Cover image for No heroes : inside the FBI's secret counter-terror force
No heroes : inside the FBI's secret counter-terror force
Coulson, Danny O.
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Publication Information:
New York : Pocket Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
593 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
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HV8144.F43 C68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HV8144.F43 C68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Surrounding a heavily patrolled racist stronghold in the black of night, or venturing into dank tunnels underneath a prison hold by crazed rioters, an intrepid group of men challenge evil on its own turf. Under the expert leadership of Danny O. Coulson, these highly trained agents of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team execute perilous missions in crises too volatile for SWAT teams, and in explosive situations where there are.... No Heroes Danny O. Coulson is the founder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Hostage Rescue Team, or HRT. In an FBI career that spans three decades, he led the arrest of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, convinced McVeigh's friend Michael Fortier to become the government's star witness, and has helped bring hundreds of murderous extremists and killers to justice -- from the Black Liberation Army police assassins to the treacherous white supremacist terrorists of the Order, and the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord. In No Heroes, Coulson opens a long-locked door into the secretive world of the HRT, the civilian equivalent of the U.S. military's elite Delta Force. Coulson's stories spring to life with nerve-jangling electricity as he discloses the tactics and teamwork of HRT snipers, operators, negotiators, and experts in assaults, electronics and explosives. Coulson takes the reader inside famous cases and provides riveting first person accounts of such high-profile investigations as the Atlanta prison riots -- and tense showdowns including the disastrous sieges at Ruby Ridge and Waco. He sheds new light on the deadliest terrorist attack in American history -- the Oklahoma City bombing that took 168 lives -- with never-before-revealed details of the FBI's massive efforts to locate the conspirators before they struck again. Finally, Coulson exposes the frightening rise of domestic terrorism and its implications for the 21st Century. For him and the men and women who have followed him, the path to justice is never too steep, too dark or too narrow. Though equipped with high tech weapons and physically fit bodies, these agents consider their razor sharp minds to be their best weapons. They use deadly force only in defense of life. Because, when people die, there are No Heroes.

Author Notes

She is a correspondent in Time magazine's Washington bureau.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

After 31 years as an FBI agent and commander, Coulson counts only two of those years as badÄthe ones following his involvement with the notorious confrontation with separatist Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in which civilians were killed by federal agents. Though Coulson was ultimately cleared of charges of perjury and obstruction, he clearly still feels the sting of the accusations. Much of this memoir takes pains to underscore his deep sense of fair play and respect for human life. Not that this is a sanctimonious tome designed only to sanitize the image of a wronged author. With the deft help of coauthor Shannon, Coulson presents himself over the course of his entire careerÄboth good and badÄas a motorcycle-riding, hell-raising crime buster who has more than a streak of the wisecracking braggart in him. But he is an immensely likable braggart who tells great stories. There is Coulson chasing cop killers in the incendiary early 1970s; facing off with a hostage-taking bisexual who wants money and airplane transportation for his lover's sex-change operation (immortalized in the film Dog Day Afternoon); working with legendary Delta Force commando Charlie Beckwith to develop the FBI's counter-terror team. Coulson is at his best when recounting the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing and the subsequent hunt for Tim McVeigh, and is especially riveting when detailing the tense negotiations with Weaver. Presenting the right mix of gossip and crime fighting, this engrossing work should quickly move off the shelves. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Those FBI folks keep spilling their secrets. Here, the founder of the agency's Hostage Rescue Team talks about cases spanning his 30-year career. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Back around 1964, when I was in my first year at Southern Methodist University Law School, I got this idea that I could make a difference. Maybe it was my take on sixties idealism or maybe it was four generations of cowboys and stockmen peering down at me. Or maybe it was all those Saturday matinees at the Fort Worth picture show, gazing up at the silvery profiles of Randolph Scott, Henry Fonda, and John Wayne. Mom and Pop thought the law would set me on the path of fame and fortune, but I knew I couldn't settle into a slick Dallas law firm, prop a pair of $500 boots on a desk the size of a pool table and help chiselers carve up ranch land into housing developments or handle divorces for spoiled rich people. The world was made up of good guys and bad guys. I was going to be one of the good guys. Exactly how I was going to get into the saving-the-world business was not entirely clear to me at the time. I'd solve that problem when I came to it. In the meantime, I figured I'd prepare for the task ahead by poking around in the dark corners of the human condition. I had almost no idea what I was looking for. I'd grown up in a modest, tidy, little house in a neat, little neighborhood. I hadn't had much in the way of toys and things, but I'd had something kids don't have now. Freedom. Weekend mornings, I took off on my bike, looking for a few pals to play sandlot ball or go fishing. My mother waved goodbye and called after me, "Be home for supper." What parent today, rich or poor, would let their kids roam around town till twilight? By the time I got to law school, though, I had a sense of the dark side, and something drove me to find out more. I tried to explain my idea to Pop in the spring of '64, when we were out for a twilight ride on Uncle Will's place outside Hamilton, Texas. Pop was lounging in his saddle, smoking a cigarette with one leg draped over the horn, listening to the crickets and gazing at the setting sun. Young hotshot that I was I couldn't bear to let him enjoy the peace of the moment. "You won't believe where I went last week, Pop," I said cheerfully. "The American Nazi Party had a rally in Dallas. Some guy talked about all the problems in the country and blamed the Jews, blacks, and every minority. I guess you and I are okay. He didn't mention the Irish or the Scots." Pop sat bolt upright so fast he nearly spooked his horse, and mine too. It was as if a bolt of lightning had shot from his head right through his body and into his saddle. That old paint wheeled a couple of times before Pop got him under control. Morris is real pissed, I said to myself with satisfaction. A lot of people have learned the hard way, don't piss off Morris. "Why would you go see those crazy sons of bitches?" He glowered. "What are you doing, going to something like that?" "I don't support what they believe in," I replied earnestly. "I wanted to hear what they had to say. It's important to understand them, and I don't know much about them. Hell, they almost took over the world." "Yes, I know," Dad said, spitting out his words. "They almost killed me doing it. There's not a lot you have to know about those assholes. They are evil." "Pop, I know they're evil, but you have to understand what's evil so you can deal with it. Knowing what's evil helps you to understand what's good and how to protect it." "I reckon you're about half a bubble off plumb," Pop said with resignation. Morris O'Neal Coulson had seen more than he wanted of Nazis when he followed General George Patton across Europe, lugging a Browning automatic rifle that was probably bigger than he was. But he let the matter drop. I guess he thought I was going through a phase. However, as I looked toward graduation in 1966, I announced that I intended to become a Navy fighter pilot, the nearest thing the twentieth century could produce in the way of a knight in shining armor. Also, driving F-14s was bound to be a lot more fun than the rodeos where I had risked my scrawny teenage neck. In my dreams, I rammed the dawn sky at Mach one, dived like an osprey, and deftly hitched the tailhook of my Skyhawk onto the slender cable strung across the deck of the aircraft carrier that I called home. I was exactly the kind of young man the Navy wanted, the local recruiter assured me. I was destined for the elite judge Advocate General Corps. The Navy had enough pilots. It needed lawyers to whip its young salts into line. While brooding over this dispiriting news, I wandered into an antique-gun store, where I met the man who changed my life -- FBI special agent Charley Brown. Charley and I struck up a conversation. He was investigating a theft of some valuable old firearms from New Mexico. That sounded like fun to me. As he went on about all the bank robbers and kidnappers he had run to ground, it occurred to me that the FBI was a ticket to good-guy land. I would get a badge, a gun, $185 a week basic pay, plus all the soaring triumphs and mortal terror that I'd hoped to enjoy as an air warrior. The only hitch was, I had to ease the Bureau recruiters' minds about Mama's uncles. One day Kyle Clark, the ASAC -- assistant special agent in charge -- of the Dallas office called to inquire, "Do you associate with any of your