Template:Infobox Military Unit The Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) is the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation's counter-terrorism paramilitary tactical team.[1] The HRT is trained to rescue U.S. citizens or others who are held by a hostile force, either terrorist or criminal.[1] The Hostage Rescue Team was founded in 1982 by Danny Coulson and completed its final certification exercise in October 1983.

The HRT's purpose was, and still is, to serve as a domestic counter-terrorism unit, offering a tactical resolution option in hostage and high-risk law enforcement situations. It originally comprised 50 operators; however, this number has increased since to well over 90 full-time operators, but easily fewer than 500. The HRT commonly functions as a national SWAT team in highly 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 in Quantico, Virginia.[2]


The idea for the HRT was originally conceived during the late 1970s but came to life when then FBI director William H. Webster witnessed a demonstration by the US Army Delta Force. When Webster reviewed the equipment used by the Delta Force and noticed there were no handcuffs, he inquired about it. An operator grimly replied, "We put two rounds in their forehead, the dead don't need handcuffs."[3] The idea of the HRT started out as an enhanced SWAT and counter-terror team. The team would be capable of handling extraordinary hostage situations, large-scale counter-terrorist operations, situations involving nuclear or biological agents, or operations that 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. Most candidates were experienced SWAT team members. Of this group, fifty candidates were selected to continue on to more advanced training.

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 to 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 receiving tactical SWAT instruction, each individual was given an expertise to research, such as explosives and breaching tactics. Each person also served as a liaison to one of the existing elite counter-terrorism teams from around the world. In addition, nearly everyone was involved with the Delta Force. As part of their liaison duties, the men attended training and exercises held by their assigned counter-terrorism unit and shared experiences with the team. To bring all the newly acquired skills together, the team spent roughly the entire month of January 1983 honing their shooting and tactical skills at Quantico. Then, the team traveled to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in February for a month of training with the US Army's Delta Force. The Delta Force 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 had acquired at Fort Bragg. The Hostage Rescue Team became operational in August.[4]

The team's final certification exercise, codenamed Operation Equus Red, was held in October 1983 at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. During the exercise, the HRT, a local SWAT team, and a United States Department of Energy 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 at a separate location and had to be recovered or neutralized. After the 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.[4]

Upon completing its certification exercise, the team began to expand its capabilities by sending small teams of operators out for more specialized training courses. Approximately a dozen operators visited Naval Amphibious Base Coronado to receive combat diver, maritime operations, and tactics (such as Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure) training from the United States Navy SEALs. Other team members conducted helicopter operations and aerial insertion training with the US Army's Task Force 160. The United States Marine Corps provided the team with training in small unit tactics, night operations, and part of the HRT's sniper program training. Every operator also received 80 hours of medical training. The HRT even went to Camp Peary for counter-terrorism training and "smash and bang" courses in skills such as breaching barricades, running roadblocks, and defensive driving.[4]

Over time, HRT operators went off to US military, local and federal tactical teams, international, and private courses to learn more about air assault tactics, rappelling, hand-to-hand combat, chemical agents, terrorist psychology, surveillance methods, sniping/counter-sniping, communications and more. Whatever tactics they learned from their training they shared with the team. Eventually, for CQB training, the HRT decided to make things more realistic on advice from SEAL Team Six (later known as United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group or DEVGRU) commander Richard Marcinko, and the HRT introduced blood bags and wax bullets. The wax bullets were used for team-versus-team drills.[3]

The HRT became part of the Critical Incident Response Group upon its formation in 1994 because of the need to consolidate the assets necessary to respond to a critical incident in one group.


The HRT's equipment and tactics are more advanced than any of the FBI's 56 field office SWAT teams or the 14 "enhanced" SWAT teams. The HRT's capabilities are more advanced because its operators (assault and sniper teams) serve full time and train daily. HRT operators are assigned to one of three teams, one of which is a designated maritime team.

One of the chief capabilities that easily distinguish the HRT from the FBI's SWAT teams is its ability to fast-rope, a technique where the assault team rapidly descends a rope from the side of a helicopter. The HRT also possess the ability "to deploy within four hours, with part or all of its personnel and resources, to any location within the United States or its territories",[4] The unit also possess skills such as advanced tactics, night and low-light operation skills, the ability to operate in a variety of environments (chemical, extreme cold, or rural environments), and maritime operation skills,[5] unlike the FBI Field Office SWAT teams.

