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America’s go-to team: The FBI Critical Incident Response Group

When the worst of the worst happens, the CIRG gets called in


Wrapped evidence and a law officer’s protective shield recovered after the siege at the Branch Davidian compound is shown in this photo from June 26, 1995.

AP Photo/Harry Cabluck

The sheer scope of the federal law enforcement apparatus defies the human imagination, and its myriad missions encompass the full spectrum of conceivable domestic security operations. When the worst of the worst happens, however, America’s go-to team is the FBI Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG). The unit’s motto is Proventus Per Adparatus, or: “Success Through Readiness”, and their job is pretty much right there in their name. The CIRG trains aggressively, according to the FBI, for terrorist bombings, hostage situations, nuclear threats, foreign kidnappings, and biological weapons, among other nightmares. From its Strategic Information Operations Center, the CIRG disseminates to local, state, and federal law enforcement information pertaining to national security.

The CIRG was founded in 1994 in the wake of the botched siege of a religious compound in Waco, Texas, in which federal agents burned 76 Branch Davidians alive during an assault. Coming on the heels of the disastrous standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho one year earlier, the mission–a failure of planning, tactics, and training–sent the FBI back to the drawing board for how it handles crisis operations. The CIRG was designed not only to manage such incidents (and advise other law enforcement agencies on management), but also to engage threats directly. Accordingly, the famed Hostage Rescue Team (which was modeled after Delta Force), was moved into the CIRG’s Tactical Operations Section. Over time, CIRG’s mission has expanded to include such tasks as combat diving and cyber-warfare response. They even provide security at the Super Bowl.

Given its mission, you’re probably wondering what the CIRG was doing on 9/11, which was pretty much the most critical, needing-a-response incident in the FBI’s history. On September 10, 2001, the CIRG flew to San Francisco for training. On the morning of the attack, as one FBI agent recounts, he and his hotel suitemate stared at the television in horror. His suitemate, also a special agent, turned to him and said, “You’re never going to forget this moment as long as you live. You’re never going to forget where you were and who you were with when America was attacked, and here I am stuck in a San Francisco hotel room with you in your underwear!”

The CIRG and Hostage Rescue Team immediately went to the San Francisco field office where they were briefed and sent to the airport. They had to get special authorization from the White House to fly back to Washington D.C. on a United Airways flight, as American airspace was closed at the time to commercial flights. Hours later, the plane landed, and the group hasn’t stopped since.

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