Retired FBI agent and author of 'No Heroes: Inside the FBI's Secret Counter-Terror Force'
April 13, 1999
The following is an edited transcript of a chat with former FBI agent, Danny Coulsen, about his book "No Heroes: Inside the FBI's Secret Counter-Terror Force," held on Sunday, April 18, 1999.
Chat Participant: Dan, what got you into this line of work? How did you decide this was for you?
Danny Coulson: When I was in law school at Southern Methodist University, I wanted to be a Navy pilot, if you can believe that. But the Navy wanted me to be a Navy lawyer. And I knew that wasn't for me. I ran into a FBI agent named Charlie Brown, in an antique gun store in Dallas, Texas, and he asked me what I was going to do when I graduated, and suggested that I put in an application. Much to my surprise, I was ultimately accepted and assigned to the FBI academy. I intended to stay for three years and stayed 31. 31 years -- it seemed like two.
Chat Participant: Are there any organizations using the Internet to advocate direct attacks on the government?
Danny Coulson: Yes. There are. There are many Web sites on the Internet that advocate hate and racism. You can find articles about the Christian Identity Movement. There's also a Web site that is written by a man named William Pierce. He calls his association a National Alliance. Mr. Pierce wrote the book "The Turner Diaries," and also "Hunter." The Turner Diaries, of course, seems to be Timothy McVeigh's plan for his own revolution.
Chat Participant: Danny, How do you compare the HRT with other groups (SAS, Delta) you trained with?
Danny Coulson: The Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) has the same tradecraft skills as Delta, SEAL team, and the Special Air Service of Great Britain. They all train together and I had the good fortune of going through the Delta School and the SAS School, as well as the SEAL school. You should know that there are considerable cross-training and training exchanges between most of the counter-terrorist teams of the free world. It seems that even when countries don't seem to get along very well, their counter-terrorist units nevertheless maintain excellent liaison with each other.
Chat Participant: What was your role during the Ruby Ridge Siege?
Danny Coulson: When the Ruby Ridge incident occurred, I was the Deputy Assistant Director of the Criminal Division of the FBI in Washington D.C. I was responsible for all terrorism cases in the world, all violent crime cases in the United States, as well as civil rights investigations. Since a Deputy United States Marshal was killed by Kevin Harris, it fell to the FBI to resolve that situation, and it came under my general supervision. Though I was never at the scene.
Chat Participant: What group or groups do you see as rising to prominence in the future?
Danny Coulson: I don't believe that any one group domestically will cause a serious terrorist incident; I and the current director of the FBI are most concerned with the lone-wolf type of individuals that we do not know, and that do not belong to a specific group. Of course Timothy McVeigh is an example, and also Eric Rudolph. Though they get their philosophical support from various groups, they really never seem to join a group like a local militia.
Chat Participant: Does the FBI ever voice official opinions on such issues as the war in Kosovo, or are they encouraged to refrain from such things? Should we worry about a new faction of terrorists with our involvement in the NATO strikes in Yugoslavia?
Danny Coulson: That's a good question. You should remember that terrorism is a tool of a weak government, or a weak individual. By comparison, Serbia is a weak country and cannot hope to ultimately be successful against the combined forces of NATO. I know that the FBI is concerned that the Serbian government will sponsor some act of terrorism in this country. We also need to be concerned that Serbian-Americans, because of our war with Serbia, might be victimized by individuals in our own country who would hold them responsible for the Serbian acts of aggression. So essentially we need to be worried about the Serbian government sponsoring terrorist acts here, at the same time we ensure that Serbian-Americans receive the same protection of the government and Constitution.
Chat Participant: Mr. Coulson, I was interested in your comment regarding people talking about anarchy and Y2K. Could you expand on that somewhat?
Danny Coulson: I think it's interesting that according to Time Magazine, we missed the millennium. It occurred in 1997. I believe the chance of a natural Apocalypse is very remote. However, those individuals who lead and or who believe in an apocalyptic event will sometimes create their own Apocalypse if a natural one does not happen. I've seen groups in the past pick a certain date that the Apocalypse will occur, and then when it doesn't happen, feel the need to generate their own incident in order to keep those who follow them on a sort of psychological leash. I think there is a possibility that certain of these groups will generate their own problem associated with the millennium just to fulfill their own deviant philosophies. With regard to the issue of Y2K, I believe that it will be no more than a societal hiccup. I'm sure that certain inconveniences will occur, but I do not see large numbers of individuals rioting in the streets over some computer glitches. I also believe, very strongly, that the Y2K issue and the millennium issue is as much of an economic windfall as anything. And, I was in a gun store recently where individuals were buying weapons and ammunition, and also freeze-dried food in preparation for the Y2K event. I know that many hardware stores are selling out of generators and other life-support systems. I am not so sure it is not a part of a commercial event where people profit from people's fears more than anything else.
