I retired from the FBI in 2003 following a 30 year career as an investigator, instructor, and negotiator. A significant focus of my career was directed toward investigating Middle East hijackings in which American citizens were victimized. In addition, I was an FBI hostage negotiator for 23 years of my career, retiring as the Chief of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit, Critical Incident Response Group, the first person to hold that position. In that capacity I was heavily involved in numerous crisis incidents covering prison riots, right-wing militia standoffs, religious zealot sieges, terrorist embassy takeovers, airplane hijackings, and over 120 overseas kidnapping cases involving American citizens. In my book, Stalling for Time, I take readers on a harrowing tour through many of the most famous hostage crises in the history of the modern FBI, including the siege at Waco, the Montana Freemen standoff, and the D.C. sniper attacks. Having helped develop the FBI’s nonviolent communication techniques for achieving peaceful outcomes in tense situations, I offer a candid, fascinating look back at my years as an innovator in the ranks of the Bureau and a pioneer on the front lines.

Read this profile:https://www.menshealth.com/entertainment/a32212139/gary-noesner-waco-miniseries-netflix/

Listen to this interview:https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130103016

Proof: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/gary-noesner-1a2480b_negotiations-activity-6659164243201413120-QNzB

Comments: 2128 • Responses: 64  • Date: 

_Saxxon_848 karma

Do you think in retrospect that FBI/ATF actions overplayed their hand and ultimately fed pro-militia sentiments of the time and fomented the current distrust of these institutions?

Garynoesner995 karma

I think whenever government is seen, rightfully or wrongfully, as using too much force it fuels resentment. Ruby Ridge and Waco clearly helped fuel anti-government feelings among some.

JMeltingpot728 karma

How did you end up in a career as a negotiator? Not exactly something every kid want to be growing up. Did you just talk yourself in to it?

Garynoesner931 karma

The FBI has 350 part time negotiators in the field and I became one of those, operating when needed but otherwise being an investigator. Later I was asked to be what was then one of three full time negotiators instructing and operating, and eventually when a larger dedicated unit was created, the Crisis Negotiation Unit, I was chosen to be the first Chief.

TheOfficeofLordVader716 karma

What was the strangest thing Koresh ever said to you over the phone?

Garynoesner1865 karma

He didn't say it to me, but when Deputy Larry Lynch from McClennan County spoke with him, Koresh said: "Lynch, that's a funny name for a law enforcement officer." Every time I talk with Larry I repeat that line.

heiiwat680 karma

Who do you believe is, overall, ultimately at fault for the tragedy in Waco?

Garynoesner2302 karma

Without question that despite mistakes made by FBI decision makers, Koresh had the power to lead his people out safely. He was given an opportunity to do so every single day of the siege, yet chose not to do so. Because we made mistakes doesn't mean he was good.

gliney00621 karma

Why couldn't they have waited until David Koresh was out and about to roll him up if he was the target? From an outsider's perspective, it seems like there was a lot of needless escalation and death.

And why did the feds feel the need to name their base of operations camp Vickie durring the ruby ridge standoff?

Garynoesner884 karma

You would have to ask the ATF why they did not try to arrest Koresh outside. That would have been the approach I recommended, but the FBI was not involved in the planning or conduct of the initial raid.

spikespiegelforevs443 karma

What was your impression of David Koresh? What was he like?

Garynoesner1373 karma

Koresh was complex but in reality he was far darker, sinister, and manipulative then portrayed in the tv show. He was very narcissistic and self serving.

belthazubel423 karma

What do you think of the book "Never Split the Difference" by Chris Voss? Have you two met at conferences or other events?

Garynoesner735 karma

Chris worked for me in the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit and I think he has written a good book, more oriented to business negotiations than mine. We are friends.

ThaGarden418 karma

Hi Gary, sorry if you’ve already been asked this but how do you feel about Michael Shannon playing you? I’ve thought he’s great in everything he’s been in

Garynoesner771 karma

He was great and did a superb job of capturing my beliefs and demeanor, if not my sense of humor.

cnewton203384 karma

How accurate was the show in portraying what happened during the actual Waco standoff?

