At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage by terrorists and later murdered.
To prevent a similar incident at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the FBI was tasked with creating a counterterrorism tactical team.
The Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) was launched in 1983.
Now in its 30th year, the HRT is the last line of defense for federal law enforcement when it comes to high-risk missions involving terrorists, hostage-takers, and violent criminals.
HRT operators are special agents who train continuously for missions. The team’s motto, servare vitas, (to save lives) represents one of their most important roles.
Since 1983, the HRT has responded to high-risk incidents in the U.S. and around the world nearly 800 times.
Sean Joyce: “It really is an elite tactical team. Any type of situation where there’s high-risk I think is where they’re called upon for their advice—sometimes just for their advice—for their planning ability, for their intelligence collection abilities, and then oftentimes, obviously, for their tactical abilities.”
“Throughout the country whenever there’s a high-risk event, HRT is usually consulted. Oftentimes they are used in the ones where there’s more of a likelihood for an armed confrontation.”
“They’re mentally tough. They’re physically tough. They persevere. They’re leaders. So having all those attributes, though, it goes back to we’re not better than anyone else. We’re just another FBI agent out there trying to do the job. But I think those folks have taken a step to test themselves.”
HRT Operator: “We have the capability to do dive operations, sub-surface delivery, water-borne, a full range of over-land mobility, meaning we can go over land through the desert, arctic cold-weather terrain. The snowmobiles, 4-wheelers, we have gun trucks and all sorts of other platforms that allow to access pretty much any environment here in the United States.”
Joyce: “They’re working with the counterterrorism units in all the military branches. They travel around the world and train with some of their counterparts. So they really are afforded the resources and the ability to acquire and really maintain a level of training that is impossible at the other levels.”
Since its creation, fewer than 300 individuals have been selected to the Hostage Rescue Team.
Joyce: “I think there’s a sense of quiet professionalism when they’re down there. I think everyone takes the mission very seriously. They have an inner self-confidence in their own ability to execute the mission and fulfill their responsibilities as an operator.”
“They are an outstanding team and no one is as capable or as ready to operate in the domestic environment than they are.”