A cocky yet intelligent account of the making and actions of an FBI Hostage Rescue Team operator, by one of their own.
After a painful amount of training, the Hostage Rescue Team, like firefighters and spies, sit through long periods of tedium, interrupted by furious, adrenaline-charged activity. Special Agent Whitcomb very neatly blends his tough guy patter—“They teach us to take out the brain stem”—with unexpected and pleasing wordplay: “Even at 2:07 a.m., the air feels rheumy against my skin.” He explains how he got involved in the FBI in the first place; his extensive academy training; a whole lot of technical information on the tools of his trade; his first years on the job (including interviewing people who claimed to have been kidnapped by Martians); and his preparation to join the Hostage Rescue Team as a sniper. This is all impressive stuff, but the meat of the story comes in the blow-by-blow narratives of his more high-profile missions. These include the unpleasantness up on Ruby Ridge in Idaho (“The FBI, like most government bureaucracies, tries to swat flies with frying pans”), busts of drug gangs, and a journey into the killing grounds of Kosovo. Most dreadfully, he was also part of the disaster in Waco. Whitcomb is not your standard-issue killing machine; he has feelings and he is not afraid to speak them. The gassing and deaths of children at the Branch Davidian compound tear him to pieces, but as he notes, it took the FBI apart as well. He believes that a better organization can rise in its stead, that “we could heal,” and so he keeps at the job, understanding that he can do good in the shadow of the past.
Whitcomb is just the kind of guy who could restore a bit of faith in the FBI.