Garynoesner536 karma

Again, it is a mix of extremely accurate and some fiction. The show is "based on" real events, it was not a documentary. I think overall it presents a fairly accurate picture of what happened and both the internal and external conflicts.

adamtwosleeves380 karma

What do you think about the ever-increasing militarization of not only federal forces, but also state and local police?

Garynoesner983 karma

I have long been uncomfortable with the move toward increasing militarization. As a young FBI agent working the field, two of us would go arrest a bad guy as a normal course of business. Now days a SWAT team might be deployed for the same task.

Ronin_Around320 karma

When encountering someone in a potentially dangerous crisis situation, what tactics have you personally found to be most beneficial in de-escalating?

Garynoesner713 karma

I think if you remain calm and respectful, you are far more likely to lower their emotional level. High emotion often drives anger and bad action, so by helping restore calm we achieve better outcomes.

Crowdaw317 karma

Do you think Netflix made the Branch Davidians look more innocent than they were or the government made them look worse than they were? I read that the milk bugs picked up talk of starting small fires etc.

Garynoesner284 karma

Yes and yes.

Intergalactyc299 karma

After the siege on Waco, did you ever interact with any of the survivors who had been inside? If so, what was your experience with that like?

Garynoesner629 karma

Baylor U. had a 20 year anniversary conference that I spoke at and that was the first time I had ever met with or spoke with two of the survivors. During the filming of the tv show I met David Thibodeau and we got along fine, although we have some different perspectives about some aspects of what happened and why.

dancingbear74292 karma

What was the easiest/shortest negotiation you were a part of?

Garynoesner954 karma

I flew to Manila in the Philippines on New Years one year to help negotiate the release of an American citizen grabbed by a terrorist group. The person was released just as my plane arrived. I always joke they heard I was coming and got scared. Again, joking.

ChimRichalds4210 karma

The TV series entirely left out the reported recordings of BD leaders pouring accelerants inside the compound before the fire broke out. Were those recordings too unclear to justify including them in the series? Seems like a massive plot point.

Also, in the story the SAC flip flopped on tactics pretty casually—seeming to go back and fourth between negotiation and show of force. Was it really that dramatic or was it more nuanced than that?


Garynoesner332 karma

I too was disappointed that the spreading of the fuel by the Davidians was left out. I tried to lobby for that being include but I was unsuccessful. It was indeed an important fact to show and I am sorry they left it out. The SAC was often supportive of my negotiation recommendations but would simultaneously be supportive of aggressive tactical demonstration. I don't believe he fully appreciated the inconsistent message that conveyed to the BD.

chaiguy180 karma

What's your take on the Occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and how the FBI and law enforcement handled that situation? Also what do you think about the eventual outcomes, including the exoneration of most of those involved?

Garynoesner305 karma

That happened after I retired and I don't have enough facts to comment on that one.

RustyLemons9179 karma

Hey Mr. Noesner,

Thanks for taking the time to do this. One question I have is if there was a major moral struggle in your career, as the show portrayed. If it went down as the show portrayed, what brought on the feelings of doubt in what you do as making a sufficient difference in the interest of nonviolence, and you being “the same” as everyone opting for more violent tactics as a means to protect themselves and have less protracted conflicts?

If there was a major moral struggle in your career, but not the specific one in the show, what was it and what brought it on?

Edit: Hey everyone, in case it goes unseen, Noesner said goodbye under my comment around 1:38PM EST. So yeah, assuming it’s concluded

Garynoesner372 karma

I never felt I was engaged in a moral struggle.

Okay folks, this has gone an hour and a half. I tried to answer as many questions as possible and think I got most. Thank you all for participating and for your interest. Gary Noesner

Garynoesner238 karma

There has long been tension between the negotiation and tactical sides. Most agencies find a proper balance but as all things in life the sometimes goes sideways depending on the personalities involved. Each of us has to work hard to be the best we can.