grandfather Donald's half brothers?" "No," I said, "I think I only saw them one time and I don't even know their names." "Good thing. One of them served time at Leavenworth on stolen-car charges." "Oh, no," I groaned. "No one in the family really knows them. Is that going to hurt my chances?" "Dunno, son," Clark said. I stewed for a while until Clark called with good news. "Well, you're in. They decided to take you in spite of your relatives." And also in spite of the fact that I looked more like the typical tunnel rat than the six-foot-three, blond poster boys beloved by J. Edgar Hoover. I was so enamored with the vision of myself as a gangbuster that I very nearly skipped the Texas bar exam and drove to Mexico. Only none of my classmates would go with me. Also, Pop got on my back about taking the damn test because you never know, you might need that credential. So I took it and I passed. As much as I hated the idea of lawyers, it seemed that I had a knack for the subject. Mama sat there in stunned silence when I started packing up for the FBI Academy. Frances Mavinee Donald Coulson was the daughter of farmers and the wife of a cowboy. She didn't want her only son to grow up to be a cowboy, and as far as she was concerned, an FBI agent was just a cowboy in a suit. Besides, she couldn't imagine why anybody would ever want to leave Texas. She actually stopped speaking to me. Except for rare, brief moments of reconciliation, she didn't relent until she was on her deathbed twenty years later. Pop made a halfhearted effort to back her up. "I can't believe you spent seven years in college to be a college cop," he grumbled. But the twinkle in his eyes gave him away. That song about seeing Paree was right on the money. Pop didn't talk about the war much. He had been assigned to a field hospital for a while, and I expect the memories were too awful to dredge up. He did, however, like to boast about the time he wangled a few days' leave in Paris. He had paid for beer by selling surplus cargo parachutes to the ladies of the night, who dyed them black and fashioned them into silk dresses. The war taught Pop a lot of things, among them, that Texas wasn't the hub of the universe. He never said so, but I think that's why he secretly encouraged me to chase my dreams wherever they led. Mama never forgave him either. In 1967, after a rookie stint in New London, Connecticut, I was assigned to the big New York field office. I was pumped. The Big Apple had it all -- Mafia dons, Wall Street con men, dope kingpins, Tammany Hall grafters and grifters, Most Wanted poster boys. Only I wasn't destined to get a chance to go after any of them. Instead, I landed on an internal-security squad whose sole task was keeping tabs on a bunch of elderly people who lived in the Bronx and who belonged to a social club with Communist ties. Squad supervisor John Dooley solemnly informed me that the director wanted to know where every Red in New York was at every moment so that when we went to war with the Soviet Union, we could round up these old folks and intern them as subversives. Upon reviewing the case files Dooley deposited upon my desk, I discovered that fully a third of these people had long been employed as FBI informants. I almost laughed out loud, only as far as I could tell, Dooley, who stood five feet ten inches tall, weighed well over two hundred pounds, and sported the great shock of white hair favored by Hoover-era managers, didn't have much of a sense of humor. The squad's old-timers hunched over their desks from nine to five, verifying their targets' residences and vacation plans by making pretext phone calls, posing as magazine salesmen or travel agents. I was twenty six, a lousy liar, and restless as a puppy, so I decided to conduct my investigations in person. My first task was to verify the address of a club member whom I'll call Sadie Grotz. I caught the subway that dropped me off near her apartment building in the Bronx. As I was wandering around looking for the super, a neatly dressed woman in her mid-seventies decided I looked lost and offered to help me. "Do you know Sadie Grotz?" I ventured. "Of course, I know Sadie Grotz," she said. "I'm Sadie Grotz. What can I do for you?" Flustered, I blurted out, "I'm with the FBI." She gave me a big smile and stuck out her hand. "Well, I'm really glad to meet somebody from the FBI. I always believed that after all my years with the Communist Party that somebody from the FBI would come and talk to me." She invited me in to her apartment and fixed me a cup of tea and cookies. She said she was loyal to the United States and looked upon her membership in the local Communist Party as a social club where she saw friends from the days when she was active in the trade union movement back in the 1920s and 1930s. We had a nice discussion. I finished up the last of the cookies, returned to the office and reported to Dooley. When I joked that I had just had tea and cookies with Sadie Grotz, the Red Menace, Dooley turned