Privacy SOS

The ‘militarization of the police’ is not just a metaphor

The Washington Post describes how the FBI's 'Hostage Rescue Teams' or HRTs, established to "save lives", morphed into a global strike force, working hand in hand with one of the most secret and lethal factions of the US military: the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

After Sept. 11, the bureau took on a more aggressive posture.

In early 2003, two senior FBI counterterrorism officials traveled to Afghanistan to meet with the Joint Special Operations Command’s deputy commander at Bagram air base. The commander wanted agents with experience hunting fugitives and HRT training so they could easily integrate with JSOC forces.

“What JSOC realized was their networks were similar to the way the FBI went after organized crime,” said James Yacone, an assistant FBI director who joined the HRT in 1997 and later commanded it.

The pace of activity in Afghanistan was slow at first. An FBI official said there was less than a handful of HRT deployments to Afghanistan in those early months; the units primarily worked with the SEALs as they hunted top al-Qaeda targets.

“There was a lot of sitting around,” the official said.

The tempo quickened with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. At first, the HRT’s mission was mainly to protect other FBI agents when they left the Green Zone, former FBI officials said.

Then-Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal gradually pushed the agency to help the military collect evidence and conduct interviews during raids.

“As our effort expanded and . . . became faster and more complex, we felt the FBI’s expertise in both sensitive site exploitation and interrogations would be helpful — and they were,” a former U.S. military official said.

From overseas battlefields to suburban neighborhoods in the United States, the HRT does it all. Last year, that very same FBI HRT was intimately involved in the Boston Marathon aftermath. Representatives of the HRT were on scene when officials finally captured the younger Tsarnaev on Friday, April 19, 2013 in Watertown, Massachusetts.

In law enforcement, the border between foreign battlefields and our domestic neighborhoods continues to blur. Apparently, it's been blurred at the FBI for some time now.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.