The_White_African168 karma

Hi Gary! Would you say your negotiating skills helped in other aspects of your life, like personal relationships? If so, what would be some advice you could give that would help people “keep their cool” when everything seems to be going to sh*t? Thanks!

Garynoesner365 karma

Just remember that your calm demeanor and demonstration of empathy carry far more weight than your words alone. As Rudyard Kipling said, "if you can keep your head when all around you or losing theirs," or words to that effect. Good guidance.

Zackisnotmyname167 karma

As someone who had significant contant with David Koresh, do you personally think Koresh committed suicide or was shot by a member?

Garynoesner399 karma

As I understand, the forensic pathology showed Koresh was shot in the head and Steve Schneider had a palate wound. Presumable Koresh had Schneider kill him and then Schneider killed himself.

UnBraveMec161 karma

Who were the people in the Waco stand off you related to most, or got along well with - did any of them seem level-headed when dealing on a personal level, or did they feel 'off'?

Garynoesner500 karma

I think Steve Schneider, Koresh's deputy, was a good person and had he been in charge instead of Koresh all would have ended peacefully without question.

readwiteandblu159 karma

In the TV series, some of the FBI and ATF agents are portrayed as not really caring to end the stand off as non-violently as possible in some cases, and not really believing you could prevail in others. How close to the series did reality play out?

Garynoesner285 karma

Even though I strongly disagree with some actions by the ATF and FBI, I am certain that ever agent there wanted nothing more than for all to come out safely. No doubt in my mind.

Stebraul156 karma

Where do you see the FBI going into the future? Waco portrayed you as someone who disagreed with the direction of FBI and policing in general.

Garynoesner342 karma

I don't know that I disagree with the FBI's direction in general, I did have concerns about over militarization but the clear future for the FBI is terrorism centered but also political corruption and high level crime that police departments are not equipped to address.

bucvi155 karma

Can you share any particularly odd or humorous requests during negotiations?

Garynoesner330 karma

It didn't happen to me but back in the 70's they had the "bird seed bandit" who held hostage in a bank demanding more bird seed for the birds who were having a hard time during a drought. Not your typical demand.

Goldenboy97145 karma

How were you able to build rapport with the people you were negotiating with?

Garynoesner384 karma

Listen carefully, remain calm, don't overreact to their hostile behavior, and demonstrate a desire to help them. It works.

PartyLord140 karma

What's the craziest thing you've experienced during negotiations?

Garynoesner355 karma

I once called into an incident to provide advice as sought by a local department. They mistakenly gave me a number to call that was actually answered by the perpetrator. A most interest phone call and experience.

Zimballz127 karma

Hi Gary, thanks for doing this AMA! I just finished watching Waco and was wondering how accurate the portrayal of the tactical team in that situation was, and if you ever understood why they had such a desire to use so much force on the Branch Davidians.

Also how cool does it feel to have Micheal Shannon portray you in a series?!


Garynoesner275 karma

Tactical guys often get stuck in challenging environments, wet and cold, hungry and uninformed. Unless they are managed properly frustration can mount and that can lead to poor decision making. Michael Shannon is amazing and it was very cool to have him play me. We were able to spend a good bit of time together and remain in contact.

NeverEndingDClock101 karma

I assume the main goal of negotiation is descalating the situation. How is that from the last few years we have so many law enforcements practicing excessive force, especially towards protestors, and escalating the situations?

Garynoesner170 karma

That is a good question and I think there are many departments and agencies that should think beyond tactics and also devote resources and training to negotiations as a tool to defuse incidents.

ChecksUsernames88 karma

Whose idea was it for you and Thibodeau to have that cameo appearance during the series finale?

Garynoesner138 karma

I think the Director John Dowdle came up with that. Knowing that a lot of short scenes don't make the cut, he wanted a scene he knew would be in the final. Very kind.

Damnaged87 karma

Thank you for doing this, Mr. Noesner. I wonder what are the most important lessons you learned from the Branch Davidians incident?

Garynoesner165 karma

Patience, self-control, and genuine concern for others.

