Thursday, April 19, 2007

FBI negotiation teams go anywhere in the world to free kidnapped Americans

When an American citizen is kidnapped in Haiti, Colombia, Omaha Nebraska, or Iraq what can the U.S. government do to help resolve the situation and free the victim or victims with limited loss of life? Where to law enforcement agencies in the U.S. (particularly smaller agencies) or government officials outside the U.S. go for help in what is often a rare situation and may be one they have never before faced and have no training to deal with? There is a good answer to that question.

The FBI has a Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU) consisting of 350 trained negotiators who are available to go anywhere in the world 24/7 to help free kidnapped Americans. This unit is a part of the Operations Support Branch of the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group. The mission of the Crisis Negotiation Unit is "to resolve hostage, barricade, attempted suicide, and kidnapping cases throughout the world."

The Crisis Negotiation Unit has deployed overseas about 300 times since it was created. When a kidnapping or hostage/barricade situation involving an American citizen occurs outside the U.S. the appropriate State Department Legal Attaché (Legat) office requests support from the Negotiation unit. When the negotiator arrives his or her function is to provide advice and recommendations to the State Department or Military individuals dealing with the situation. Members of the Negotiation Unit were involved when American journalist Jill Carroll was kidnapped recently in Iraq. She was released alive after 82 days of captivity.

In the U.S. unit negotiators work with and provide training to local tactical and S.W.A.T. teams. The FBI Negotiators work in parallel to local forces, providing advice, recommendations, expertise, and assisting to train family members in the process of negotiation with kidnappers. Over 80% of barricade and hostage incidents in the U.S. are resolved through negotiation or a combination of negotiation and tactical methods. It is rare that such incidents are resolved using only tactical methods.

Since negotiation is such an important part of resolving such incidents, the FBI maintains the Hostage Barricade Database System, which is available to law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. The database contains information on roughly 5,000 incidents, primarily state and local, to show how they were resolved. Through this database law enforcement officials can learn how previous incidents were resolved as well as how long they lasted, what weapons were used, and how communications were used in the resolution. The CNU and the Hostage Barricade Database System are both tools used by the government to save save lives through the use of communications.

Previously I published an article entitled What do the military and police do for governments? The Crisis Negotiation Unit is an example of a purely police function, something that the military would not do because it would have little or no use in accomplishing the principle missions of the U.S. military.

The CNU develops expertise, trains individuals and provides a long-term career path for professionals with this expertise. I am publishing this article to demonstrate the real distinctions that exist between military and police functions and why military organizations cannot be expected to effectively provide police functions. The military simply isn't organized or trained to do police work. I am also publishing this article because this is a little-known function of the FBI, and I personally find it quite fascinating.

I hope you find it as interesting as I do.

This article is based on a PR release from the FBI dated April 13, 2007.

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