FBI Negotiator Shares Thrilling Stories As Part of Florida Lecture Series
Retired FBI agent Gary Noesner shared highlights from his career as a hostage negotiator as part of Florida Southern College's Florida Lecture Series.
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LAKELAND | Before a crowd that spilled to the doors, retired FBI agent Gary Noesner on Thursday night shared highlights from his career as a hostage negotiator as part of Florida Southern College's Florida Lecture Series.
Noesner, speaking to more than 200 at the William M. Hollis Seminar Room of the Thad Buckner Building, reflected on such cases as the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas, the Washington, D.C., sniper case, as well as lesser-known events that helped shape his negotiating expertise.
Noesner, an FSC alum who was inspired to join the FBI after an episode of the "Mickey Mouse Club," began by relating his unusual career to situations people face every day.
"All human communication either ends in cooperation or confrontation," he said.
"How do we calm down high emotions? Listening. Listening is the cheapest concession we could ever give.
Effective hostage negotiating – and in fact effective communication in general – Noesner said involves showing patience and opening up a dialogue.
"What we have to do is lower the emotions," Noesner said, likening the craft of hostage negotiations to a playground seesaw.
"When we are angry or frustrated, we can't think carefully or make decisions. We have to create a relationship of trust so the emotions come down."
In negotiating with David Koresh, the religious extremist at the center of the 1993 Branch Davidian siege, Noesner described the FBI strategy as "trickle, flow, gush" – a slow erosion of the hypnotic support Koresh's followers demonstrated that would eventually lead to him cooperating with law enforcement.
The strategy involved convincing Koresh to first release children, whom the FBI used to lure others from the Branch Davidian headquarters.
"We did a lot of innovative things. I'm proud of the FBI in Waco," he said.
Things took an unfortunate turn – with the standoff ending in a fire that killed dozens – when FBI officials pushed for a faster conclusion. Noesner resisted those efforts and was relieved as chief negotiator.
In responding to a question from one of the attendees, Noesner reflected on the advice he would have given passengers aboard the planes used in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He would have told them to stay in their seats because eventually the planes would land and the FBI would negotiate with the terrorists to have passengers released.
"That would have been the wrong advice," he said. "This was a whole new kind of terrorist."
Since he retired in 2003, Noesner has served as a senior vice president with Control Risks, an international risk consultant. He continues to do kidnap management consulting work part-time. He has appeared on television documentaries produced by A&E, the History Channel, Discovery, TLC, and National Geographic. Noesner is the founder of the National Council of Negotiation Associations, which represents negotiation organizations and law-enforcement negotiators nationwide. His first book, Stalling for Time, is a memoir about his life as an FBI hostage negotiator and was published in September 2010.