Chat Participant: What do you think of the documentary WACO: The Rules of Engagement?
Danny Coulson: I recently obtained that tape and there are several points that need to be made. The first is that I saw the night stalker tape as soon as it came off of our airplane. It was hand-carried to me and other officials at FBI headquarters. I watched that tape with great intensity and interest, and frankly never saw the flickers of light that I am now seeing on the commercialized version. I do not know what phenomenon caused those flickers. I do know this. FBI agents did not fire on that compound. You should know that our own agents went into that burning building to drag the Davidians out. We also sent the Hostage Rescue Team into the tunnels as the building burned in an attempt to find the children, who we hoped would have been in the bus.
One of the things that always bothers me about these tapes, is the announcer says, "what you cannot see on your screen, but we can see in the studio is..." when in fact, he is telling us what he wants us to see. And not what really appears on our screens.
Chat Participant: What is the chance of another Davidian event happening anytime soon, and where in the U.S. will it occur?
Danny Coulson: Well, I'm not so sure that I have anything close to a crystal ball. The FBI had never heard of the Davidians when the ATF conducted their raid upon them. You have to remember that in our country you have a right to belong to any kind of religious or philosophical group that you want to, and you also have a right to stockpile weapons as long as they are not illegal weapons that have been converted into machine guns. The FBI does not investigate religious groups unless there is some indication that they intend to commit a crime. So frankly I am sure there are many groups out there that we know nothing about. For instance, those that believed in the Hale-Bopp comet. I have to believe there are many others.
Chat Participant: Why doesn't the FBI release the transcripts of the radio traffic on 4-19-1993?
Danny Coulson: We have. We've also released the transcripts of the bugs that were in the Davidian compound. They have been played on national television, during hearings in the House of Representatives, and in those transcripts you can read the quotes from David Koresh when he says "light the fires."
There was a report written, two reports written, by the House Judiciary Committee. One almost immediately after the event, and then one about two years later. There were reports written by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives. Those transcripts were part of that record. Another place they might want to explore is the trial record in federal court in San Antonio, Texas. Of the trial of the Branch Davidians for their actions against the ATF. There are many interesting and frankly generally unreported items of interest that came out of that trial.
Chat Participant: what period of time does your book cover?
Danny Coulson: The book begins on April 19, 1995, with the blast at the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. We take you with us to the scene. Let you go with us inside the building. And then we jump back in time to the early 70's where we deal with the Black Liberation Assassins that were shooting NYC police officers on the streets. We then go on a journey through many terrorist acts and then the creation of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team. Oh yes, along the way we handle a prison riot in Atlanta, Georgia. And then bring you back to Oklahoma and tell the rest of the Oklahoma story. We talk about the things we think we did right, and also the mistakes we all believe we made ... both at Ruby Ridge and at Waco.
Chat Participant: Did you have anything to do with the case of Indian Rights activist Leonard Peltier?
Danny Coulson: Yes. When agents William and Cohler were killed on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I was a team leader on the New York FBI office Swat Team. I, along with 15 other individuals, were sent from New York to Pine Ridge and ultimately to Rosebud in South Dakota to work that case. As you know, Mr. Peltier was arrested by the RCMP in Canada.
Chat Participant: To return to the Peltier case, do you still believe him guilty?
Danny Coulson: I absolutely believe he's guilty because he's confessed to the crime. Peltier confessed on national television -- admitted to shooting at those agents on the day they were killed, and admitted knowing that they were FBI agents. If you remember, Mr. Peltier was a fugitive on an unlawful flight warrant, that the agents that were on Pine Ridge did not know he was there ... and in fact neither one had ever heard of him ...
Chat Participant: Danny, How much is the FBI concerned that some terrorist activity might take place right here, on the information superhighway? That someone might figure out a way to paralyze the whole thing?
Danny Coulson: I understand that some of that has occurred. In fact, my home PC was crashed by Melissa. Basically the FBI's job is to give advice to people who have computers. But frankly, it is more up to individuals and companies to protect themselves from infections from various viruses. I ran a case in Dallas, Texas, where a group of hackers had gotten into virtually all of the phone companies in the U.S. and could establish their own service, charge their service to you and even to me, and were in fact sucking phone credit card numbers out of a companies computer so fast that we could hardly keep up with it. We were able to infiltrate the group and with court-ordered interception capabilities, apprehended them and stopped their activity. You might be interested in knowing that this same group was charging European phone sex activity to my FBI office in Dallas, Texas. They certainly got our attention. But (that) did show they had a pretty good sense of humor, I have to admit.
Chat Participant: How has training changed as a result of Ruby Ridge and Waco?
