This is the FBI's dream team of elite counterterrorism operators

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has its own “dream team” of special operators trained to save the lives of hostages and respond to terror attacks.

It’s called the Hostage Rescue Team. With the memory of a terrorist attack at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and Los Angeles selected to host the games in 1984, U.S. officials realized they had no dedicated counterterrorism force that could respond to such an event.

Out of this planning, HRT was born. While initially trained to respond to hostage situations, the team has evolved to support high-risk arrests, protect dignitaries, and assist the military in foreign war zones.

But before agents can join the team which — not surprisingly — often attracts ex-Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces, they need two years of experience as a field agent. After this, they can volunteer for HRT, but it’s not easy.

First, agents need to go through a two-week selection process at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. They are evaluated by senior HRT personnel on whether they would be able to mesh with the team — not on how good they are as operators.

FBI Hostage Rescue Team training

Photo: FBI

At selection, they are tested in physical fitness, shooting, making arrests, teamwork, and how they react during stressful situations.


On average, less than 33 percent of candidates make it through selection, according to the book “To Be An FBI Special Agent” by Henry Holden.


Those who make the cut are then assigned to New Operator Training School, which is also at Quantico.


HRT training is similar to military special operations units, with the caveat that agents also train to arrest suspects whenever possible.


Over the six month training course at NOTS, agents learn skills such as fast-roping out of helicopters and SCUBA diving.


But according to the FBI, the skill they focus on that is most critical is close-quarters battle, or CQB. “How quickly we can secure a house with a credible threat inside might mean the difference between a hostage living or dying,” said Special Agent John Piser, in a story on the FBI’s website.


The HRT has special “shoot houses” where operators can train in the art of clearing rooms, as instructors watch and critique them on catwalks above.


If they graduate NOTS, operators join their individual teams at HRT. But they still have another year of training in basic assault skills, along with specialty training in communications, emergency medicine, or breaching.


Some go on to get even more specialized training, like HRT snipers.


Members earn their HRT patch, which bears the Latin motto “Servare Vitas,” which means “to save lives.”


HRT’s numbers are low: Less than 300, according to Business Insider. But that doesn’t make them any less capable. The team can respond to any number of threats within the U.S. in just four hours.


“As an elite counterterrorism tactical team for law enforcement, the HRT is one of the best — if not the best — in the United States,” said Sean Joyce, deputy director of the FBI and former HRT operator. “They are elite because of their training.”

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