Special Operations: The FBI And The Commandos


April 16, 2014: It was recently revealed that, although the U.S. FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) has had agents working with SOCOM (Special Operations Command) units overseas for more than a decade, none had ever been killed in action and only a few have been badly wounded. This includes hundreds of “embedded” operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of this has involved Islamic terrorism and the FBI men were there because after September 11, 2001 it became FBI policy to send FBI agents (especially ones with military experience) along on raids and investigations the army or SOCOM were running. This was so the FBI could develop a sense of how intel on terrorism was being collected in areas where FBI agents rarely operated. This “combat” duty was not popular with most FBI agents but management kept supporting it and the policy did create a lot of agents with personal experience of how evidence on Islamic terrorists was collected by the military. This was where most of the best stuff was coming from, as the FBI learned that working with local police and intelligence agencies in Moslem countries was much less productive. The FBI did learn to assign their own special operations personnel to these joint missions whenever possible, but the FBI special operations units were small and always in demand so agents with less battlefield experience often found themselves going along on raids or patrols.

Since the 1990s the FBI has greatly expanded its presence overseas, and now has more than 40 offices outside the United States. Since the CIA takes care of intelligence collection overseas, the FBI offices abroad are there mainly for investigating crimes against Americans outside the U.S. Since September 11, 2001 this has included a lot of Islamic terrorism investigations, but also more mundane crimes as well.

At the same time the FBI has some of the busiest special operations units on the planet. This special operations force of over 1,500 personnel including SWAT teams, the CNU (Crisis Negotiation Unit), HRT (Hostage Rescue Team and several support organizations. FBI special operations began to grow in the early 1980s and saw another growth spurt after September 11, 2001.

CNU responds to hostage situations, and provides expert advice on how to proceed. The unit was formed in 1995 and has nearly 400 personnel assigned to 56 field offices. The CNU has sent personnel overseas more than 400 times, to deal with situations involving kidnapped Americans. This has included Iraq and Afghanistan as well. HRT does in, usually only within the United States, when negotiations have broken down and “direct action” is seen as the only alternative.  

Most of these special operations personnel are FBI agents who undergo additional training on negotiation techniques. Many, however, have military experience, including with Special Forces and SEALs. A major FBI asset is a large database of past hostage situations. This provides useful information on what solutions work with what problems. The database gets larger with each case the CNU gets involved in and has been shared with the military.


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