FBI HRT: The Most Elite Hostage Rescue Team in the World

Author: Eric Sof

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The FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team (FBI HRT) is widely known as the only full-time counterterrorism unit in the federal law enforcement system. They are capable of acting equally with the same standard as most of America’s military special operations units. The unit itself is comprised of highly trained Special Agents who can be deployed within 4 hours’ notice of the situation.


The FBI HRT shouldn’t be considered as an FBI SWAT team because there are a dozen FBI SWAT teams deployed across the United States. Those FBI SWAT teams are made up of agents in each FBI Division throughout the US regular agents. Their selection is based on the tryout and pass or fails the 2-day test. I’ve older, out of shape agents become SWAT members. FBI SWAT members have other commitments—the regular SWAT team comes as a second priority.

FBI HRT: The Most Elite Hostage Rescue Team in the World
FBI HRT: The Most Elite Hostage Rescue Operators in the World (Photo: XY)

In total, there are 56 FBI SWAT teams. They are divided into the Tiers (similar to in the military). Tier 1 is FBI HRT, Tier 2 are 14 FBI SWAT teams which are considered as “Enhanced SWAT teams” and all other “regular SWAT teams” are considered as the Tier 3.


The FBI HRT is called in response to terrorist incidents, hostage situations, and major criminal threats. The FBI HRT is trained to be superior marksmen, breaching technique experts, and close-quarter tactics experts. Operators can fast-rope out of helicopters, parachute out of the sky with full mission equipment and conduct advanced SCUBA techniques.

However, it is important to remember that every FBI HRT operator is a Special Agent first. Even though these operators are among the elite, they still perform Special Agent duties such as collecting evidence.


The idea about the Hostage Rescue Team was born in 1982, after a series of dramatic terrorist outrages in the late 1960s through the 1970s, culminating in the Iran hostage crisis. Other nations created or honed similar type teams in this period. A year later, the first operators completed their basic training and reported to duty in October 1983 in the newly formed FBI Hostage Rescue Team (FBI HRT) under command of Danny Coulson.

FBI HRT operators participate in an urban assault training exercise
FBI HRT operators participate in an urban assault training exercise (Photo: Wiki)

In 1983, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hostage Rescue Team was formed, the United States had no civilian counterterrorism tactical team—and officials realized they needed one. That’s because preparations were underway for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and planners were keenly aware of the tragedy that occurred at the Munich Games in 1972 when terrorists shocked the world by taking 11 Israeli athletes hostage and later executing them.

“When Los Angeles won the nomination for the 1984 Olympics, the question was, ‘Who would handle an event such as Munich?’ And there weren’t a lot of good answers,” said FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce. By law, the military cannot operate within the U.S. without presidential or legislative approval, so officials needed other tactical alternatives. “That’s how the idea of a Hostage Rescue Team evolved,” he said.

From that day until now, they have accomplished many missions including hostage rescues home or abroad. That means that team members have been deployed around the globe more than 800 times to help safeguard the nation and to save lives.


FBI Hostage Rescue Team is the absolute best of the best and more than 80% of recruits fail out of the tryout session. In fact, their selection and training were modeled after 1st SFOD-D’s (Delta Force) with the only difference being the exclusion of some things that would be irrelevant to the FBI.

Similar to the military units, subjects would-be selectees to rigorous psychological screening and stress to prevent the selection of mentally unfit individuals. A prime example of this practice would be Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) getting dropped from Phase II of Special Forces selection.

To apply to become an FBI HRT operator, the candidate must be an experienced Special Agent or have prior military experience in combat arms or special operations. To be selected, one must undergo a rigorous two-week suck fest, composed of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion.

Candidates are given numbers rather than names and receive no feedback during the entire course. Even if the student completes the course, there is no guarantee of selection. Candidates are selected for being mentally and physically tough, as well as being able to make split-second decisions. Being able to work with a team is a must.


FBI Hostage Rescue Team is equipped and trained to operate in any climate and environment. They have dedicated aviation and maritime assets while their agents are trained to HALO parachute or fast-rope into hostile environments and then proceed to raid, search, arrest, assault, snipe, or rescue their way to mission completion. Which makes them one of the most capable and lethal counterterrorism units in the world.

Operators from the Estonian K-Commando, American FBI Hostage Rescue Team and Austrian EKO Cobra during the international exercise ATHOS 2016
Operators from the Estonian K-Commando, American FBI Hostage Rescue Team and Austrian EKO Cobra during the international exercise ATHOS 2016 (Photo: XY)

The regular training will be an emphasis on marksmanship, small unit tactics, dynamic entry, proficiency with small arms, CQB, etc. In other words, every one of these selectees is being groomed to be a world-class door kicker. If I recall correctly, HRT trained with SFOD-D (Delta Force), and also does cross-training/liaison programs with other top SOF units, including international teams.



Weaponry and gear

FBI HRT’s equipment and gear are among the best on the market, they have in their assets helicopters, armored vehicles, modern weaponry. In recent years, they moved up from the SMGs to the Carbines (9mm to 5.56 mm calibers). Today, the operators are mostly issued with M4/Mk 18 rifles instead of the Heckler and Koch MP5 they used before. Some weapons analysts were worried about overpenetration.

However, the FBI conducted extensive ballistic testing and decided that the 5.56 was the ideal round for operations. It allowed for an easy transition between close quarters and long engagement distances with the same round and weapon and it actually had a surprisingly low risk of overpenetration. Besides, 5.56 will defeat soft body armor that can stop a 9mm.

Overall conclusion

FBI HRT on the other hand is a very specialized team based out of FBI, Quantico (VA) that go through a multi-week tryout and train every single day. They have no other duties, except for FBI Hostage Rescue Team. Make no mistake, FBI HRT is the absolute best-I know of former Seals and Rangers who failed the tryouts for HRT.

Active: 1982 – present
Country: United States
Type: Law enforcement
Role: full-time, counter-terrorism, hostage rescue
Estimated numbers (personnel): up to 100
Headquarters: Quantico, Virginia

Today, these guys are the best what the United States law enforcement can offer to battle with crises like the world face in recent years.

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1 thought on “FBI HRT: The Most Elite Hostage Rescue Team in the World”

  1. I want to join and be a part of you dudes do. I can’t begin to tell y’all how much I love this country and helping people who can’t help themselves out of that type of situation or situations? now email though. #4024744343 Dane

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