beet red and started trembling. I thought he was having a heart attack. "Your contact with Mrs. Grotz can have very serious consequences for your career," he sputtered. "It may cost you your job. You have to have Bureau permission to talk to a member of the Communist Party. Don't tell anyone what you've done. Go home and pray that Mrs. Grotz doesn't call the office and ask to see you again." Mama, you were right, I thought ruefully. I work for a bunch of crazy people. However, I'd inherited Mama's stubborn genes and Pop's too, so I pestered Dooley with questions and wisecracks until he banished me to the motorcycle surveillance team, which specialized in tailing suspected spies, bank robbers, and organized crime figures through heavy Manhattan traffic. I'd never spent much time on a motorcycle before, but after a few sessions with an instructor who thought he was Chuck Yeager on rubber, I discovered that my 500cc BMW was almost as good as a jet fighter and used a lot less gas. I jumped curbs, screamed down sidewalks, slid sideways down alleys, and tore through parks. Steve McQueen's film Bullitt, with Jacqueline Bisset and that great chase scene, came out about that time. My buddies and I were sure that McQueen was imitating us. Once, while chasing a bank robber, I jumped a traffic light, zipped between lanes of traffic, pulled slightly to the front of his Cadillac, and dropped the motorcycle underneath his left front tire. I lunged for his door, yanked him out of the car, and was advising him of his rights while he was still peering down at his fender, looking for the crushed body of the fool who had fallen under his headlights. The most senior managers of the field office decided I wasn't cut out to handle the subtleties of counterespionage, white collar crime, or even organized crime work. That left the fugitive squad, the office's dirtiest, least desirable job. In other words they threw me in the brier patch. I couldn't believe my luck. Only the fittest -- the quickest, strongest, nastiest, shrewdest, most corrupt -- survived the mean streets of Harlem, Brooklyn, and the South Bronx, and I got paid to catch them. Night after night, I tested myself physically and intellectually against men capable of anything. I rationalized that the high I felt came from doing the Lord's work, dragging killers and bloodsuckers out of the neighborhoods, making life a little easier for the shop owners, the old people, and the kids. But, God help me, I loved it. I lived for that high when we actually put our hands on someone who thought he was invisible. The only part that bothered me was seeing the kids. When the night was done, I went back to the apartment at Eighteenth and C where I lived with Carol, an Eastern Airlines flight attendant instructor I had recently married. I stashed my reeking hiking boots in the kitchen near the front door, stood under the shower till the hot ran out, and fell into nice cool sheets. Those kids with their hungry eyes, peeping out into the hallways as we hustled by with some sweating, cursing guy in tow, they were trapped in the stench and the noise. I thought I knew what poor meant, but I realized I didn't, not until I saw the New York projects. Men congregated on corners or wandered through the buildings from time to time, but they were just visiting. Women, many scarcely more than children themselves, raised their children in chaotic isolation. As a teenager, I'd worked with plenty of guys, black and white, who never had two nickels to rub together after they paid the grocery store and the rent man. But they went home to their families every night, and on Sundays they piled everybody in the truck for a visit to grandma. In New York, I don't know if I ever saw an apartment in which a couple and their children said grace over the dinner table together. There was something about the curious little boys who edged up to get a better look at the FBI guy that reminded me how much I had missed Pop when he was off in the war. I had been two years old when he left, and I knew him only by the brief V-mails that Mom read me. But the emptiness had been filled by other strong, honest men. During the war, Mom and I lived in Wichita Falls with her parents, Raymond and Lunette Donald. My dad's parents, Bernard and Iola Coulson lived across town. Grandpa Bernard dispensed justice with a stern, sure hand. Whenever I got into a fistfight with my cousins Jimmy and Gayle, Bernard stormed out into the yard, grabbed all of us under his arms, and hung us on the picket fence by the back of our belts. His horses, attracted by the ruckus, drifted up from the back lot and nibbled our jeans as we wriggled, trying to free ourselves. You don't hang on a fence very long before your legs go to sleep, and you start screaming to be released. At that, Bernard stalked out and stood before us, boots anchored in the parched grass. "You boys learned your lesson yet?" "Yes." "Yes!" "We're sorry." "We won't do it again!" "Do what again?" "Whatever it was that