Maritime capabilitiesEdit

The HRT as a whole possesses enhanced capabilities in the maritime domain, including advanced “breaching” capabilities (the ability to circumvent locked doors aboard a ship), ship-boarding capabilities, and the ability to board and operate on oil platforms. The HRT has three boats outfitted for maritime assaults, most of which have been upgraded since 2004.[1]

The HRT also has a maritime team, which has additional maritime capabilities including subsurface diving, closed-circuit diving (scuba gear that does not emit bubbles), and combat swimming. All operators on the maritime team are military trained in closed-circuit diving and combat swimming. In addition, the maritime team assault element has an operator who is qualified to pilot and operate a freighter.[1]

Aviation capabilitiesEdit

The HRT operates a Tactical Aviation Unit, which is staffed by FBI special agents. The Tactical Helicopter Unit, a subunit of the aviation unit, contains a variety of helicopters specially modified for the HRT's use. These helicopters include eight military converted UH-60 Black Hawk tactical transport helicopters and several McDonnell Douglas 530 Little Bird light helicopters. Unlike the military, whose aircraft are not always in the same location as the tactical operators, the HRT’s Tactical Helicopter Unit is literally right out the front door on a low hilltop. All the HRT's Tactical Aviators fly daily.[6][7]


The two chief roles of the HRT are:

Secondary roles of the HRT are:

  • Apprehending barricaded subjects
  • Helicopter operations
  • High-risk raids, searches, arrests, and warrants
  • Mobile assaults
  • Manhunt and rural operations
  • Force protection for FBI personnel overseas

To a lesser extent the HRT may also deploy teams or individual operators to act as snipers or to provide protective service details to certain high-profile federal witnesses or dignitaries. Also, the teams of the HRT cycle out and provide support to missions overseas, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting Joint Terrorism Task Forces and performing typical law enforcement activities such as making arrests, processing scenes for evidence recovery, and testifying in court, at home and abroad.[6]

The HRT has performed traditional law enforcement roles during hurricane relief operations, tactical surveys, and, on occasion, pre-positions in support of special events such as the Olympic Games, presidential inaugurations, and political conventions.[8]

Selection and trainingEdit

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 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.[2] After a four-month initial training period known as "New Operator Training School" or "NOTS", they are headquartered at the FBI Academy, Quantico. Experienced HRT operators assigned to observer/sniper teams are sent to the Marine Corps Scout Sniper Basic Course, and, after successfully completing the course, they receive further instruction by HRT snipers.[5]

When not operationally deployed, 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 combatives training.[5] One day a week is devoted to maintaining perishable skills, such as fast roping, breaching, photography, or specialized skills such as mobile assaults, manhunt and rural operations, maritime operations, helicopter operations, weapons of mass destruction training (which is provided by the United States 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. Every other week, there is one day allotted for gear maintenance, and 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. The HRT also participates in at least one major combined exercise every 12 to 18 months that involves a variety of governmental entities, such as the FBI and the departments of Defense, State, Energy, and Homeland Security.

The three teams rotate through three 120-day cycles: training, operations, and support.[6] 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.[1]

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 Delta Force) or the U.S. Navy's DEVGRU. Also the HRT routinely trains with other federal tactical teams such as the United States Border Patrol's BORTAC unit or the United States Capitol Police's CERT. Occasionally, the HRT trains with France's GIGN, Britain's SAS and Special Boat Service, Australian SAS, Germany's GSG 9, and other international units.[4] 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.[9]


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. 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. Some cases have brought the HRT a lot of unwanted, and possibility 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 at Waco and Ruby Ridge.

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 or no attention from the world press. Some higher-profile cases include the Waco Siege, Ruby Ridge, the capture of the suspected masterminds of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Africa, and the hostage rescue operations of prison guards at Talladega, Alabama, and St. Martinville, Louisiana. All of these incidents led to changes in how and when the HRT is used by the FBI.

The HRT arrived in New York in anticipation of the offensive to thwart a Denver-based terror cell with ties to Al-Qaeda on September 17, 2009.[10]


When the team was founded, HRT operators used the 9mm FN-Browning Hi-Power Mk 2 pistol, which was later supplemented by the 9mm SIG P226 pistol. In 1995, 250 .45 ACP Les Baer SRP Bureau pistols, built on a high-capacity Para-Ordnance frame, were acquired for use. After an official FBI "request for proposal" in 1997 the HRT demanded their duty pistol meet some grueling standards. Eight companies responded. Each company submitted five pistols for testing. While all of the FBI's requirements were demanding, the most rigorous was accuracy. Chosen at random, two of the five guns had to shoot no more than Template:Convert at Template:Convert for three 10-shot groups from a Ransom Rest. Then the guns would be shot for 20,000 rounds in an endurance test, after which a second accuracy test would be conducted with no more than 15 percent degradation in accuracy being acceptable. The only pistol to meet the FBI's standards was Springfield Armory's 1911 pistol. Springfield's FBI contract pistol, known as "The Professional Model" is available to civilians at a cost close to $2595.00. As a form of quality control, the gunsmith building the pistol does not know if the firearm is going to be issued to an FBI agent or a private citizen.[4]

