.

HRT has used these tools in some high profile and not so high-profile incidents including at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the arrest of one of the Boston bombers and the capture of Eric Frein, the sole suspect in the 2014 Pennsylvania State Police barracks attack.  HRT has also deployed OCONUS to Iraq and Afghanistan to secure “high value targets” and to the 2016 Republican National Convention and the 2016 Democratic National Convention.  On January 6th, 2021 they were also one of the first outside tactical teams to enter the US Capitol during the riots.

In Colleyville, the situation deteriorated and HRT moved in, resulting in innocent lives saved. This proves again that when people call the police and the situation goes beyond their capability, the police call the FBI Hostage Rescue Team.  

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