News: FBI secures K-Bay for Patriot Palm
Story by Christine Cabalo
Ready for anything, more than 55 FBI agents were put to the task Dec. 3 at Kaneohe Bay in an exercise codenamed Patriot Palm.
Since 2007, the bureau’s Los Angeles Field Division has annually travelled here to test their rapid deployment team.
“The team is designed to deploy domestically or internationally,” said Gerry Cocuzzo, supervisory special agent, Critical Incident Response Squad, FBI. “It’s comprised of special mission teams like SWAT, the Hazardous Materials Response team and other support elements.”
Team members change depending on the investigation, Cocuzzo said, but the team could be ready to leave within 24 hours. The agents have deployed in challenging conditions, investigating along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and recently probing bombings in Mumbai, India.
To keep up their deployable skills, the team annually prepares its emergency vehicles and loads them onto a C-17 Globemaster III bound for Oahu. Once they land, the group continues the next phase of the role-playing investigation. This year’s scenario included agents investigating a simulated hazardous materials crime scene staged in a warehouse near Waterfront Operations.
Donning hazmat suits, an initial four-agent team checked for explosives and hazardous materials noting any items they found. Among the items, agents found normally harmless castor beans. But with the right tools, like ones also found at the mock crime scene, the beans can be used to make the toxin ricin.
“There are countless things out there, many commonly available products, that can easily be converted to a threatening material,” said James Peaco III, Los Angeles Field Office weapons of mass destruction coordinator, FBI.
A larger team later collected the materials in plastic bags, carefully trying not to damage evidence. Groups also needed to comb through evidence in a garbage bag, take sample swabs and document the area with photographs. After exiting the simulated crime scene, agents and their equipment went through decontamination.
Peaco said the exercise encourages team members to collect as much information as possible, gathering enough forensic evidence to convict a suspect.
The bureau also brought members of the crisis response team, a mobile unit centrally keeping track of information. FBI agents with that team combed through computer law enforcement databases and kept track of information as the investigation continued.
“We’re really happy to participate and do this so far from home,” said Laura Stricklin, crisis management coordinator, FBI. “It’s been excellent for the team, and very realistic. It’s hard when you don’t know where you’ll set up, especially having to do it in two hours.”
Peaco, a former Marine infantry captain, said Patriot Palm is good practice for the team, since it readily uses military aircraft to send their vehicles and supplies to remote investigations. Both he and Robert Warfel, supervisory special agent, FBI, said the bureau wouldn’t be able to continue this type of training without the resources of MCB Hawaii.
“I cannot tell you the expense we’d have to take to move all this equipment privately,” Warfel said. “To move this from LA to Honolulu, it would take a lot of money.”
Without help from base officials and military flights, Warfel said the bureau would not be able to do the needed training it does during Patriot Palm. In 2009, the FBI conducted underwater evidence gathering in Kaneohe Bay and deployed the SWAT in 2008.
Support from Maj. Jeff Reichman, Marine Corps Base Hawaii current operations officer, and Lt. Col. Kevin McCollough, former MCB Hawaii current operations officer, was critical, he said.
“We couldn’t have done this without their help,” Warfel said. “Their advice and aid has a positive impact on this operation. Their hospitality makes K-Bay a destination we keep coming back to.”