Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hostage Rescue Team. Law Enforcement’s Tier 1 Counter-Terrorism unit.
The FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) is the counter-terrorism and hostage rescue unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The HRT is trained to rescue American citizens and allies who are held hostage by hostile forces, usually terrorists and/or criminals. The Hostage Rescue Team was founded in 1982 by Danny Coulson, former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI, and completed its final certification exercise in October 1983.
It was originally composed of 50 operators. However, this number has since increased to well over 90 full-time operators. The HRT commonly functions as a high-level national SWAT team in extremely sensitive or dangerous situations. Today, it is part of the Tactical Support Branch of the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) and is based at the FBI Academy at the Quantico Marine Corps Base, in Stafford County, Virginia.
The primary roles of the HRT are hostage rescue and counter-terrorism. Secondary roles of the HRT include:
- Apprehending barricaded subjects - Executing helicopter operations and rescue missions - Executing mobile assaults - Performing high-risk raids, searches, arrests, and warrants - Coordinating manhunt and rural operations - Providing force protection for FBI personnel overseas
To a lesser extent, the HRT may deploy teams or individual operators to act as snipers, or to provide protective service details for certain high-profile federal witnesses or dignitaries. Teams provide support for missions overseas and support Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Teams at home and abroad perform typical law enforcement activities, such as making arrests, processing scenes for evidence recovery, and testifying in court.
The HRT has provided traditional law enforcement during hurricane relief operations, tactical surveys, and special events such as the Olympic Games, presidential inaugurations, and political conventions.
Prospective HRT operators are selected based upon their background and experience, as well as their demonstrated performance during the HRT selection course. The rigorous two-week selection process includes long-distance runs, forced marches, obstacle courses, and other tests of 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. After a six-month initial training period known as “New Operator Training School” (“NOTS”), they are headquartered at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Both the selection course and NOTS are near mirror images of the 1st SFOD-D (“Delta Force”) selection and training courses, with some minor adjustments for mission differences. Experienced HRT operators assigned to observer/sniper teams are sent to the United States Marine Corps Scout Sniper Basic Course. After successfully completing the course, they receive further instruction from HRT snipers. Maritime platoon operators are sent to a variety of maritime special operations courses, including Phase II of U.S. Navy BUD/S at Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, California. HRT operators receive other specialized interoperability training from various U.S. Special Operations Command entities. HRT operators also conduct training with Allied nation counter-terrorism units such as the British SAS and German GSG-9.
When not operationally deployed, the HRT conducts full-time training for its members at various sites across the country. Two to three hours each day are set aside for physical training, a defensive tactics session, and combative training. One day a week is devoted to maintaining either perishable skills (such as fast roping, breaching, and photography) or specialized skills (such as mobile assaults, manhunt and rural operations), maritime operations, helicopter operations, parachuting, weapons of mass destruction training (provided by the United States Department of Energy), and cold weather operations. Three days are spent honing sniping or close quarters combat skills on the various training ranges available to the team. Biweekly, one day is allotted for gear maintenance. Discretionary time to be used by team leaders is built into the schedule. During a routine week of training, it is not unusual for HRT operators to fire 1,000 rounds of ammunition to keep their shooting skills honed. Every 12 to 18 months, the HRT also participates in at least one major combined exercise that may involve a variety of governmental entities, such as the FBI and the departments of Defense, State, Energy, and Homeland Security.
Three teams rotate through three 120-day cycles: training, operations, and support. During the training cycle, the team refreshes its skills and takes part in exercises, attends other courses, or trains with foreign and domestic units. During the operations cycle, the team is available for deployment (domestic or foreign). During the support cycle, the team works on special projects, maintains the HRT’s equipment, and conducts research.
The HRT is known to conduct joint training exercises and participate in exchange programs with US military units such as the US Army’s Combat Applications Group (otherwise known as 1st SFOD-D or Delta Force) or the U.S. Navy’s DEVGRU. The HRT routinely trains with other federal tactical teams such as the DEA’s FAST Team, the United States Border Patrol’s BORTAC unit or the United States Capitol Police’s CERT. Occasionally the HRT trains with French GIGN, British SAS and Special Boat Service, Irish Garda ERU, the Australian SAS, German GSG 9, and other international units. In addition to the HRT’s own facilities, the HRT routinely uses private and 1st SFOD-D Delta Force shoot houses and ranges. The HRT has also been known to train at Camp Peary and Harvey Point.