Terrorism Is a Crime


Domestic terrorism in America is on the rise. Danny Coulson, founder and first commander of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT, the civilian equivalent of the U.S. military's elite Delta Force), believes that what we're seeing is one way frightened people react to changing times. He sees grave implications for the 21st century.

How do we stem the tide of domestic terrorism? The solution is embedded in our democracy. Terrorism is, by definition, a crime. Reduce terrorists to the criminals they are and the rule of law, the power of an independent judiciary, and the power of the people take over. This commitment to the rule of law and the power of the Constitution is what drew Danny Coulson, an idealistic young Texas lawyer, into the FBI in the first place. During the thirty-plus years that followed, Mr. Coulson brought to justice hundreds of extremists and killers who ranged from black separatist police assassins to white supremacist terrorists. The Hostage Rescue Team handled high profile cases from federal prison riots to the disaster in Waco, Texas. And before he left the Bureau, Danny Coulson led the search for and arrest of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

There are a whole array of life-lessons to be gleaned from Mr. Coulson's experience dealing with criminals of all stripes. The unknown-unknown (UNK-UNK) is a grave threat in a crisis situation. A "fix-it" attitude goes a lot further than a "fix-blame" one. Weak people put pressure on their followers, true leaders are those who know how to take pressure OFF others so they can perform. Terrorists are a lot like the law enforcement people who must stop them -- the difference is that terrorists are wanna-bes, they just can't make the grade.

We'll stem the rising tide of domestic violence by being sure that people live to face the consequences of their terrorist acts. In law enforcement, unlike the military, only lives saved count. This has a particular twist in the case of terrorists -- when a terrorist is killed, they become martyrs, fueling the flames of paranoia which infect people already frightened by a changing world they feel they cannot control.

Rationales for terrorism change with the times. Technology changes. Even the FBI has changed. But one thing remains constant. Ordinary citizens are key to the FBI's ability to perform on our behalf. So the FBI, like all law enforcement people, needs to be talking with and listening to us, whether we are citizens on the streets of America, in the halls of Congress or where militia groups gather.

We work to govern ourselves in the interest of freedom and justice. Ask bravery, not heroics, of those who enforce the laws we make. When people die, there are no heroes.


[This Program was recorded March 30, 1999, in Atlanta, Georgia, US..]



Danny Coulson

    ... is a retired FBI agent, the Founder and first commander of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team. A Texan, Mr. Coulson began his 31 year FBI career as an idealistic young lawyer in 1966. While serving in a wide variety of FBI field and administrative positions, he learned that when people die, there are No Heroes (the title of his book). His experience with domestic terrorist activities reached from black separatist murders in the 1960's through the Iran-Contra scandal to leading the arrest of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Edited Excerpts of the Conversation:



Conversation 1


Danny Coulson tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell about grave law enforcement implications he (Coulson) sees around people's fear of change. Mr. Coulson talks about technological changes within the FBI. He suggests conspiracy theories are so rampant in part because they are so profitable. He confirms that the real stories of "the good, the bad and the ugly" are indeed much stranger than fiction.



Conversation 2


Terrorism -- not weapons and destruction -- is the reason for the FBI's Counter-Terror Force. Mr. Coulson explains how important it is for law enforcement to deal with a criminal rather than creating a martyr (what results when a terrorist is killed), with examples including David Koresh. Coulson describes the tension between having a powerful law enforcement agency and an accountable one. He questions the independence of today's FBI investigations. He describes two FBIs - one inside the (Washington, DC) beltway, one outside it. He describes the relationship between J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI and the ill-conceived COINTELPRO. He draws a distinction between FBI headquarters and field agents. Using the Black Power movement, Coulson distinguishes between legitimate efforts for social change and crimes. Noting that most good ideas come from the field (not headquarters), he relates his experience in the FBI to business management issues.




Conversation 3


Mr. Coulson summarizes the political circumstances that surrounded his departure from the FBI. He gives his insider's perspective on Ruby Ridge's political implications. He describes the attendant roles of Congress and the media. He points out the critical necessity to talk with people, whether Congresspeople, militia groups or ordinary citizens. He expresses his concern that Americans perceive government as a faceless enemy. He supports a stronger role for citizens, starting at the ballot box, worried that America's prosperity lulls us into complacency. He assures us that law enforcement people expect to deal with being second-guessed, drawing lessons from when he was the FBI's Congressional Affairs liaison, an experience which later helped him be a better commander.



Conversation 4


Coulson tells why the concept of "No Heroes" should be the philosophy of a commander. He tells what distinguishes bravery from heroics, using Waco as an example of how not to do things. Because "Murphy" often arrives in crisis situations, Mr. Coulson expresses gratitude that sometimes FBI agents do act as heroes. He distinguishes between the functions of the military and law enforcers. He describes his path to a career with the FBI, based on a sense that even in the era of J. Edgar Hoover, there was a core urge to Do the Right Thing, coupled with the thrill of bringing to justice someone who threatened the community. Mr. Coulson applauds the vital role of an independent judiciary. He compares a "fix it" attitude to a "fix blame" one, with FBI examples. He contrasts people who are "drivers" to those who "go in." He compares the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover to today and expresses concerns about what Mr. Coulson believes is the FBI's current lack of independence.




Conversation 5


The unknown-unknown (UNK-UNK) disrupts crisis situations, according to Mr. Coulson, who is concerned that people in government do not think enough about the consequences of their actions. He gives examples of why the best leaders are people who keep stress off of those who follow, confident that managers who put pressure on others are themselves weak. He describes the special energy of humans in conflict and shows how the leader's task is to direct that energy. He compares FBI agents to terrorists and describes them on a continuum, with terrorists not making the grade because they are inadequate people. He describes a typical FBI counter-terrorist agent's assignment. He tells how a potential law enforcement person turns toward terrorism. He uses examples to show how important it is for FBI agents and police to remember that they are cops, not commandos.



Conversation 6


Enforcing laws is a fundamental part of a democracy which is based on the idea of justice, Mr. Coulson reminds us. He demystifies catching criminals. If we decide to make war on domestic terrorists, Coulson assures us the terrorists will win -- it becomes a civil war. Far preferable is to let the criminal justice system convert terrorists into criminals. Mr. Coulson applauds how the law governs most encounters, including the handling of the Oklahoma bombing investigation and arrests. The most important thing, he assures us, is to hold to the simple distinction between a commitment to save lives (the FBI's charge) and a commitment to take them (the military's job).




Related Links:

Danny Coulson's real life adventures, written in collaboration with Elaine Shannon, make great, and still topical reading. No Heroes: Inside the FBI's Secret Counter-Terror Force  is published by Simon & Schuster.

Mia Bloom reviews the history of terrorism and examines the current international condition of terrorism in Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror.



Danny Coulson combines a firey spirit with a remarkable friendliness and openness. We thank him for expanding our sense of a democracy's need for law enforcement -- directed by a commitment to save lives and act under the guidance of the Constitution, declining the lethal terms of engagement deemed appropriate to a military force.




Quick buttons

© 1999  The Paula Gordon Show.
All materials contained on this website are copyrighted by The Paula Gordon Show and may not be used for any commercial purpose without the express, written consent of Paula Gordon.  Non-commercial use is permitted and encouraged provided that credit is given to The Paula Gordon Show, appropriate urls cited, links are provided where possible and meaning is not altered by editing.