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PROTECTING AMERICA FROM TERRORIST ATTACK
FBI SWAT Teams Join in Terror Simulation

09/16/05

Photograph of FBI Swat TeamIt started with a routine raid on a suspected drug house in Fayetteville, N.C. Intelligence from the raid revealed a potentially major terrorist threat. The information was quickly passed to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Fayetteville and Charlotte, where intelligence experts determined the size of the threat, the major players, and how to proceed.

What they discovered was a murky band of terrorists with plans to unleash a weapon of mass destruction. The week-long ordeal in mid-August played out with hostages, a chlorine spill, the pneumonic plague, and radioactive contraband that threatened to spread the terrorists’ menace far and wide.

The series of incidents was, thank goodness, a simulation. But the scenarios—called Operation Orbit Comet and centered at the U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg—were realistic and designed to test how the military and North Carolina law enforcement authorities would respond. For our SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) teams, agents specially trained to intervene in high-risk events like hostage and barricade situations, the exercise was a valuable opportunity to work closely with other first responders.

“We don’t want the first time we need to work with them to be the real deal,” said Kevin Kendrick, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Charlotte field office. “This gives us a chance to interact…and see what we need to do better.”

While much of the action happens behind the scenes during these exercises, our most dramatic role was played out by SWAT team members who were called in from Charlotte and nearby Columbia, South Carolina, to negotiate with hostage-takers who had commandeered a bus carrying a congressional delegation. Negotiations broke down, the SWAT team “assaulted” the bus and within five minutes had all the occupants cuffed and seated outside the vehicles.

Soon after, the SWAT team converged on a house where terrorists had holed up with more hostages. Again, negotiations broke down and the team went in. A helicopter hovered overhead at 4,000 feet, filming everything so officials could evaluate the operation in the months ahead.

The FBI has SWAT teams in each of its 56 field offices. Had the scenarios been real, more SWAT teams from the region would have been called in—from Richmond and Norfolk, for instance—to assist in the effort.

Meanwhile, as different scenarios played out simultaneously across the state, Kendrick and other officials who had set up a joint operations center kept close tabs on how well their units performed together under pressure. In addition to SWAT teams, the FBI’s role included intelligence analysts, communications specialists, representatives from the Critical Incident Response Group, and Joint Terrorism Task Force personnel.

Kendrick praised Fort Bragg’s “forward-leaning aggressive approach” to preparedness, and the inclusion in the exercise of every level of law enforcement. “It helps us because it gives us an opportunity to see what their capabilities are and to synchronize them with ours.”

Resources: FBI Counterterrorism website | More counterterrorism stories

Photo courtesy of Fort Bragg