got us hung on the fence!" "You boys still don't get it. Family don't fight family!" He left us hanging out there a while more, until we thought about it, and finally let us down. We didn't stop fighting altogether, but we made sure we didn't fight around Bernard. We knew that Bernard loved us, but if we broke his commandments, Bernard's wrath descended upon us as if it were God's own. The great family story was about the night my uncle Kenneth came home about two A.M. When he straggled down to breakfast and puffed his chair up next to Morris, who was a teenager at the time, Bernard informed him that he was not to stay out that late while he lived in his home. Kenneth protested that he had turned twenty and was, indeed, going to get married the very next day. "That's the rules," Bernard decreed. "And that's it." "I'm a man now," Kenneth said. "I can come and go as I want, and I can take you now." "Kenneth, I wouldn't mess with Bernard," Iola warned as she fussed over the biscuits. "Mama, I'm a man now, and I'm going to come and go as I please," Kenneth said. A look of disgust passed over Bernard's face. He slowly unfurled himself from his ladder-back chair and stood to his full five-foot-eight-inch height. "Okay, let's go out back and settle this." As soon as they got into the backyard, Bernard decked Kenneth. Then he walked back inside, not even breathing hard, and finished his coffee. Kenneth lay sprawled on the grass for a while, collected himself, and staggered back to the breakfast table. They all sat in silence. Morris bit his lip and suppressed a smile. Finally Iola spoke. "Kenneth, you should know by now not to mess around with Bernard." Kenneth looked up. "I'll be in on time tonight." Bernard smiled and kept on sipping Iola's coffee. I never did understand how this fit in with the commandment "Family don't fight family." But it was effective. If Bernard personified rules, Pop was all about hard work. Even today in his seventies, he works as if he were forty. Sometimes I think he rests between blinks of his blue eyes. Pop started working when he was seven, sacking fruit at the local market, and he encouraged me to do likewise. At nine years old, I had a traveling shoeshine business. I pulled my Radio Flyer wagon around our neighborhood in River Oaks and knocked on doors seeking customers. When I turned fourteen, Pop put me to work on the loading dock of a Fort Worth warehouse he was running. That turned out to be the best preparation I ever had for the FBI. My instructors at the Academy were always hammering us to remember that our most crucial weapon, more important than sharpshooting, more important than knowing accounting or law, was the ability to get people talking. An agent had to be able to communicate easily with people from all walks of life, from the president of a bank that had been robbed to the bank robber's girlfriend. Unlike many of my classmates, whose youthful experiences had been confined to people of their own age and social class, I had gotten to know all kinds of people: merchants, truckers, railroad men, salesmen, day laborers. The color of your skin and your station in life mean nothing when you and your partner are racing to unload a boxcar before the Texas sun heats the air inside to 150 degrees. All you really care about is that you're both sweating a lot, and it'll take the two or three of you to get that car emptied. You talk about really important things, like how hot it is, what you're going to do after work, where you'll go for the weekend, and how little Morris pays you. Just after my eighteenth birthday, Pop helped me get another cushy job, breaking and training horses, with a little rodeoing on the side. The cowboy business lost its romance after about twelve hours of rolling around in fresh manure, but it reinforced Pop's early lessons in honesty and persistence. My bosses didn't give a damn about pedigree or education. They only valued one thing -- what kind of a hand you were and whether you were a straight shooter and willing to put in a hard day's work. If you dealt with everyone directly, said what you thought, and worked the stock, you were accepted into their world. Every time I saw the kids in the projects, I wondered how they would have fared if they had had men like Bernard and Morris in their lives. As things stood, a lot of them, when they got older, would find jail an improvement and death no loss at all. I wanted to gather them up and take them all home with me right then. Of course I couldn't. So I smiled at them and called their moms "ma'am." Sometimes they'd smile back. Excerpted from No Heroes by Danny O. Coulson & Elaine Shannon. Copyright (c) 1999 by Danny Coulson & Elaine Shannon. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

April 19p. 1
Book 1 A New Kind of Killerp. 17
Book 2 To Save Livesp. 117
Book 3 The Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lordp. 209
Book 4 Riotp. 315
Book 5 Assumption is the Mother of F***-Upp. 377
Book 6 Texasp. 473
Indexp. 575