HRT armories are also stocked with specially modified Heckler & Koch MP5 series submachine guns (primarily the MP5/10A3 10mm and MP5SD6 9mm models) that have been outfitted with laser aiming devices, SureFire tactical lights, and forward pistol grips. Several models have either an Aimpoint red dot scope or a holographic sight attached.[4]

The rifles in use by the team are the Colt M-16A2, Colt CAR-15A2 Model 777, M-4/M-4A1 5.56mm carbines, M-14 7.62mm, and H&K HK-33E 5.56mm assault rifles. The sniper rifles are Remington M-40A1 .308 sniper rifles customized to HRT standards and generally outfitted with Unertl scopes. They also have access to Barrett M-82A1 .50 caliber anti-materiel rifles and 7.62×51mm Heckler & Koch PSG1 sniper rifles.[4][5]

The team also uses modified Remington 870 12-gauge shotguns.[5]

Less-than-lethal munitions include single and multi-shot 37mm gas launchers, M-79 40mm grenade launchers, Tasers, and flashbang diversionary/distraction devices.[5]

Additionally, the HRT has access to a variety of other weapons, such as the Heckler & Koch UMP (generally .45 caliber), or the HK53, if the mission dictates so. In situations where heavy fire support is needed, the team has several M249 SAW, M-60, and M240 machine guns at its disposal.[4][5]


The HRT has suffered two known casualties, both training related. The first was James K. Mcallister[11] who died during a fast rope exercise in 1986. The second known causality was Gregory J. Rahoi, who died in a live fire exercise in 2006.[12]

In May 2005, an FBI HRT McDonnell Douglas 530 "Little Bird" conducting a fast rope exercise crashed. Crewmembers sustained injuries, however none were life-threatening.[13]

Notable operatorsEdit

  • Danny Coulson — FBI HRT Founder and former Commander. Later, Coulson was the deputy assistant director of the FBI. Prior to creating the HRT, Coulson served on one of the FBI’s SWAT teams, more specifically a sniper team, and he later commanded one of the most active SWAT teams in the FBI. As of July 2009, Danny Coulson is a successful security consultant, author, and guest speaker.
  • Lon Horiuchi — Former FBI HRT operator and sniper who was charged with manslaughter following the shootings during the Ruby Ridge standoff. The charge was dismissed and Horiuchi was later deployed during the Waco Siege.
  • Christopher Whitcomb — Former FBI HRT operator and sniper. Whitcomb spent 15 years with the FBI and was involved with the Waco Siege, Los Angeles riots of 1992, and Ruby Ridge. As of July 2009, Whitcomb is an American author and appeared as an "expert" on the NBC game show Identity.
  • James K. Mcallister — The first of the HRT's two known casualties.
  • Gregory J. Rahoi — The second casualty of the HRT. Rahoi was accidentally shot and fatally wounded at Fort A.P. Hill in Caroline County, Virginia, during a live-fire tactical training exercise designed to prepare him for his deployment to Iraq. Rahoi had been assigned to the HRT for six years during which he served three tours in Iraq. He worked as a firefighter, paramedic, police officer, and lawyer in Wisconsin prior to joining the FBI. He was posthumously awarded the FBI Medal of Valor for acts of heroism during his final Iraq tour, and his family was presented with the FBI Memorial Star.[14]

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Christopher Whitcomb, Cold Zero: Inside the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (2001) ISBN 0-316-60103-9
  • Danny Coulson, No Heroes: Inside the FBI's Secret Counter-Terror Force (1999) ISBN 0-671-02061-7
  • Thomas H. Ackerman, FBI Careers: The Ultimate Guide To Landing A Job As One Of America's Finest (2004) ISBN 1-56370-890-6

External linksEdit

fr:Hostage Rescue Team it:Hostage Rescue Team nl:Hostage Rescue Team (FBI) ja:人質対応部隊 no:Hostage Rescue Team ru:Hostage Rescue Team fi:FBI HRT sv:Hostage Rescue Team

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