Jim Botting ’65 has spent his career in a self-proclaimed “iffy business.” As a 25-year veteran of the FBI, Botting has found himself in numerous precarious and dangerous situations.
“It’s a Rubik’s Cube of decisions,” explained Botting. “A million things could happen, and many of them are bad.”
Botting spent 16 of his 25 years as a hostage negotiator on many of the bureau’s high-profile cases including the Waco, Texas, standoff with David Koresh and the hijacking of Continental Flight 52.
Many of the infamous cases in which he was involved are documented in his new book, Bombs, Bullets and Fast Talk: Twenty-five Years of FBI War Stories (Potomac Books Inc.). In it, he describes his personal experience just beyond the barricades and in the middle of heated negotiations.
“Sometimes people describe what we do as mind games,” he said. “That is totally inappropriate. It’s not playing games at all. It’s about analyzing and understanding behavior. It’s a real psychological challenge to deal with people when they’re putting a gun to somebody’s head.”
Negotiation as an alternative to force started to gain support in the late 1970s. “Prior to that the SWAT team would control the situation,” said Botting, who served as a SWAT team agent earlier in his career. “As a SWAT team member, anything you have in your hand is a hammer, and everything looks like a nail.”
As thinking shifted and negotiating became more acceptable, a crisis negotiation team was established, and Botting became the team’s leader.
He was the nighttime supervisor for the FBI in Waco in 1993. “That was bigger than anything,” said Botting, who spent 51 days outside the compound communicating regularly with David Koresh. “The religious issue was huge, and the case was international in scope. Koresh had the world’s stage, and he couldn’t afford to lose.”
Outcomes like the one at the Branch Davidian compound, which resulted in 75 deaths, still bother Botting. “We’re like firemen,” he said. “We’re rescuers; we want to help people.”
The euphoria experienced in successfully freeing a hostage and ending a crisis without any loss of life outweighs the negatives, he said. “It’s like performing CPR and bringing them back to life.”
The successes come from making a connection with the perpetrator. “Once they’re convinced that you are sincere and genuine, trust is established, and you can start to work towards an exit place.”
Such was the case of the Continental hijacking, in which after hours of deliberation all of the hostages were released, and the hijacker was taken unharmed into custody.
And there are numerous other successes noted in the book. “We won a lot because we were lucky,” explained Botting. “We weren’t always good.”
Botting is hoping his luck will continue in his current, related career as a cold case investigator for the Ventura County (Calif.) Sheriff Department. He reviews cases and looks for the ones with forensic potential to pursue.“It’s been a wonderful career,” said Botting. “The satisfaction of a job in law enforcement is hard to match.”
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