A joint training exercise gone wrong left an innocent man in handcuffs in the bathroom of a hotel in Boston earlier this week. The practice raid, carried out by the members of the FBI and U.S. Army special operations forces personnel was supposed to involve the mock capture of a role player, but they barged into the wrong room and interrogated an unsuspecting guest.
The faux raid happened sometime before midnight local time on March 4 at the Revere Hotel in Boston. Members of the Boston Police responded to a call about the situation at around 12:20 AM the following morning and were "met by law enforcement agents conducting a training exercise inside the building," according to a police report obtained by multiple outlets. There were no reported injuries as a result of the incident.
"Swing by the Revere Hotel," a member of the Boston Police can be heard saying in a clip of the call that CNN subsequently obtained. "Two Delta Pilots had people claiming to be FBI agents barge into their room and handcuff them to the bathroom."
The indication from the initial police call that multiple individuals were detained appears to be incorrect. A statement the FBI released afterward said that only one individual – reportedly a male in his 30s – had been detailed and that the police had been called to help confirm that a training exercise was indeed going on.
"Based on inaccurate information, they were mistakenly sent to the wrong room and detained an individual, not the intended role player," the FBI said, according to the 7News television station in Boston.
"Safety is always a priority of the FBI, and our law enforcement partners, and we take these incidents very seriously," that statement added. "The Boston Division is reviewing the incident with DOD for further action as deemed appropriate."
"First and foremost, we’d like to extend our deepest apologies to the individual who was affected by the training exercise," Lt. Col. Mike Burns, a spokesperson for U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), separately told The War Zone in a statement. "The training team, unfortunately, entered the wrong room and detained an individual unaffiliated with the exercise."
"The Boston Police Department responded to the scene and confirmed that this was indeed a training exercise," Burns continued. "The safety of civilians in [the] vicinity of our training is always our number one concern. We are reviewing this serious incident with our partners and no further details will be released at this time."
At the time of writing, Delta Airlines does not appear to have confirmed that the individual or individuals in the room were indeed employees of the company. The identity or identities of whoever was detained have not been released.
Questions remain about the exact structure of the exercise, what specific FBI elements and Army units may have been involved, and what steps had been taken ahead of time to deconflict both with other law enforcement entities and the general public. The fact that there were regular guests inside the hotel, or at least on the targeted room's same floor, at all during the exercise is certainly puzzling.
The FBI said that the mock raid was intended "to simulate a situation their personnel might encounter in a deployed environment," according to 7News.
"Members of U.S. Army Special Operations Command were conducting essential military training in Boston, Massachusetts, with assistance from the FBI-Boston Division," Lt. Col. Mike Burns said in his statement to The War Zone. "The training was meant to enhance soldiers’ skills to operate in realistic and unfamiliar environments."
USASOC's public affairs office told The War Zone that it had nothing else it could share about the incident at this time. We have reached out to the FBI for additional information.
Major FBI field offices across the country, like the one in Boston, have organic SWAT teams available to conduct or otherwise support raids like this. The Bureau also has national-level counter-terrorism and other specialized contingents that routinely train to respond to various types of major contingencies. The best-known of those units is its famous Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), which you can read more about here.
Within the Army, USASOC is primarily known as the home of the service's elite Special Forces units, or Green Berets. However, the command also includes a host of other special operations and other specialized elements, including the famed 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR) and the 75th Ranger Regiment. Various intelligence, psychological warfare, and civil affairs units also fall under its purview. The Army's secretive Delta Force is another part of its special operations community, but is aligned with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) within U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
160th SOAR has a particularly notable history of taking part in these kinds of so-called Realistic Urban Training (RUT) exercises. For the unit's elite helicopter crews, being able to train in real cities, which are full of relatively confined spaces and other hazards, is particularly invaluable.
In general, RUT is important because dedicated urban training areas simply cannot fully replicate the nuances found in real-world environments. The U.S. military sees densely populated areas as being increasingly likely venues for future conflicts and has been investing heavily in being prepared to fight inside them.
RUT exercises, which happen on a regular basis across the country, often involve direct involvement by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Federal law enforcement groups often integrate directly with U.S. military forces, especially special operations units, overseas, including during missions to capture high-value individuals.
It's not immediately clear whether or not a RUT, or any similar exercise, has ever resulted in this kind of situation before. However, there are certainly numerous, if less extreme examples of miscommunication and miscoordination with local authorities and the public during similar exercises in the past, as you can read more about here.
In fact, The War Zone has reported on many such training events in the past in response to inquiries from concerned readers about the sudden appearance of special operations forces, often brought in on very-low-flying blacked-out helicopters, in U.S. neighborhoods. What notification is given to the public often occurs only right before the exercises start. They also typically happen very late at night, so many residents in affected areas can still easily be unaware of what's going on despite any public alerts.
The Jade Helm 2015 special operations training exercise, which took place at various locations in the American southwest that year, is a particularly infamous example of all of this. Despite very active public engagement on the part of the U.S. military in that instance, the event touched off a host of unfounded conspiracy theories. Authorities in Texas went so far as to dispatch elements of the Texas State Guard, not to be confused with the National Guard,to monitor the situation, which they did to the most limited extent possible.
“We try to protect most of our tactics, techniques and procedures for operational security reasons,” Ken McGraw, a spokesperson for U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), told the author back in January 2017. “USSOCOM units do provide information to the media concerning Realistic Military Training. The information is usually released by the local law enforcement organization that is working with the USSOCOM unit. The information is generally released for general public awareness or publicsafety reasons. USSOCOM units generally comply with the advice of local officials or law enforcement when to release information and what information to release.”
Similar confusion has been known to occur during U.S. military exercises abroad, as well. In May 2021, members of the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade mistakenly conducted a mock assault on an olive oil factory in Bulgaria. The soldiers had incorrectly believed the building was included in a larger exercise area centered on the simulated seizure of a nearby airfield. Civilians were working inside at the time, but no weapons were fired and no injuries were reported.
Real-life raids on the wrong location based on bad information or other procedural mistakes are unfortunately hardly unheard of when it comes to domestic U.S. law enforcement agencies and American forces operating abroad.
It seems very likely that this recent incident in Boston will at least prompt the FBI and USASOC to conduct a new and thorough review of the relevant procedures they have in place now for this kind of training. Thankfully, at least in this instance, no one was hurt.
We will update this story if and when more information becomes available.
Contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org