In tense times for business executives, lessons from the FBI’s former senior hostage negotiator. By Noam Safier.
“Hi, David. This is Gary. I just got down here, and I want to make sure that you and your family get out of this situation safe and sound.”
“Hey,” said David Koresh, the leader of a messianic religious cult holed up in a compound near Waco, Texas. “So, who’d you say you were with?”
“The FBI,” replied the voice on the other end of the phone.
That was the first of countless conversations between David Koresh and Gary Noesner, the lead negotiator on-scene during one of the most infamous FBI sieges in US history. Following a vicious firefight between the cult, who called themselves the Branch Davidians, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the FBI was charged with managing the standoff, and Noesner was promptly ushered onto a plane headed west from his home near Washington, DC towards Waco. When he arrived, several Davidians and ATF agents were dead, and Koresh, the group’s charismatic and manipulative leader, was badly injured.
This was the situation Noesner stepped into, not yet knowing that it would become one of the biggest tests of his career, and one of the worst tragedies of the decade.
I first learned about Gary Noesner after watching Waco, a Netflix miniseries dramatizing the events at the infamous Mount Carmel compound near Waco, Texas in 1993. Partially based on Noesner’s autobiography, Stalling for Time, the series tells the story of the FBI siege and the decisions, on both sides, that led to the deaths of 76 Branch Davidians, including 20 children. Noesner, played by Academy Award nominee and perennial tough guy, Michael Shannon, is the voice of restraint throughout the crisis, pleading with his superiors to employ negotiation over violence, and locking horns with a frustrated tactical commander who was itching to storm the compound with guns blazing.