BonfireinRageValley80 karma

What was the biggest lesson or takeaway you learned after the siege was all said and done?

Garynoesner211 karma

Lots to respond too. I think the FBI as an organization re-learned that we have highly skilled negotiators who should be given every opportunity to resolve incidents before we resort to tactical pressure.

eZCoffeE62 karma

Hi Gary, I’m in the middle of your book right now. If you had a chance to go back and do something differently in any of the situations in your book, what would you have done differently?
Do you have any regrets?

Garynoesner164 karma

That is a broad question. I generally make the best decisions I can at the time of an incident and I don't look back and second guess myself. Negotiators are human and we do make mistakes and not always perform at our highest level, but we succeed in resolving highly charged dangerous situations about 90% of the time. Not much in law enforcement has such a record of success.

drinksta51 karma

These days it seems like there are big walls put up by people when discussing politics. What tactics did you use when discussing politics that would not cause the other person to become defensive and build walls?

Garynoesner111 karma

This is a difficult scenario for many of us these days. I can only say that ask the other person to explain their thinking and respectfully acknowledge their point of view, even if you don't agree with it.

sifumokung49 karma

Did it bother you that the calls to speak to Mrs. Weaver were left out of the depiction of the Ruby Ridge standoff or was this something you folks requested was to be omitted?

Garynoesner75 karma

I was not at Ruby Ridge for the incident and was not involved in any of the script writing aspects of that portion of the program, so I can't comment on that.

insanewriters47 karma

Hi, Gary. Thanks for doing this iAmA!

What would you consider the most difficult and/or heartbreaking negotiation you have been involved with, other than the most publicized ones?

Also, did Michael Shannon spend time with you for the Waco mini-series? He is an excellent character actor, and I always wondered what it would be like on the other side of his portrayals.

Thank you.

Garynoesner124 karma

There have been many tragic incidents I have known about or had some involvement in. Typically those are when we confront a man holding his wife and kids and ends up killing them and himself. These a tragic outcomes that sometimes happen despite the best efforts of the negotiation team and they are devastating to all involved. The memories do not go away.

reverendsteveii43 karma

Were there any parts of the show that seemed to diverge from what happened in your experience or gave definitive answers to events that are still in question? Only asking because it seems like everything that was never answered in real life came down on the side of the Davidians in the show. Gov't shot first during the initial raid, constantly lied about events, claimed there was shooting during the offensive that started the fire when there clearly wasn't, etc. I wholeheartedly believe a lot of the above-mentioned assumptions were accurate, but I'm asking whether the show was accurate in portraying the eagerness to use deadly force on both sides.

Garynoesner109 karma

I actually encourage the Directors to have a balanced representation of what happened, and they tried, but it didn't always come off that way. Who shot first is in dispute, I wasn't there, but I understand the news media cameraman testified the Davidians did. As for the fire, an independent arson investigation clearly showed it was started inside. So there was both very accurate depictions of events and some not as accurate and balanced as I would have liked them to be.

StragglingShadow42 karma

Why did you decide to become a negotiator and what has been the best and worst moments youve had as a negotiator?

Garynoesner72 karma

Negotiations was a new discipline when I became an agent and learning about it had an instant attraction for me, using verbal skills to resolve conflict.

LinkSammich39 karma

Hi Gary! How do you combat the attempts of the person on the line to manipulate you so that you can ultimately help resolve the situation? Thank you for this AMA!

Garynoesner87 karma

It is fairly often that perpetrators try to manipulate negotiators they are speaking to. We are aware of that and have techniques to counter that, which are too lengthy to share here.

ep3ep332 karma

Have techniques changed much since then? Is this scenario discussed in the classroom for teaching new negotiators? Is a rift common between HRT and Negotiators? The show portrayed it as difficult for both teams to work together

Garynoesner62 karma

The relationship between negotiators and tactics is generally very professional, but there are occasional rough spots. Yes, the lesson of Waco and other incidents are taught, but I am not always sure top leaders get those lessons.

gonzo32031 karma

Are you ever worried that someone might read your book and use what you wrote during a hostage situation or something similar?