Danny Coulson: Dramatically. At the time of Ruby Ridge, the FBI commanders who run our field offices received more training in how to deal with the media than they did in how to command a crisis situation. Years ago, under director William Webster, all of our commanders trained regularly in crisis management. These training situations were very very stressful and difficult. But that practice stopped when William Sessions became the director. Since Waco, the FBI has changed its crisis management philosophy. Our commanders are now better trained, and those commanders that the Director of the FBI has the most confidence in receive additional crisis management training. And they in fact are the ones that are sent to the scene of a crisis. I commanded the division in Dallas. Yet I was sent as one of the commanders to the scene in Oklahoma. If you will remember the Freeman case about 18 months ago, that case was resolved after a very long standoff with no bloodshed whatsoever. And I think that case reflects the current FBI policy.
Chat Participant: Why has the U.S. seen an increase in terrorism in the past decade?
Danny Coulson: I think that there are a lot of people in this country who are very frustrated with our government. And some believe that their only redress is through violence. I also am concerned that as we become a more technological society and more of our economy is based on technology, there will be those individuals who are just not prepared to keep up. And I am concerned that their frustrations and their inability to provide economically for themselves or their families would cause them to turn to violence. We have already seen an individual that was absolutely opposed to all technology, his name was Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber.
Chat Participant: What role does the media play?
Danny Coulson: That's a very good question and maybe should be the subject of our third book, since our second one is under way. The media, of course, often is the people that terrorists are trying to capture to get their stories told. I have had situations involving hostages where the media was an impediment to our rescue attempts. We talk about that extensively in our book, the chapter dealing with the Atlanta prison riot. I think there is another issue that also causes me concern with regard to the media. And that is they never give significant attention to our successes, but spend years talking about our failures. Just after the Oklahoma bombing, the FBI was able to stop a terrorist attack on a refinery in Texas that would have released sour gas into the atmosphere, causing great loss of life. We could have lost more people in that action than we lost in Oklahoma, and I would be willing to bet you dinner you never heard about it. That's a failing, both of the FBI and the media. I think that's unfortunate because it causes the American people to lose confidence in the FBI and frankly we are totally dependent on public support to get our job done. We make mistakes. And we should admit it. And we do. But also we are successful and people should know about our successes as well.
Chat Participant: What is your second book about?
Danny Coulson: It's a novel. We take a character out of the "No Heroes" book ... and we flip him into a fictional character and base our story on a combination of fiction and real-life events. We also use many of the same characters in the second book that you meet in "No Heroes." We merely fictionalize their adventures this time. We have a Web site now. You can go to www.noheroes-thebook.com and you can order it there. You can also order it on the Barnes and Noble book site, and Amazon.com, and also virtually every bookstore in the country has it.
Chat Participant: Danny, who was behind the attempted attack on the Texas oil refinery ?
Danny Coulson: The Ku Klux Klan. In that case, we were able to put tiny video cameras inside the automobile of the subjects and we videotaped them as they cased the refinery. One of the subjects made the comment that there was a playground just outside the refineries property. And the woman who was involved in the plot, said, quote, "They will just have to die." At her sentencing, the U.S. federal judge reminded her of her comment.
Chat Participant: Are there any so-called "racial" groups (other than the KKK) that concern you?
Danny Coulson: Absolutely. The Christian Identity movement concerns me more than any other. A few weeks ago, the director of the FBI testified before Congress about his concerns about Christian Identity.
Chat Participant: Tell me about the Christian Identity movement.
Danny Coulson: Christian Identity holds that Satan and Eve had a union in the garden of Eden and their offspring was Cain, who they said became the father of the Jewish race. They then justify racist criminal acts against Jews and other minorities because they believe that the only chosen people of God is the White race. Their religion gives them, they believe, justification for murder of anyone who is not Aryan. Just so you know, they don't like FBI agents either.
Chat Participant: How is Christian Identity different from the Klan?
Danny Coulson: They both ultimately seem to achieve the same goal -- that is hatred; inadequate personalities that hate themselves and find someone to hate more than they do themselves. If you recall in Jasper, Texas, some white racists dragged a poor black man behind their pickup truck. I am mortified by that action, but we all have to take some comfort in the fact that a Texas jury tried one of the individuals and sentenced him to death for his actions.
Danny Coulson: This is much more fun than television. The Internet is much more meaningful. You can actually have some dialogue here. This is fun.
Chat Participant: Danny, what was your reaction upon reading (I assume you have read it) the IG Report on the FBI Crime Lab?
Danny Coulson: Yes, I have read it, and I take exception to it. The IG report charged Dave Williams, the bomb investigator at the Oklahoma City bombing, with reaching his conclusion on the composition of the bomb after we recovered the fertilizer from Terry Nichol's home. That conclusion is absolutely false because Dave Williams told me on April 20 -- inside the Murrah Building -- that he believed we were dealing with a fertilizer bomb. We briefed his judgement to the director of the FBI on April 20, who soon after briefed the Attorney General. This was days before we had ever even heard of Terry Nichols. I do not for the life of me understand how the department reached that conclusion despite the evidence to the contrary. But frankly I don't know how this department reaches most of its conclusions.
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