Garynoesner119 karma

No. A negotiators role is to be empathic and convince someone to peacefully surrender. If they know what we are trying to do, that is fine, we agree that that is what we are trying to do. I am not a fan of trickery or manipulation, just straight up "I want to help you get out of this unharmed."

condit4530 karma

Are there things that are classified or purposefully left out of each situation in your book that you arent allowed to share? Also, what kind of mentality do you have to have to have this job?

Garynoesner54 karma

There is not a lot that is classified that comes into play in most negotiation situations, other than the rare terrorist kidnap incident. I had no trouble in writing about the stories in my book relative to avoiding classified disclosure, as none existed.

OatCereal30 karma

After the Branch Davidians situation ended, how did you cope with the outcome? Did you feel more inclined to do your job at the FBI because of the injustices?

Garynoesner109 karma

I have always believed in the FBI. I was deeply disappointed in our leadership decision making at Waco but I never viewed the FBI at large a engaging in injustice. I have had too many hostage survivors and kidnap victims rescue provide the wonderful feedback that is more symbolic of the FBI's great work and dedication to the rule of law and justice.

Grand_Theft_Motto27 karma

What's one thing you wish you said during a negotiation that you only thought of after everything was over?

Loved the Waco series and just finished it over the weekend.

Garynoesner31 karma

Can't really say. I said everything I felt I needed to say and fought for my team and what we were trying to accomplish.

Shawn738726 karma

How come the the government affiliated members were portrayed as crying and such when, in fact they were taking pictures and such of the destruction after?

Garynoesner73 karma

I think it would be incorrect to lump all government people involved into thinking or behaving in the same way. Government employees are like everyone else, some great and some not.

maleorderbride26 karma

Had the FBI gotten more involved in the situation, how do you think they would have changed the outcome of what happened at Rajneeshpuram?

Garynoesner76 karma

If you mean at the beginning, yes, I think we would have tried to arrest Koresh away from the compound and avoid the siege. Three years later we did just that in the Montana Freeman incident which was resolved without loss of life.

obtrae23 karma

Can someone from another country apply for a job with the FBI?

Garynoesner52 karma

No, you have to be a US citizen to be an agent.

EatsABurger17 karma

Was there negotiation before the raid to take the DC snipers? It looks like it was done while they were sleeping. Or was the legwork with tracking them down over the previous days?

Follow-up: is it common to try to resolve issues when the offenders are sleeping?

Garynoesner16 karma

We set up a negotiation line for the DC snipers to call and they did so briefly once only. They were arrested at a car rest stop at an interstate after their car was identified and a citizenships spotted and reported it.

sickandtiredofyou15 karma

Why did you get into this line of work? Did you find it difficult to separate the stress from your job from your personal life?

Thank you

Garynoesner39 karma

I wanted to be an FBI agent from a young age. Something about the work and high character of the agents appealed to me. Stress definitely came with the job and it does indeed effect ones personal life, that needs to be managed. Divorce is high in law enforcement, but have not been victim to that.

UncleDan201715 karma

So, was the 90s HRT really as out of control as they seemed during the Waco show and Ruby Ridge and Elian Gonzalez? Have they been reigned in since, or are they the same Cowboys?

Garynoesner30 karma

The HRT was not out of control and are actually amazingly professional. It just seems they were poorly led at Ruby Ridge and Waco. HRT was not involved in the Elian Gonzalez incident, nor was the FBI there.

VolkspanzerIsME15 karma

Was there one negotiation that stays with you? Why?

Garynoesner47 karma

I think the first chapter of my book, the Sperryville incident, where I had to make a decision to lure a man out of a house so one of our marksmen to shoot him in order to save a woman and child. I believe I had no choice but it is rare were a negotiator in essence makes a conscious call to end someone's life. It was a rare case still talked about in the FBI due to its uniqueness.

TrialAndAaron15 karma

Hi Gary,

I'm going to pick up your book once I don't feel guilty for putting a burden on the shipping industry. Can't wait to read it.

I'm wondering if you see any similarities for negotiating with bad actors and being more mindful in interactions with people in every day life? I'm not talking about "tricking" people into anything, but just being a better a listener and so on.

Garynoesner44 karma

I think being a good listener can help in all manner of human interaction. People want to be listened too, understood, appreciated, and treated respectfully. If we listen attentively we accomplish that.

mitchyslick814 karma

Do you think enough is being done to combat the rise in popularity of “homegrown” right wing extremist organizations in the US?

Garynoesner8 karma

I have been retired from the FBI for a long time and I don't know what they are doing to combat this threat. I do know that after Waco we did a major outreach to these groups to created a dialogue and path to resolve conflict before it happened. We had some success with that and I hope it is ongoing.

fordstmi13 karma

Obviously in watching documentaries you or others in your field have done this takes such an emotional toll on you. Do you feel any relief in the recent documentaries coming out showing your intentions and the conflicts you had with ATF and other agencies handling of the situation?

Garynoesner37 karma

For me it has always been important for the FBI to learn from our mistakes and take action to correct them, hence writing my book and being interviewed in some of the documentaries produced. If we don't learn we will repeat our errors. I have always felt that the work of the negotiation team at Waco was unreported and unappreciated, a big reason I got involved in these project, to show the world that we had it right and would have succeeded if allowed to pursue the strategy we devised.

Coachtzu11 karma

Other than Waco (I'm assuming, haven't seen it yet), what shows do you think get it the most "right" in terms of negotiation or even just law enforcement in general?

Garynoesner48 karma

I don't watch law enforcement shows, most are very unrealistic in my view. Probably like Doctors don't watch medical shows. As for negotiations, I haven't seen many that come close to accurately showing how it really works. Mostly its a team event and Hollywood always makes it all about one person, as they did in the Waco show, I was far from operating alone.

wrp16 karma

Loved this production. Everyone should watch it, especially in these times of government being hubristic and ineffective. Awesome that you’re posting!

Q: This story kind of reminded me of stories you here further back in time, of the CIA doing wild wild things, and the FBI say under Hoover. Yahoos everywhere. Politically, it seems we’re in a moment of distrust of government, including those agencies. Do you think this matches reality? If anything, it seems they’ve gotten much more professional.

Garynoesner25 karma

Government has always been a mix of very good and also very inefficient. I am saddened that some may reach overly broad conclusions based on a few incidents.

Groovy_Peppers3 karma

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

How did you learn most of the things to prepare you for your job?

Garynoesner11 karma

I went to Florida Southern College in Lakeland, FL, my home state. I majored in history and sociology. Most of what I learned to be a good negotiator was in life in general and through my job working in the field as a Special Agent.

NicNic81 karma

The film was heavily biased against law enforcement. It made the compound look like innocent people that were railroaded by blood hungry law enforcers. For example, in the first episode, it shows a law enforcement officer shooting a woman in the face and it shows law enforcement officers storming the compound with Karesh screaming "There are women and children in here!" It doesn't describe how the compound had been purchasing equipment to alter their firearms into automatic weapons.

Your thoughts on this? Did you see this bias coming during the filming? Did you address this with your consulting? How?

Garynoesner4 karma

I was not at Ruby Ridge, despite what was shown in the tv series. Sadly, Vicky Weaver was shot through the door. The FBI marksman was not aiming at her a I understand but that does not take away the terrible tragedy that caused. I felt the Producer/Directors were trying to make a fair and balance depiction but there was an unconscious bias that in my view portrayed the Davidians too sympathetically.

bofasonsofa-2 karma

Why are police so focused on not letting a suspect evade capture that they’d rather shoot and kill someone than let them escape? Same with when they do have a suspect cornered: the police seem happier shooting someone rather than de-escalating a situation. Like if a person has a knife or gun we can now assume that person will be shot rather than police persuading the person to drop their weapon.

Garynoesner3 karma

Law enforcement always tries to assess the risks of engaging with someone to stop them from violence or running the risk of letting them go and then being held responsible for future violence the engage in against someone down the road.